A lively sold-out crowd of loyal Frank Zappa fans anxiously awaited the return of Dweezil Zappa and the Zappa Plays Zappa, Tour de Frank band to play his father’s Roxy & Elsewhere live album in celebration of its 40th anniversary, in sequence.
In accommodating a largely older Zappa fanbase, the seated concert was welcomed relief since Dweezil and company played a 24-song set covering almost three hours of music minus a few minute break between their regular set and three song encore.
The ZPZ contingent started the evening with a lesser known and performed warm up piece, if you will, Filthy Habits, off of Zappa’s 1979 release Sleep Dirt, before segueing into the celebration of the evening.
As advertised, the Dweezil-lead group promptly launched into Roxy & Elsewhere with the lively and intricate Penguin In Bondage. In addition to his avant-garde musical mastery, Frank Zappa was equally adept at colorful lyrics, often whimsical and equally satiric. Although Dweezil did not reenact the full dialog of the recorded album he covered the majority of merriment while vocalist/horn player Ben Thomas' stellar coverage of the evening’s set list was nicely handled considering the range of past Zappa vocalists including, Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ricky Lancelotti, and Frank Zappa himself.
In a dizzying display of musicianship and animated stage activity, Dweezil orchestrated the multi-talented group of musicians through the Roxy & Elsewhere adventure. From amusing storytelling (Dummy Up and Cheepnis), to intricate jams (Enchidna’s Arf (Of You) and Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?) and the Be-Bop Tango. Additional fun was had with humorous improv of Dummy Up and Be-Bop Tango, complete with crowd participation on the later, lead by Thomas who, after showing off his be-bop dance moves playfully reminded everyone, “Six years at Julliard, bitches!”.
Thomas was equally matched by the energetic keyboardist/horn player/vocalist and purveyor of college degrees, Scheila Gonzalez. It's no wonder why, with the incredible assembled talent, that the devoted sold-out crowd enthusiastically cheered the playful reenactments and skits, evoked standing ovations throughout the night.
But the Roxy &Elsewhere material was just the first act of the evening. Dweezil performed additional jewels of his father’s musical legacy, appropriately described by Dweezil as “music from the future”, including the ‘statistically dense’ composition, The Black Page 1 & 2, a drum solo and instrumental counterpart. The former was performed with precision by drummer Ryan Brown. Brown’s performance for the evening was clinic of fluid versatility and endurance, considering again the Who’s Who of rock and jazz drumming greats Frank Zappa enlisted to play his music.
Dweezil was equal parts conductor and performer, orchestrating the way with technical ease and relaxed execution of his father’s challenging musical compositions. As he directed the band through the evening of music he added his own touches on solos but played each tune close to the vest, interspersed with classic Frank dialogue, and of course, the trademark crowd-engaging humor.
The 70s period of Frank’s music was well represented. Tracks included the colorful, dark imagery of The Torture Never Stops, to the barbed observation of Flakes, to the equal opportunity provisions of Broken Hearts Are For A**holes to the table-turning mojo of Cosmik Debris.
After two and a half hours you’d think the fans were satisfied but the sold-out Roseland crowd stomped and cheered loudly to hear more, as most hoped Dweezil would play their favorite song that hadn’t heard yet.
Appealing to the hand written request of a very young fan to play his favorite Zappa song, Stinkfoot, a gracious Dweezil obliged before finishing with two more 70s gems, Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow and Zomby Woof, the former being one of the earliest recognized and radio friendly songs of Zappa’s robust and eclectic catalog.
As the band bowed good night to the appreciative crowd, Dweezil welcomed fans back to merchandise table to get anything and everything signed. The Zappa Plays Zappa band led by Frank’s accomplished guitarist-son would be proud knowing fans still loyally embrace the music of the future today.
Having grown up and lived in the San Fernando Valley during Frank Zappa’s discography, the only thing missing from the evening was some Joe’s Garage. Hopefully there are plans for a 40th anniversary tour in a few years for all the garage-guitarist in still playin’ in Canoga Park.