Saturday, 24 July 2010

Zappa Plays Zappa

Another works outing this week, to the Cambridge Corn Exchange, to see Dweezil Zappa with his splendid teenage rockin' combo Zappa Plays Zappa (ZPZ).
For those of you unversed in the legend, Dweezil is the Son Of Frank Zappa (FZ) and five years ago he set up this band to tour and play exclusively and accurately the music of his late father. It is thus probably the most legitimate tribute band on the planet. Dweezil has previously done loads of solo stuff, as well as guesting on his Dad's shows as a lad, and he runs the production side of the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) which releases Frank's posthumous stuff.
Any road up, what a brilliant concert! They played for about two and half hours without an interval, and with meticulous care whilst incorporating some wizard solos along the way. The band were excellent; talented musicians clearly dedicated to playing it right. Jeff Simmons, bass player for FZ once upon a time, used to say about FZ's bands that "You've got yer armies and you've got yer rock bands. And this is what you've got in between." It seems that the same discipline has been carried through to ZPZ. This is important because a lot of FZ's music is demanding, difficult to play and often statistically very dense, darting through key changes and time signatures whilst settling in a groove of one kind or another from time to time - reggae, or a shuffle, or a boogie, whatever - and dabbling in any genre you care to think of; blues, jazz, avant-garde classical, doo-wop, rock, sea shanties, Bulgarian folk music and so forth.
Dweezil's guitar playing has improved immensely in recent years. He was previously more akin in style to the likes of Eddie van Halen but the discipline of replicating FZ's stuff has clearly rubbed off on him and his solos are really quite inventive now. But he's a different character to the Old Man - he smiled for most of the concert and seemed to be quite nice really. He hasn't got the presence of FZ nor does he try to engage with the audience in the way FZ did in terms of political/social/deviant commentary. It is just about the music.
I think every member of ZPZ apart from perhaps the drummer, Joe Travers, would qualify for one of FZ's bands. Joe is a very competent player and got all the parts (mostly) right but he whacked the drums too hard too often. He's a 'rock' drummer rather than a musician with a distinctive style as posessed by FZ's alumni e.g. Terry Bozzio or Vinnie Collaiuta. The bass player, Pete Griffin, suffered a tad because the acoustics at the Corn Exchange mean that the bass resonates and you lose clarity, but he certainly put a lot of energy into it. Jamie Kime on guitar provided solid back-up for Dweezil and contributed a fantastic solo on 'Advance Romance'. On keyboards, Chris Norton jazzed things up a bit for his solos and provided some nifty vocals too. Percussion is a big part of FZ's music and Billy Hulting was excellent, handling the complex melody lines as well as chilling out on the vibes for his solos. Ben Thomas on lead vocals, harmonica and trumpet was rather good, injecting bits of showmanship here and there. The major talent in the band though is Scheila Gonzalez on saxophone, flute, keyboards and vocals - that's what I call multi-tasking. Brilliant. Setlist here.
Bonus points to Dweezil for staying on after the end of the show to sign autographs and shake hands etc. Only one complaint - it was very loud with a bit too much treble.
As for the venue: The facilities are good enough but they must do something about the acoustics and install some baffles.
Supplemental: For alternative FZ tribute bands and FZ alumni, you could nip over to Germany for Zappanale between 10 and 15 August. This is not however approved or endorsed by the ZFT, but that's another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment