zappa plays zappa cover
I saw Zappa play Zappa!

While I’m the kind of cynic who likes to say that I prefer seeing bands live, and I have the stories and memories to prove, I have actually not been to a show recently. Medical stuff has kept me at home, so this was the first time I trekked outside to this show, having to park just a bit away, and already needing to lean on stuff in a Steve Ditko like fashion, it didn’t take long for me to realize I wouldn’t be able to see the band if I didn’t stand up, and accept the pain of spectacle. I gladly did.

(seriously, hang out with me soon if you want to become a character in a Steve Ditko comic! It is how my wound makes me walk! And because of his varied and realistic characters, you get to be the normal one!!!!!)

Ah, but enough about the venue, big enough to be a stadium, but still intimate enough to make eye contact with the band. I wanna talk about the music!

Which was, by far and large, immaculately performed. Even though the set-up was just six pieces, all the brass bebop mania of “Zombie Woof” was ably handled by a trombonist (very possibly Bruce Fowler of the original band) and saxophonist. And each instrumentalist could chime in on the vocals. All six of them had prominent, dramatic moments in the songs, and each of them were there for it. There weren’t Marimbas, but there was an amazing keyboard player who had a great marimba like sound that he was able to alter the frequencies of and turn into a much more vibrant display of electronica than Frank Zappa’s intended Marimbas could do.

Which kinda of leads me to the next point: they perform the music so well, that you know they are carrying the replica of Frank Zappa’s music forward, with rules of no drug use during performance obviously carried through to this band, too:

they played for two and a half hours. I mean, it is difficult to find an act that could open for an evening of Frank Zappa’s music, so they just didn’t try. And each of the performers could handle the marathon of music.

For those worrying that they are simply going to repeat the performances on the only extant Zappa Plays Zappa DVD, do not worry: I only recognized Zombie Woof and Brain Police as a reprisal from that, and there was much more going on.

And they didn’t simply do the manic bebop and guitar rock virtuosity of Frank Zappa. I’m sure that you would expect them to do that well. They also did the humor well, although sound issues did stifle some jokes, and make it hard to hear what they’re saying.

This kind of brings to light the (very small and intriguing) failings of such a cover band: as much as they try to replicate the music of the past exactly (and which they do, excitedly, passionately, and persistently), they are performing music meant to be recorded more than performed live: you can tell by how it’s structured that when each song ended, it so ably decrescendoed into silence and ended that it was hard to cheer: we were so ready for the silence which Zappa’s compositions transitioned its listeners into that they never ended with a song cheering. Claps for great solos were thrown out, jazz style, instead, more often.

Although the music was always obviously practiced often and in front of sheet music, giving a slight tranquility to all of it, it’s not like they were reading from them on stage all the time: the band still found time to shine in extending solos, and, more importantly, spicing up the times between songs. Which were handled incredibly well. From stories about Captain Beefheart calling the Zappa household and Dweezy feeling uncomfortable as the gruff voice he doesn’t recognize talks about a platypus in a briefcase, and asks him to leave a message under the name “Captain Beefheart”,

[they recorded this song together, and performed it last night]

to the visit to see Cats in Dweezy’s youth that inspired Frank Zappa to write a Broadway show song about writing a broadway about workers mutating into duck mouthed, potato headed creatures simply because Cats’ success was so ridiculous that he wrote Thing-Fish.

Although the evenings’s static nature and the sometimes misdelivered lyrics might seem like a description of a bad performance, they were the forgivable mistakes of a band preaching (however comically) to a choir of elated laughter. Frank Zappa’s music was more than alive and well here: it was selling out an auditorium! With songs like “Cosmik Debris”

And the best part was they could still more than surprise us. It has been written that a cover band cannot change the world: I disagree with this notion. For cool, amazing things have happened that people have not paid attention to initially. For all the songs that we would expect, like an amazing version of “Brain Police” with some ambient extensions and jams (an almost fifty year old song, Dweezy reflected, and still nothing quite sounds like it),

there were other songs built from his earlier smart and parodic doo-wop beginnings

and even more styles brought in, concluding in a large performance of “straight gentility”, a very beautiful and long instrumental composed of at least three suites, and one that also revealed our saxophonist and singer was also a flautist. These people who performed songs about teenage prostitutes and penguins in bondage had to spend years perfecting the craft of these tunes.

All in all, it was a night celebrating the success of music as successfully overtaking the human body. Frank Zappa’s political themes and his subversive lyrics presented as a humane response to marketing, were hushed in favor of his music’s bombast, reflecting the power of music as a religion more than his method of making music together. It’s all like the monologue concluding Packard Goose, delivered by a tour girl who doesn’t spend much time in the “Joe’s Garage” narrative.

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best…”

That disconnect became even more apparent when Dweezy introduced “Muffin Man”, and just referenced how he had to play a song about baked goods if he was in austin, hinting at edible weed things. The song is actually about people seeming to have interesting things about them, but actually they know nothin, because they’re not really a man, they’re a muffin, man. That kind of surface material that makes youtube videos like the one below (that advertises full lyrics, but simply has pictures of muffins) infuriating:

They care about the iamge of him, but fall a little short of his spirit. After all, he’d probably rather they were writing new songs about today in his style rather than anything else. He is, after all, someone who said, in a rude andcensored manner on live TV, that he doesn’t “give a fuck if they remember me”

and that is the Frank that we don’t have at this concert. The rebellious and revelatory Zappa.

I’m glad it’s light can still be reflected from youtube.

Check out the show if you wanna see some mad Frank Zappa performances, but if you really wanna do what Frank Zappa would do, make your own crazy shit instead. I mean, he never exactly covered songs faithfully either

or the more epic Stairway to Heaven under Zappa’s original conduction:

That is the Zappa that we don’t get to see too much of, although they did quite possibly cover Iggy Pop’s “I’m Sick Of You” in an eleven minute jam. Otherwise, I have no idea what the punk jam where the keyboardist nasally shouted out “IM SICK OF YOU” to everyone for awhile was otherwise.