Dweezil Zappa Pays Tribute
By SCOTT BAKER
Published in the The Review Magazine, Detroit
It's the return of the Pygmy Twylyte with a twist.
Even since some five years before Frank Zappa's death in December 1993, little has been done when it comes to offering his music in a live setting, save a few incredible and underscored tribute bands, some of which even featured many of the composer's former band mates.
While the Zappa family has toiled away over the past 13 years putting together a legacy of vault teases, a spattering of new official releases which have spilt out periodically on their famous father, it took them until now, in 2006, to put together a touring legacy led by his incredible guitarist-son Dweezil Zappa.
Making his way to Meadow Brook near Detroit on June 15, the warm, sunny evening and the nearly capacity crowd came to check out what Dweezil was up to for his first Michigan stop of the current tour. The tour began overseas a few months back.
With an all-star cast featuring Frank alumni Napoleon Murphy-Brock (sax/vocals/showman), Terry Bozzio (drummer /vocalist), and Steve Vai (stunt guitarist), Dweezil filled out his band with six of the most young and invigorated musicians that could be considered some of Frank's finest bastard children: Scheila Gonzalez (flute/sax/keyboards/vocals), Aaron Arntz (keyboards/trumpet/vocals), Jamie Kime (guitar), Pete Griffin (bass), Billy Hulting (mallets/percussion), and the official Frank Vaultmeister himself, Joe Travers (drums/vocals).
The set opened with a video of the Roxy & Elsewhere band Frank performed with in the early '70s, and featured a young Napoleon Murphy-Brock. It was just over 30-minutes from a teaser of a DVD that is to be released soon. The video drew people to the seats, cheering the incessant jamming of the group and stone eyeing for each Frank guitar solo. It was a perfect way to look back at a musician that has eclipsed every genre in music and who is still more than viable today.
With Dweezil and group making their way to the stage with a blistering version of Imaginary Diseases, the fine instrumental showcased the groove of the group, dipping into the vibe of the song, pacing the night.
Covering nearly, if not all of Frank's Roxy & Elsewhere release throughout the night, Murphy-Brock became the de-facto vocalist and frontman, while Dweezil dialed in his father's spirit with Frank's Gibson SG guitar and a tone to compare to his dad's (as opposed to the Van Halen-esq tone Dweezil usually utilizes). The warm fury guitar snarls were so close to Frank's sound, one had to realize that without a doubt Dweezil meant this tour to be all about his father's music. Then with his shoulder length locks, turning around to direct the band, it was just plain eerie and spectacular all at once.
From Let's Make The Water Turn Black and Florentine Pogen, to King Kong Variations (complete with Dweezil utilizing his father's hand signals to lead the band into other musical territories) and The Idiot Bastard Son, it was hard to catch your breath. The group flowed seamlessly between songs, with vocal acrobatics, key changes, and impeccable drumming throughout, which became a solid mirror of Frank's own performances. Gonzalez's fiery backing vocals, along with Murphy-Brock's front vocals sounded so close to Frank's swagger, it gave goose-bumps. Even Travers had a bit in the show that came across as if Frank was talking to the audience and if you blinked, you'd think it was true.
With having issued the Dub Room Special (Eagle Vision) finally on DVD, and the Zappa archives having released CDs Joe's Corsage, Joe's Domage, Joe's XMASage, and the music-friendly QAUDIOPHILLIAC and recently released Imaginary Diseases (all Zappa Vault releases), there was no shortage of current output to help support as more Frank music becomes available. And while none of that was available at the show, 2006 is no better time to remind people of the Zappa genius.
Helping support the cause was Bozzio, featured on his classic Frank pieces I'm So Cute, Trying To Grow A Chin, City of Tiny Lights, as well as the epic Punky's Whips, Bozzio fed the mass crowd his stylistic drumming and wit that propelled him through the mid to late '70s Frank output. The standing ovations brought it home.
Vai was cued up to highlight the remainder of the evening, whipping up his incredible guitar acrobatics on Black Page #1 & 2 as well as an incredible and passionate phrasing back and forth with Dweezil throughout Peaches en Regalia, Montana, and Edchinda's Arf, among others. Again, the audience was on its feet at the end of every song.
With the movie screen lowered behind the band, the teary-eyed audience witnessed Dweezil leading the band (pre-encore), to back his father in mid solo on Chunga's Revenge. As Frank's live solo came to a close Dweezil took over and the movie screen was lifted. It was offered as a treat to see the father/son combination end the night and by measure of the tears in the crowd, one of the most spectacular highlights of the event.
Every musician returned to the stage for More Trouble Every Day on the encore giving the bluesy strut-groove song over-the-top dynamics and fireworks which came to a halt around 11. Dweezil stressed the fact that they 'Couldn't afford to pay the fine' if they went over the time restraint.
With any luck Zappa's sound will once again swoon on tour as Dweezil promised a return engagement. If Frank only knew the beauty he has bestowed on the future of music, and his beautiful family for following his dream.