Zappa Plays Zappa - Tour De Frank
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Frank Zappa Tribute
Published in The Daily Page - July 22, 2007

For the generation of devoted fans of Frank Zappa who still sense an emptiness in their musical lives 13 years after his untimely passing, last year's "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour was a wondrous gift.

Just the chance to hear Zappa's music performed again live was remarkable in itself. Then to hear it played so meticulously was miraculous. And to have Zappa's son Dweezil leading a band that included some of his father's most esteemed bandmates in guitarist Steve Vai, drummer Terry Bozzio and vocalist Napoleon Murphy Brock was simply out of this world.

But the ecstatic reaction was only to be expected. As Nate Chinen noted in his New York Times review last June, the show fully realized Dweezil's intent for it to be "an argument for Frank Zappa's legitimacy as a composer." In October, the McGill Tribune's John Semley wrote: "Ask any member of last Tuesday's audience and they will tell you that 'Zappa Plays Zappa' was not just some cheap bastardization."

Rather, Semley said, "Dweezil and Co. [were so] visibly overwhelmed by the responsiveness of the crowd" that they promised to return.

"Dweezil and Co." will in fact return to Montreal this summer as part of this year's "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour schedule. With dates and venues to be announced shortly, it will involve at least 37 shows on the first leg of the North American tour. A European swing is being set up to run in the fall--also to include Australia. Then the second leg of the North American tour (totaling another 24 dates) will follow, climaxing with a New Year's Eve show.

"What we're preparing to do for this tour is perhaps even more complex than what we did on the first tour," says Dweezil. "Last year we learned about 40 songs from a very popular period of Frank's career and this year we will be learning about 30 more new ones that are somewhat more obscure. We're even tackling some of Frank's classical works. With this larger body of work to choose from it will allow us to delve into some different eras of Frank's music and periodically focus a little more on some rarely played songs.

The goal, Dweezil adds, is to develop a new fan base as well as play songs that are favorites of longtime fans. "The idea is to be able to do this tour on an annual basis. Now that people are familiar with the quality of our presentation, my efforts are shifting towards adding more variety. Which of course will keep the band on its toes."

Indeed. Frank Zappa was nothing if not prolific.

"He made over 80 albums, so you can't expect everybody to know every single song!" continues Dweezil. " It's important to keep in mind that there is a very wide range of familiarity of Frank's music amongst his fan base. I do want to be able to surprise some of the life long fans but I also want to be able to present a collection of songs that can appeal to a new listener as well. So my selections are intended to showcase what sets Frank apart from other musicians and composers, and I"m very excited to be able to further demonstrate this fact through the use of special video footage within the show."

The video footage Dweezil is referring to will be projected on to a large screen and accompanied musically by the band live. Hence, concert goers who never had the opportunity to see Frank Zappa live on stage in person will - through the magic of technology - finally get their chance. (Dweezil has confirmed that there will be several Frank Zappa video performances to choose from, and that they will rotate them during the tour.)

With a much larger number of shows-plus its expansion into secondary markets along with the major cities--this year's "Zappa Plays Zappa" is obviously a proven attraction.

"It will be the same core band, with Napoleon singing, and there may be special guests by invitation-but really this is all about the music," Dweezil says. "It's not intended to be a contrived nostalgic reunion of former Frank Zappa band members."

Asked to divulge a few more details of the new tour's content Dweezil remarked, "The last tour featured a lot of stuff from [the 1973-74 albums] 'Apostrophe,' 'Over-nite Sensation,' and 'Roxy & Elswhere,' which were all great songs to play live-and many of them featured Napoleon on the actual records so it added to the authenticity in a live situation. This tour will allow us to add to that and include material from 'We're Only In It For The Money', 'Absolutely Free', 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh', 'Joe's Garage', 'You Are What You Is',' The Yellow Shark' and many more.

"I want to make sure that when we go out on that stage, we perform a show that is as fun and inspiring as possible for everybody in terms of the song choices and the attention to details in the arrangement"both musically and sonically."

That this is a tall, tall order is evidenced by the complexity of Frank Zappa's work-and the extraordinary amount of painstaking research that was required for his son to do it justice.

"Before I even sat down to pick a direction, I wanted to listen to every single record he ever made--in chronological order--so I could get not only a real sense of the depth of his music but also the evolution of it," Dweezil explains, noting that this intensive study period lasted two years. "In that time I decided I wanted to play some of Frank's most intricate and difficult melodies from my favorite instrumentals on guitar. Since the melodies were usually written for keyboards or percussion they did not easily lay out on guitar. It was a clear case of necessity being the mother of invention, so to speak: I had to completely alter my mental and physical approach to guitar."

Dweezil had always appreciated his father's playing, but patterned his own more along the lines of role models like Jimmy Page and Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai and especially Eddie Van Halen-who both taught him some of their techniques personally.

"When it comes to Frank's playing," he says, "he was a drummer, first, so his melodic ideas have a very complex rhythmic perspective. He was a tremendous improviser and liked to think of his guitar solos as air sculptures. Then there was his whole tonal palette, that added to his unique style. Even his approach to equipment was so different--so trying to capture even a similar guitar sound is a challenge! I'm not going up there and pretending to be Frank, but I do try to imbue my own playing with some of his idiosyncratic phrases. I try to balance my own musical ideas with his concepts in order to play in context to his music."

How well Dweezil achieved his objectives can be observed in the forthcoming DVD filmed during the last tour. "I put a camera on the head stock of my guitar pointing down the neck," he says, "with a close-up view of the fingerings and the weird picking styles that are required. So there's documentation of my guitar metamorphosis!"

But the main reason for the DVD and the tour is to provide a new opportunity to expose people to Frank Zappa's music.

"If you're a young music listener and all you've ever heard has come from modern popular radio, I would urge you to step outside that tiny bubble and see what you've been missing," says Dweezil. "I think it is very important at this time in the world of music for people to expand their view of what is possible. I think my Dad's music deserves to be heard by a wider audience. I really think he's been misunderstood for far too long, which brings me back to why I'm doing this: I'm so in awe of his accomplishments and want more and more people to know about him, and I think the best way for people to first discover his music is on a visceral level in a live situation.

"I think you have to be confronted with the complexity and the beautiful subtlety of all of it to fully appreciate the artistry of it."

 

 
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