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ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA (Symphony Hall)

17-06-2009

 

Dweezil Zappa, Frank’s son, was in Birmingham, recreating his father’s music. Richard Lutz has this review. But first, a story….

When I was a kid my friends and I would sneak off to the dark bewitching streets of The East Village in Manhattan. It was the sixties. There was mystery in the air.

We’d see The Fugs, The Blues Project and, once, almost accidently, Thelonious Monk pounding the piano like an ebony sphinx. There just was too much music, too many adventures.

Here is what we stumbled upon one night: we were walking down Bleeker Street, looking for something to smoke. There was a noise, a tantalising creepy human sound, from a doorway. There was a man dressed in a gold feathered coat. He had a top hat on and he was trying to get suckers to see his band’s show at some grubby club.

No one was coming in. Yes, it was Frank Zappa in his early days and the band was The Mothers of Invention.

Well, Frank graduated to greater things and died in the early nineties. Now his son Dweezil is touring the world with his own seven man band re creating the Zappa sound.

Dweezil - what a name - looks nothing like his dead father. There is no demonic smile, no waterfall of black curls, no cynical snarl, no great one-liners (my favourite is his assessment of critics: ‘Rock journalism is for people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read…’)

The son is a smiling laidback Californian. His band is composed of seriously proficient musicians, from Schiela Gonzalez - a one woman woodwind section - to a vibrophone specialist (Billy Hulting) to an electric kazoo soloist (Chris Palmer).

Dweezil himself almost stands aloof from the band, but ready to throw out Zappa darts to the audience in case they are not up to scratch (‘Are you asleep, Birmingham?’ he asks carefully at one point). He also plays Zappa guitar exceedingly well and exceedingly loud throwing out classics that littered the music scene for almost 30 years.

In short you get your money’s worth. And of course you also get the sideshow of died in the hair - what’s left of it anyway - Zappa freaks coming out of the woodwork as if they had been freeze dried since 1968. Where do these guys come from?

As for the music, this isn’t the usual tribute band with guys in bad wigs playing ninth rate versions of Thin Lizzy standards. This is a highly skilled group which knows music, which knows its Edgar Varese from its Dizzy Gillespie and, hilariously, knows how to parody the genres of post war music from doo-wop to surfing tunes.

I’d give it eight and a half rock n roll headbands out of a possible ten.

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