Zappa Jr. does Zappa Sr. proud
By ROB WILLIAMS
Published on What's On Winnipeg - July 20, 2007
RECREATING the music of Frank Zappa is no easy task.
The late icon was a musical scientist who incorporated such diverse styles as classical, jazz and '50s doo wop into his complicated and inventive arrangements during a wildly innovative career that saw the mustachioed genius release more than 70 albums between 1966 and 1993, when he died from cancer.
So who better than to pay homage to one of rock's most original and daring composers than his son Dweezil, who kicked off the 2007 tour of Zappa Plays Zappa in Winnipeg Wednesday at the Centennial Concert Hall.
"Hello, let's have some fun," Dweezil said before he and his talented six-piece band launched into the instrumental Echidna's Arf, which segued into the funky groove of My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama while some fans stood and bowed.
It's not often fans give standing ovations to a video screen, but they did when Frank appeared several times throughout the evening in rare footage behind the musicians on stage who backed their hero during his guitar solo on Black Napkins, while he recited the absurdist lyrics to Montana and delivered his rapid fire commentary on religious fanaticism during Dumb All Over with the unforgettable line about being created in God's image: "If we're dumb, then God is dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side."
The always-grinning Dweezil and his father even traded off solos during Cosmik Debris while playing the same guitar.
Witnessing Dweezil tackle Frank's blitzkrieg-quick leads inspired more ovations. He claimed it took him two years of training and learning new techniques to play his dad's material and there was no choice but to doubt it after witnessing him effortlessly rip off solos in songs like Pygmy Twylyte, G-Spot Tornado and What's New in Baltimore? (No wonder there are several albums dedicated strictly to Frank's guitar solos).
The 170-minute 26-song set covered a wide span of Frank's career, with Zappa alumni Ray White on hand to handle a big chunk of vocal duties on crowd favourites like the acid-rock flavoured City of Tiny Lights and his signature tune, Illinois Enema Bandit.
When Dweezil or White weren't on lead vocals it was usually Scheila Gonzalez (keyboards, saxophones and flute) or drummer Joe Travers who handled the lion's share of lyrics, while everyone helped out on background vocals.
They got a chance to show of their instrumental prowess on Dupree's Paradise, which Dweezil introduced by explaining how Frank would often devote a part of his concerts to improvisation.
Winnipeg fans got a rare treat with the premiere of Uncle Remus, a song Dweezil said none of his father's bands ever performed live, before the Hot Rats fave Willie the Pimp, with White reciting Captain Beefheart's famous vocals.
Following the three-song encore of Cosmik Debris, the bizarre Muffin Man and the instrumental madness of G-Spot Tornado, Dweezil expressed his genuine gratitude for the admiration he was getting from the crowd and the number of young people in the audience.
"It feels like the time is now for more people to be exposed to Frank's music and we're excited you came out to see us tonight," he said.
With Frank Zappa's music you either get it, or you don't, and Wednesday night everyone who saw his songs performed live got it and witnessed something special.