Photo courtesy of George Guerra
You wonder how a man who called his band The Mothers of Invention, as Frank Zappa did, would take to his son making a living as a tribute band? Sure every artist longs for their art to outlive their time walking this Earth, and every father hopes to leave their child a legacy with which they can prosper, but would a musician such as Frank Zappa, who strove so far for originality, judge his son harshly for living in the music from his past and marketing his trademark mustache on merchandise ranging from notebooks to guitar picks?
Such questions did not bother a large audience from lining up outside the Culture Room Thursday evening, eagerly awaiting the doors to open at 7:30 to hear Zappa Plays Zappa. The six-piece assembled by Frank's son Dweezil includes virtuoso musicians who master their respective instruments with such skill they would do Frank Zappa, a notorious perfectionist, proud. "I started this project," an aqua-shirt and-blue-jeans-clad Dweezil told the crowd midway through their two-hour set, "because music journalists wrote that my father was someone who wrote only comedy music. He recorded 80 records, sometimes five in one year. So I thought a new generation needed to be exposed."
While much of the crowd were closer to contemporaries of Frank (who if he hadn't passed away in 1993 would be 74 years old) than of any new generation, it was nice to hear him present his motives for Zappa Plays Zappa as a noble redemption mission for his father's legacy. Even if this music journalist would agree that most of Frank Zappa's catalog, with its silly lyrics and wacky tempos, does qualify as comedy music suitable to be the soundtrack for underground 1970's drug-fueled underground Robert Crumb comic books, why does there have to be anything wrong with that?
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This tour is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the record One Size Fits All, and thus Zappa Plays Zappa performed the record faithfully track by track (with the unfaithful exception being starting things off with the theme from Star Wars), including playing a song in "San Ber'dino" that Dweezil said his father never once played live.
The second half of the set was dedicated to bringing out the Frank Zappa songs that are closest to being considered hits, like "Cosmic Debris" and "Montana." Dweezil showed off his chops on guitar, while his sidemen and woman jammed on everything from trombone to harmonica to human beatbox to replicate Frank Zappa's oeuvre.
There was a technical difficulty midway through the set, when Dweezil was forced to stall for time and told about acting in the 1987 movie The Running Man, where he was witness to Arnold Schwarzenegger crassly hitting on any chick on set while lighting ten-foot flames. The punchline brought a lot of laughs from the house. Though Frank Zappa's music was one part jazz, another part rock, and a portion Broadway showtune, Dweezel Zappa's Schwarzenegger story would have fit right in to the lyrics of his father's comedy music.