Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox, 12/14
A.H. Goldstein Dweezil Zappa onstage at the Fox Theatre in Boulder for Zappa Plays Zappa.
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA @ FOX THEATRE | 12/15/12
"Still, nothing sounds like that," Dweezil Zappa marveled after his band had made its way through "Who Are the Brain Police?" the feedback-laden, surreal anthem from the 1966 Mothers of Invention album Freak Out!. Dweezil and the rest of the Zappa Plays Zappa sextet were more than a third of the way through their live tribute to the music of Frank Zappa for a sold-out crowd at the Fox Theatre when he made this assertion. The band had already played tunes from more than a dozen Frank Zappa albums, a sampling that eloquently backed up Dweezil's observation about his father's music. There's still nothing that sounds like the music of Frank Zappa. There's still no style that melds classical rigor, jazz-based improvisation and rock and roll abandon in quite the same way.
- Dweezil Zappa on his father's music and the degree of difficulty of playing his songs live
- Review: Zappa Plays Zappa at the Paramount, 6/8/10
- Frankly Classical: Frank Zappa's legacy goes from classic to classical
That observation was at the heart of the Zappa Plays Zappa show this past weekend. Leading a slimmer ensemble than in past visits (missing in the six-piece band was a percussionist, as well as any veteran players from Frank Zappa's past touring bands), Dweezil Zappa worked his hardest to represent his father's wide range of sounds and styles.
A.H. Goldstein Zappa Plays Zappa at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.
From bluesy guitar-based anthems like "Willie the Pimp" from 1969's Hot Rats to complex classical compositions like "Strictly Genteel" from 200 Motels, Orchestral Favorites and London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 2 albums, the band delivered an impressive and ambitious tour through Frank Zappa's catalogue. What's more, the group did it with a high level of skill and expertise. While some of the tunes suffered from the absence of a specialized percussion player, Dweezil and the other five musicians had enough tools in their collective musical arsenals to cover a wealth of styles.
Saxophonist, flautist, keyboard player and vocalist Scheila Gonzalez jumped between musical duties with ease, delivering impassioned vocals on "Dirty Love" just as comfortably as she played a stirring flute accompaniment on "Peaches En Regalia." Dweezil announced early that lead vocalist Ben Thomas was suffering from a cold, but that didn't hold back impressive vocal performances on tunes like "Pygmy Twylyte" and spot-on trombone accompaniment for songs like "Strictly Genteel."
Keyboardist Chris Norton also wore multiple musical hats, laying down forceful vocal leads for songs from the Sheik Yerbouti album like "Tryin' to Grow a Chin" and "City of Tiny Lites." Drummer Joe Travers was explosive and bassist Pete Griffin was a consummate virtuoso. The band even included tour manager Pete Jones as a stand in for Captain Beefheart and he sang the lead vocals for "Debra Kadabra" from the Bongo Fury record.
The shared level of skill gave all of the 23 songs a careful attention to detail. The band pulled off some of the most challenging songs from Roxy & Elsewhere without a hitch; the tongue-in-cheek country ballad "Harder Than Your Husband" from You Are What You Is kept all of its irreverence and humor, and the band even took a cue from Frank Zappa's 1980s band in their Carlos Santana-inspired vamp for the "City of Tiny Lites" guitar solo.