Dweezil ripped my flesh
Son of Zappa, your electric guitar daddy
By JOHN SEMLEY-
News Pop Music Critic
Published in The McGill Tribune - October 31, 2006
The dress code for last Tuesday's Zappa Plays Zappa show at Metropolis ranged from too-tight Harley leathers to Eddie Bauer windbreakers to conservative business-casual to Iron Maiden T-shirts. If rock 'n' roll, as it is often quipped, is nothing more than fashion, then it is apparent that the extremely hip members of this audience did not get the memo. Nevertheless, the fans at the sold-out show made it quite clear that the music of the late Frank Zappa (1940-1993) is far from being out of style.
The fittingly eponymous Zappa Plays Zappa touring band is fronted by Dweezil Zappa, the oldest of Frank Zappa's two sons and a prodigious guitarist in his own right (he was playing solos on his father's albums when he was only 15). However, the real centrepieces of the band, despite Dweezil's solid vocal efforts and proficient guitar playing, are the three former members of Zappa's ever-changing touring groups: Steve Vai (on stunt guitar), Terry "Ted" Bozzio (on vocals and monster drums) and one of the funkiest men to ever grace a stage, Napoleon Murphy Brock (on vocals, sax, flute and lead dancing).
Anyone familiar with Frank Zappa's extensive musical catalogue may worry that all the density and monstrous sonic complexity may be cheapened by this tour. After all, Dweezil is trying to auction off a priceless guitar, given to his father by Jimi Hendrix, just to make a buck. Well, ask any member of last Tuesday's audience and they will tell you that Zappa Plays Zappa was not just some cheap bastardization. Dweezil's guitar, while perhaps not a Stratocaster with a whammy bar, was played with such ferocious Zappological dynamism that you could indeed believe it may have wanted to kill your mama. Yes, it was conceptual continuity abound, with the band effortlessly navigating classic Zappa compositions like "The Torture Never Stops," "Echidna's Art (of you)" and "Regyptian Strut" (which triumphantly closed the show) with all the skill that one would expect from a band carrying the name Zappa.
Exceptional amongst the material performed during the three hour and some-odd minutes set were classic Zappa stage routines, including a Flo and Eddie-era "Call Any Vegetable" and Bozzio's renditions of "Tryin' to Grow a Chin" and "Punky's Whips" during the so-called "teen angst portion of the program." The music spanned Zappa's entire 30-year, three-score album career, ranging from early iconoclastic Mothers of Invention tunes ("Who Are the Brain Police?", "More Trouble Every Day") to hits from the Roxy-era seventies band ("Cheepnis," "Advance Romance," "Inca Roads") to fiendishly composed instrumental pieces (most notably Bozzio and Vai's trading solos on "The Black Page" Parts one and two).
The crowd was intense, with people singing along and joining in audience participation (an element distinct to Frank Zappa's live shows which Dweezil rather dubiously donned). It was a regular freak out. There was also a remarkable number of young people in the audience, a demographic that Zappa Jr. relishes, as he hoped that this aptly-titled "Tour De Frank" would succeed in exposing the music of Frank Zappa to a younger generation.
At the end of the show, Dweezil and co., visibly overwhelmed by the responsiveness of the crowd, promised they would return to Montreal. When they do they will be welcomed with open arms as it seems that, especially in the eyes of Montrealers, the music of Frank Zappa, inarguably the most prolific, eclectic and innovative musician of his generation, is still the crux of the proverbial biscuit.