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Zappa Plays Zappa (sort of)

Zappa plays zappa

Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of musical iconoclast Frank Zappa, has been keeping his father's work alive by touring as "Zappa Plays Zappa." Or at least, he has been until a family fallout has made it impossible for him to use that name. Dweezil has embarked on a fairly public skirmish with younger siblings Diva and Ahmet who control 60% of the Zappa Family Trust.  Dweezil and his older sister Moon, each own 20%. Presumably matriarch Gail Zappa knew exactly what kind of situation she was creating when she wrote her will dividing things up this way and leaving youngest son Ahmet in charge. While every family is dysfunctional in their own way, lets just say the Zappa family seems to have some special dynamics.

Mostly I wouldn't care less about some children-of-stars squabble except at the point where it starts to impact the actual shows that are being performed.  There's no likeness of Frank Zappa anywhere on stage or in any of the merchandise or promotional materials. In fact the tour has been renamed the "Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he wants." Except, that's not exactly true either. But I'll come back to that point momentarily. 

The show began on a strong note with several songs from the first "Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" album "Freak Out!" which was released 50 years ago this year. Songs ranged from the phrenetic "Help, I'm A Rock!" to the soulful "Doreen" to more musically adventurous songs like "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and "Eat That Question."  Indeed, it was the vast instrumental breaks with Dweezil's soaring guitar parts that got the fans up on their feet cheering. Of course, there were also some songs of questionable taste "Shove It Right In" and the jaunty "Catholic Girls" but taste is in the ear of the beholder. 

A lot of Zappa songs are laden with key and tempo changes that go way beyond rock and lean more heavily towards avant-garde jazz and that was certainly true with songs like "Five Five Five."

Presumably to show that Dweezil Zappa's tour was not just capitalizing on the music or fame of his father, the second part of the show included a medley of '80s songs.  Sure that's kind of cool. And these songs were played with great musicianship despite the fast chord, tempo and key changes. After going through snippets of a dozen songs in under 4 minutes ("Tom Sawyer", "Spirit of Radio", " Another One Bites The Dust", "Under Pressure", "Billie Jean", "Like a Virgin", "Jack & Diane", " I want Candy", "Walking on Sunshine", "Stray Cat Strut", the novelty wore off.

Yet the '80s snippets continued on with short bursts from: "Lady", "I Just Called To Say I Love You", "9 to 5", "Get Physical", "Xanadu", "Don't You Want Me Baby..."

And on... "I Don't Want to Hurt You", "Mr Roboto", "Blinded By Science", "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"...

And on... "I Melt With You", "Shout", "Our House", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"...

And on... "C'mon Eileen", "Money For Nothing", "I Want A New Drug"...

And on... "Hey Micky", "Footloose", "Chariots of Fire"...

And on... "C'mon Feel The Noise", "Higher Love"...

And on... "Relax", "Born to Run"...

I counted over 75 songs. All brilliantly played. But other than the musical showmanship of being able to play these short signature licks without ever losing the beat, it became mind-numbing tedium.

So where was I?

Oh yes, the audience was there to hear the music of Frank Zappa. Not an '80s K-Tel commercial.  

After a brief pause, the band came back and played "You Are What You Is" and "Keep it Greasy". 

Again, I have to commend the band for an incredible performance of extremely complex music. They are superb musicians and Dweezil is an exceptionally talented guitarist and band leader.  It was an excellent show even for casual fans.

And I appreciate that Dweezil is in the difficult position of being unable to use his own family name without a license from the Zappa Family Trust (of which he is a beneficiary.)  While everyone in the family is saying they want to preserve Frank Zappa's legacy, Dweezil is out there keeping it alive while the Zappa Family Trust are singing a different tune.   

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