Friday, November 30, 2007

This Is Just A Tribute

Your dad is not only famous but adored, revered, often beyond the bounds of common sense, by a large, loyal and vocal fan base. You're an excellent musician in your own right, but you've inherited little of the old man's creativity, and your recorded output is patchy. In terms of public perception, at least, you're destined to live out your life in your father's shadow. How on earth do you deal with this?

Here's a novel idea: why not embrace it?

It's tough to evaluate Dweezil Zappa's Zappa Plays Zappa, which I saw last night at one of Melbourne's least rockin' venues, Hamer Hall. I went in expecting...well, I don't know what I was expecting. As a friend put it, the show was either going to be a cheesy cash-in or a loving tribute; fortunately it turned out to be the latter. I didn't like everything about the show - there were things I wish they'd done differently, songs I wish they'd played but didn't, songs I wish they hadn't played but did - but I liked most of it and thought a good deal of it was brilliant.

Basically what Dweezil has done is put together a killer band, rope in some old stagers from Frank's various touring outfits (the Australian tour features vocalist/guitarist Ray White and fretboard-wanker extradinaire Steve Vai), and absorb as much of Frank's soloing technique as possible to provide a familiar anchor for the audience. Last night's setlist was mostly dirty rockers and extended guitar jams, which I found a touch disappointing given the show started with an incredible performance of "Dog Meat" (link is to a video of the orchestral version). Still, it was all good. The band were great (marimbas! whammy bars! Scheila Gonzalez playing two saxophones at once!), the set was varied, the jokes were (mostly) funny, the audience enamored. The only thing missing was "Inca Roads" - and, of course, Frank.

In contrast to his father, live footage of whom was projected judiciously throughout the show, Dweezil is relaxed, even self-effacing, on stage. It was touching to watch Dweezil tearing through a guitar solo while he watched Frank tearing through the same solo up on the big screen. But Dweezil is no dummy - tribute was paid to Frank, but for the most part the music was allowed to stand without overt reference to its composer. Zappa Plays Zappa was entertaining but it was also admirable in its restrained but genuine sentimentality, its playful yet subtly deferential approach. Dweezil deserves respect as musician and band leader, but also as custodian of a particular strand of Frank's music. It's hard to imagine anybody other than Frank himself doing the job better.


TimT said...

Sounds like a fun time, and Zappa Srs music would probably fit this treatment better than many of the musical legends from the 50s through to now, since, as Zappa himself said, "I used to love putting little black dots on paper."

Though I'm something of a cretin when it comes to the pop/rock/hip-hop/whatever musical schools post baby-boom, I'm becoming something of a mad fanatic for Zappa Srs music. Partly it's because it's so chaotically creative. Partly it's because Zappa can be hilarious, and partly it's because he always seems to know the right melody or the right instrument or the right musical cliche to use to illustrate the words, or the mood.

Pity about all that 'Grand Wazoo' free jazz stuff, but I suppose it's all part of the Zappa brand.

John Surname said...

I so desperately wanted to go to this. I don't like all his stuff, but when he's at his best he's one of the greatest songwriters on the planet.

Beth said...

I don't know much about Frank Zappa but anyone who calls his kid Dweezil is alright by me.

Tim said...

It gets better: Dweezil was named after his mother's little toe, which, for some reason, Frank had nicknamed Dweezil. The other Zappa kids are named Moon Unit, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin.

genevieve said...

Wonder what he called the big toe then. Diva Fat Muffin?

Tim, you promised a list....Have a good Christmas anyhow.