Review: Dweezil does it
Frank Zappa’s son is carrying his father’s music to a new generation
By JENNIFER CHANCELLOR - World Scene Writer
Published in Tulsa World - August 15, 2007
It’s not often that more than 40 years of rock history gets upstaged by a 9-year-old fan.
But much like Frank Zappa’s music legacy was passed on to his own son Dweezil, senior Zappa’s music has reached yet another generation of listener, thanks to his son.
Just ask Isaiah.
Dweezil Zappa played the Cain’s Ballroom Monday night to a moderately sized but passionate crowd. It was a meticulously played set of his father’s classic rock-funkjazz- improv tunes, lasting more than two and a half hours.
Immediately upon taking the stage, Dweezil Zappa pointed out a slight glitch in the stage setup. Due to its size, an oversized screen, onto which vintage concert footage of Frank Zappa was played periodically throughout the evening, was placed stage right instead of overhead.
But that glitch meant that the audience could watch the boyish, blue-eyed gaze of a son following, spot-on, his father’s lead during several songs, including “Dumb All Over.”
The nostalgia — from himself and the crowd — was palpable.
The exchange was similar to the one between Dweezil Zappa and the young, towheaded boy headbanging in the front row, who easily helped make this Zappa Plays Zappa performance a singularly unique one for band and fans alike.
Each stage member at some point cheered Isaiah on, laughed with him, lightly heckled his parents, played to him — and looked on, stunned, as he sang along with almost every song.
That was a feat in itself, considering more than 70 albums were made during Frank Zappa’s long career.
And it means Isaiah sang along with “City of Tiny Lights,” “Uncle Remus,” “Caroline Hardcore Ecstasy,” “Joe’s Garage,” “The Illinois Enema Bandit” and more.
The outstanding performance of the extended improv piece “Dupree’s Paradise” left the audience glued to the wooden floor. Many audience members, who drained their beers early in the set, waited for a slow moment to return to the bar.
But that time never came.
Replete with secret phrase, “He’s a Jew among the Jesus guys/it’s Christmas in cellblock H,” supplied at random from the audience, the only bandmember from Frank Zappa’s touring days, Ray White, sang about turning his Menorah into a shiv to protect himself during Christmas.
The crowd laughed through every hilarious second.
At one point, Dweezil Zappa “conducted” each member of the band, dictating drum punches and horn wails. He even pretended to pitch an aural baseball to Isaiah, who in turn caught it and lobbed it back to the frontman, the actions punctuated with wind-up pitch drum rolls and cymbal-crash ball grabs from drummer Joe Travers.
Dweezil Zappa has mentioned in past interviews that one reason he didn’t include a star-studded cast with this tour is that too many people were distracted by the musicians, thereby taking away from the music.
Keeping White, however, was one of the wisest choices ever made.
His easy, smooth and energetic mastery of the material solidified young Zappa’s vision for his father’s music, in turn giving “lesser-known” bandmembers like bassist Pete Griffith and multi-instrumentalist Sheila Gonzalez a wide creative berth.
On stage, White wore a black tee with the words “We Don’t Mess Around” printed in big, capitalized, script letters.
Without a doubt, those words set the tone for the evening. The band was serious about re-creating the Frank Zappa experience, and did it well.
At one point during the show, Dweezil Zappa asked the audience when was the last time his father played Tulsa.
One inebriated-sounding woman yelled “December 1993!”
Well, that was about the time Frank Zappa died . . . then several people yelled, “1984,” and others yelled “1980.”
Dweezil Zappa wasn’t sure himself, though he admitted that the ’80s was the likelier bet.
Either way, it’s been a long time since Tulsa’s heard Frank Zappa’s music played live.
“I’m glad to see there are people out here who still enjoy his music,” the younger Zappa said, smiling, as the crowd cheered.
He called this tour a “grassroots effort” to get new people into Frank Zappa’s music.
If Isaiah’s headbanging, singing and dancing until he couldn’t stand any longer are any indication, the effort is obviously working.