Dweezil pores over Zappa family album
Frank's son does his late dad proud in a leisurely retrospective carefully culled from FZ's eclectic songbook.
By RICHARD CROMELIN, Times Staff Writer
Published in the LA Times: June 26, 2006
“Dad, can I borrow the body of work tonight?”
That, in a phrase, is the premise of Zappa plays Zappa, a concert enterprise in which Dweezil Zappa leads a band playing the music of his illustrious father, Frank Zappa. Though other associates have presented their versions of the curmudgeonly composer's work, this is billed as the first time it's been played live in its original form since his death from cancer in 1993.
Dweezil brought it to the Zappa clan's hometown Friday with a nearly three-hour show at the Wiltern LG. It didn't cover the entire Frank spectrum, and the pacing and performance itself were uneven, but the sentiment and spirit of the evening ultimately prevailed.
From Queen with Paul Rodgers to INXS with whoever, these exercises in rock reanimation inevitably have a void at the core, so it was wise to approach him from a compositional standpoint — that is, just play the notes and don't try to re-create the experience of a vintage Zappa show, with its sensory overload and the patriarch's scowling charisma.
That worked especially well on such pieces as "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," a sweeping piece of big-band rock that sounded like avant-garde Broadway music. Guitarist Dweezil and his seven musicians were tight and spirited, spearheaded by Zappa alumnus Napoleon Murphy Brock, a soulful singer and strong stage presence.
There were many distinct phases and stages in the protean musician's four-decade output, from doo-wop to neoclassical to jazz fusion. But Friday's tribute focused on the accessible (in a challenging way) rock of his 1970s albums such as "Apostrophe" and "Over-Nite Sensation."
The show lost its focus when it fell into the hands of two other Zappa vets, Terry Bozzio (who couldn't play drums because of an arm injury but sang for a long, long time and then played drums anyway) and guitar hero Steve Vai, whose showy displays of technique were cheered heartily by a large contingent of guitar-geeks in the house.
Frank Zappa is hardly unrecognized or underrated, but it's nice to have his music taken off the shelves and put back into circulation. It also brings some purpose to the somewhat meandering career of his oldest child, who put himself through an intensive relearning regimen to play this music.
At the end, Dweezil played "Chunga's Revenge" along with a film of his father, in the manner made famous by Natalie and Nat King Cole, and if it wasn't quite unforgettable, it was memorable enough.