Dweezil's guitar embodies the spirit of daddy Frank
By JIM ABBOTT
Published in the Orlando Sentinel - July 18, 2008
In the era of 1,000 songs on your iPod, Dweezil Zappa has noticed something that also has troubled me.
"I really don't think that people have the same kind of listening experience that they did 20, 30 or 40 years ago," Zappa says, sounding a tad more nostalgic than his 38 years might suggest. "People would set aside time to listen to music. It was almost the same as going to a movie; you spent your money, sat down, checked out the liner notes, checked out the pictures, and you listened to the record. The whole thing is a very different experience now."
Attention must be paid
Attention certainly is required for Zappa Plays Zappa, in which the son and his big ensemble revisit the wild, complex, genre-bending music of his father, Frank Zappa. The tour, which stops Wednesday at Hard Rock Live, has been on the road for more than two years.
"The fans really seem to be enjoying it quite a little bit," Zappa says. "They have a real emotional investment in the music. For me, it's a great way to continue a relationship with my father. We work really hard at playing the music as accurately as possible and with the most respect possible."
Although fans in the 50-plus demographic likely arrive with knowledge of Zappa's kaleidoscopic genius, some younger fans only know the composer as more of a caricature. To them, Zappa is a classic-rock guy who did novelty songs such as "Valley Girl" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and gave his kids weird names -- Dweezil and Moon Unit.
In reality, Zappa, who died of prostate cancer in 1993 at age 52, was a visionary who melded free-jazz, classical music and rock into sonically adventurous excursions such as "G-Spot Tornado." He also was a political activist who railed against censorship and complained that music had become "wallpaper" 20 years before the digital revolution that takes sensory overload to new heights.
The young Zappa's goal is to introduce and sustain the full spectrum of his father's influence, a job that takes an immense amount of work.
The music is downright difficult.
"I constantly have to practice all kinds of different stuff on guitar," Zappa says. "Not only to keep it memorized, but because it's really hard to execute. I've learned a lot of things on guitar that were never meant to be played on guitar. There are things that were written for marimba and keyboards and now I'm playing them on guitar. It's a rewarding thing to do because it has changed what I'm capable of."
Is this permanent?
Although the band continues to add songs to its repertoire, there's no danger of exhausting the material. So, is there a chance that Zappa Plays Zappa might become an ongoing institution?
"Well, it is something that could happen on an annual basis," Zappa says. "I feel like we're just now spreading the word in a very grassroots kind of way. It'll be interesting over the next two or three years to see what really happens. If we do capture the attention of a younger audience, it would definitely be worth continuing."
It takes time
Zappa Plays Zappa performances can last from two to three hours, which might only amount to half the playing time for the band on a typical day.
Sound checks often turn into impromptu performances as well, as the band grapples with hairpin turns and time signatures and instrumental combinations.
"We will run at least half of what we're going to play that night and that can go over an hour," Zappa says. "If we're learning new material on top of that, we can play two or three hours. The hardest situation is when we don't have a sound check at all."
That was the case at a recent festival show in Rotterdam, where the band soldiered on without vocal monitors and through other assorted audio problems. Most of the surprises onstage, however, are happier ones, Zappa says.
"Some of this music, it can just transform the moment," he says. "Certain things can happen that are unique to that moment in time. It really is this vehicle to transport you into a different place, but to be ready to do that all the time takes a lot of concentration."
Just like in the old days.