who you jiving with that cosmik debris?

07 Nov

Sunday night, my lovely wife and I hit The National Theater for a pretty great show from Dweezil Zappa’s amazing band playing the music of his immensely talented (and musical influence of millions, particularly a couple of musical mentors of mine going way back) father, Frank Zappa.

For the last decade or so, Dweezil’s been taking this show on the road, keeping the memory and music of his father alive, and bringing it to, ideally, a whole new generation of fans. This show covered the entire gamut, running from tracks from ’66’s Freak Out! leading up through all the good stuff through arrangements of tunes like “Black Napkins” from Frank’s last tour in ’88, with lengthy detours into Joe’s Garage and all the other places in between.

I was really excited about this one, discovering this particular tour stop very recently (and grabbing tickets for a very reasonable price as soon as I was able!). I’ve always been aware of and enjoyed Zappa’s stuff, reading the amazing “The Real Frank Zappa Book” and a couple of other biographies, admiring Frank for his genius musicianship, tireless work ethic, and his social stances on his art, as expressed most eloquently in his testimony to Congress back in the 80s during the PMRC song lyrics fiasco. I’d had a couple of albums over the years (mostly the novelty stuff), but when I had some pretty great musical mentors (including my guitar teacher Rich as well as some positive mentions from my jazz band director and my dad), really pointed me toward it, I wasn’t quite ready for it. I find that with a lot of stuff; back when stuff was really cool, I wasn’t emotionally ready or mature enough to really get it.

Having grown up watching MTV, though, I knew the older Zappa kids, Moon and Dweezil, who both, to some extent, did the veejay thing, hosting shows and showing up in the occasional video (like this awesome tune he did with his sister; also Dweezil played guitar on Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat”, which seems to have been scrubbed from the internet, rightfully). They seemed like cool, slightly older kids (they’re about five years older than I am) I wouldn’t have minded hanging out with, and Dweezil was a pretty good guitarist, to boot.

That Dweezil, after a couple of aborted bands in the 90s, decided to take this show on the road, playing his dad’s stuff, for fans of Frank, and (especially) those of us who didn’t have a chance to see Frank live back when he was still with us, is admirable, and awesome, and all kinds of great things. Watching this show, it was clear he loved his dad dearly, tearing up playing “Watermelon in Easter Hay”, for example, and regularly letting the amazing folks in his band catch a breather while he told stories about growing up with Frank and where all this music came from. It’s a really heartfelt, amazing tribute to Frank’s legacy, and also kind of amazing that Dweezil can play all that stuff, which isn’t easy.

He’s often had along members of Frank’s old bands sit in on these tours (guys like Ike Willis, and Steve Vai, for example), but sadly, not for this show. The group he’s got here, though, is pretty damned amazing; skilled multi-instrumentalists and vocalists who do the music justice, and add more than a little bit of personality to the live show – watching Scheila Gonzalez play keys, flute, and sing difficult harmony -all on the same song- was damned impressive. Dweezil’s no slouch either; I might go out on a limb and say on a good day, he’s got better tone than his dad (it’s gotta be hanging with those 80s metal guys).

Like I’d said earlier, I love the fact that he’s out there bringing attention to his dad’s stuff, which is part of the great American musical tapestry, and influential as hell, even if a lot of folks don’t know much beyond “Valley Girl” and “Yellow Snow”. I can’t say it enough; this guy’s really carrying a huge musical and artistic legacy on his shoulders, and doing it admirably. I couldn’t help but apply the “me and my dad” template over the proceedings a bit; it was kind of emotional for me, seeing the vintage looking (although they’re modern models) Gibson SGs on stage, given that both my dad and his dad played them, and my dad’s ’61 is one of my most prized posessions/heirlooms.

Traditionally, this band has toured and recorded as “Zappa Plays Zappa”, though given some recent family strife between Dweezil and Moon and the Zappa Family Trust, now in the hands of their younger siblings after their mother died last year, there’s all kinds of regrettable and unfortunate litigation (this Rolling Stone article is probably the most balanced presentation of things out there, though I’m #teamdweezil pretty clearly; listen to “Cosmik Debris” – Frank wouldn’t want his name on yoga pants) about use of the family name and merchandise and everything, it seems he’s not allowed to do that anymore – after a couple of “cease and desists”, he’s taken to calling this leg of the tour “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F**k He Wants”. It’s a shame; this guy is out there tirelessly evangelizing and promoting the Zappa legacy in ways that the “official” organization/family isn’t, and really seems to be in it for the love of the material and the creator. I hope it works out, and the bad blood within the family works out – I know that doesn’t always happen, but I wish everyone involved the best.

That said, the show was pretty amazing, both as a show, and as an experience. The crowd was different than the typical Richmond crowd I’ve seen. It was primarily a bunch of old guys with thinning hair and wild beards (I kinda fit right in), very few ladies overall, which is surprising, as my wife (who was there largely humoring me, but had a good time, even though she’s not a music history dork like me), agrees with this particular reviewer that Dweezil is a “total dreamboat”. We were some of the youngest people there, apart from a handful of guys who looked to be there with their dads (again…tugging on the emotions there). Still, everyone behaved themselves, unlike most shows I see locally; barely a disruption in the bunch. People were there to listen and enjoy, whatever came their way.

The best bit, though, that says a hell of a lot about the particular kind of music fan that’ll come out to see some Zappa on a Sunday night in November? Other than a couple of quick photos (like the pics above I took), people were present, enjoying the communal show experience, and not watching everything through the little screens on their phones.

That bit was glorious, and something that Frank would have appreciated.

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One Response to “who you jiving with that cosmik debris?”

  1. 1
    chuck dash parker dot net – your unreliable narrator » Blog Archive » friday random elevenish: “day after dweezil” edition Says:

    […] the band from Halloween night that kept rolling into November. The band (almost the same lineup as we saw in ’16 in Richmond, with a few changes), as expected, was on point, hitting every note exactly when it […]

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