Zappa Plays Zappa, Bijou Theater, Knoxville TN 7/12/2012

Seeing Zappa Plays Zappa in Knoxville a few years ago totally blew my mind! The band was pretty similar to what you saw on the first ZPZ DVD, and they played a lot of my favorite songs (Inca Roads, Peaches en Regalia, Treacherous Cretins….). It was so good that it jump-started a Frank obsession with me, and i’ve been hooked ever since. So when i heard the band was coming back through Knoxville, i knew right away i’d be going to see them again!

Things were quite a lot different this time around. The band was pruned back quite a bit (two keyboardists ((one of which was amazing multi-instrumentalist Sheila Gonzales)), bass, drums, guitar, vocals… that’s it!), and the material they focused on was more typical of an 80’s Zappa concert, mainly focusing on the fun, silly songs, and less attention being paid to the really far-out progressive stuff. They did play Black Page 1 and 2, which was amazing, and Montana was excellent, too, but there was no Inca Roads, no Peaches en Regalia, no extended jams like King Kong, and no really strange stuff like Billy the Mountain. Being a fan of Zappa’s late Mothers-era stuff and early solo career work, i have to say i was pretty let down with the set list. But at the same time, i understand why they did it; the whole point of ZPZ is to expose people to Frank’s music, ALL of it, which includes some zany, goofball songs that focus on silly lyrics more than intricate compositions. It would be pointless if they only focused on ONE side of Frank’s music rather than showing the world the entire breadth of his output. So, even if they mostly played songs that aren’t my favorite, i can understand why they did it…. still, though, i think they could have mixed it up and inserted a good handful of those proggy favorites into the set to keep all Frankophiles happy. But maybe there’s more to this than i know about! Maybe the band, which featured mostly newcomers, wasn’t put together in enough time to learn some of the crazier music. Who knows. 

Anyway, they effortlessly cruised through songs like Stinkfoot, I’m the Slime, Camarillo Brillo, Oh No, Boodledang, Trouble Every Day, City of Tiny Lights, Hungry Freaks Daddy, and many more.

Dweezil’s guitar playing was absurd. He has grown SO much as a player in such a short amount of time that i can hardly believe it! Every single solo he played had something mind-numbing in it. His playing now destroys his earlier ZPZ work. I guess you get pretty good when you play nothing but Zappa for 6 years or so, huh? Even if it was a song i didn’t care for, my ears would perk up and my jaw would drop every time he had a solo spot. He’s really probably one of the most underrated players out there, in my opinion…. but then again, i would say the same for Frank, too!

As if his playing wasn’t enough, his tone was also fantastic. Most of the night he played an SG, and he used his funky PRS signature model for just a few songs. He busted out the black/yellow striped EVH guitar for the random covers of Eruption and Somebody Get Me a Doctor (both of which were playing note-for-note perfect, better than any cover i have ever heard), which was cool. Up front, he had a big pedalboard with god knows what on it, and behind him all he had was the Axe FX (couldn’t tell if it was the I or II…). No amps at all. I suspect all the pedals were for when he wanted to randomly throw on some effect that he didn’t have programmed into his current patch on the Axe. Anyway, his tone was perfection. Everything sat perfectly in the mix. And tone-wise, it ran from perfect EVH Brown Sound, to those detune-y Frank lead tones, to fuzzy 60’s distortion… pretty much anything you could think of. I’ve never wanted a Fractal unit more than i do now! These things are absolutely the future. 

I gotta say, as another complaint, Sheila Gonzales was criminally under-utilized. She is an amazing musician, and on earlier ZPZ tours, she always had plenty of solo spots to use her skills on the sax and keys. I recall one or two sax solos, and that’s about it. Her vocals on Dirty Love were great, but for a lot of the songs (like Stink Foot), she literally didn’t get to do anything. That’s a shame.

And Pete Griffin was sorely missed on bass. Don’t get me wrong, whoever is with them now is solid as a fucking rock and didn’t make a single mistake all night! Perfect groove and killer tone. Its just that he didn’t ADD to the songs as much as Pete did. That guy is a hell of a bassist.

I could say the same about whoever they have on vocals now. Good voice, never missed a note. Just didn’t add much. He played a little trumpet on a few songs, but that’s about it.

I know i’ve complained a lot, but i still had a great time. Dweezil’s guitar playing made the whole night worth it. And its nice to know that next time i go see them play, it’ll be another entirely different set of songs. You’ll never quite know what to expect to hear from the band, which is something i think Frank himself would approve of.

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~ by ben eller guitars on 07/14/2012.

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