Photograph by Igor Vidyashev
On the 40th anniversary of one of many Frank Zappa’s classic albums, Roxy & Elsewhere, Toronto was once again hosting Mr. Zappa’s son, Dweezil, this time to celebrate the anniversary tour by honoring some of the greatest musics composed by perhaps one of the greatest musicians and artists in the 20th century.
Since 2006, Dweezil along with the rest of Zappa Family Trust started quite possibly the most authentic and official tribute band in the world today: Zappa Plays Zappa. I can’t emphasis the importance of such a band for the new generation of true music lovers who, like myself, haven’t had the opportunity to experience the greatness of Zappa’s music live. And indeed, it didn’t have to take that long for everybody to realize that. It was right after the opening song of the set, The Gumbo Variations, that Dweezil Zappa asked the 12 year old Josh, sitting on the first row with his father, to step on the stage for Dweezil’s introduction of the night’s program. “Have you heard the album?” Dweezil asked Josh, after announcing that the band is goin’ to play the entire Roxy & Elsewhere album in it’s 40th anniversary. “Yes” Josh responded by shaking his head. The crowed appreciated the gesture and the top-notch musical landscape of young Josh. Dweezil then asked him if he would prefer to stay on the stage to watch the show, but young Josh preferred to go back on his seat. “This is for you, Josh” Dweezil said “Penguin in Bondage”. And among the laughter, cheers and applause of the crowed, Zappa Plays Zappa started with Penguin in Bondage, the first song of the legendary Roxy & Elsewhere album.
Having been a huge Zappa fan for the past 16 years, I’m goin’ to take advantage of this opportunity to briefly, very briefly, introduce Frank Zappa to those who may not be familiar with him. Born on Dec.21.1940 and died on Dec.04.1993, Frank Zappa’s 30+ years career as a musician, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, record producer, and film director, has influenced countless number of musicians and artists in his time, the process that has been continued ever since. From his Warner Bros. Era to his involvement in Senate hearing for Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) claim against rock music, Frank Zappa lived a life of not only influential ideas, but also living those ideas, based on freedom of speech and expression, to the fullest. Any attempt to explain Zappa’s music and personality with less than a book worth of words would be hopeless, so … learn about the genius that was Frank Zappa.
Back to the show, ZPZ continued with Pygmy Twylyte, Dummy Up, Village of the Sun, Echinda’s Arf (of You), Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?, Cheepnis, Son of Orange county, and More Trouble Everyday. It was the melting pot of melody, harmony, lyrics, theatrical expressions, and odd-time signatures, which was poured upon the crowed by one of the tightest, most accurate performing band that I’ve ever experienced. Along with great music and great performance, my biggest salutation goes to ZPZ’s sound man, for creating such a crystal clear soundscape with all the little details imaginable, for everybody to enjoy, live and experience. The sound of the show that night, must be among the top three best sounds I’ve ever experienced live, anywhere.
For the last song of the first set, also the last song Roxy & Elsewhere, it was time for Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen’s Church), which perhaps was as close of an experience to recreate Frank Zappa’s concert environment. It was time for the audience to take part in the show, and dance with the Be-Bop melody of the keyboard. This, however, was no ordinary dance. After inviting three members of the audience, two ladies and an enthusiastic gentleman, to go on the stage, Dweezil instructed the gentleman to not only dance with the keyboard’s syncopated Be-Bop melody, but also, attract the ladies in the form of “pure animal magnetism”. The ladies then would show their interest by moving forward towards the gentleman. And so the dance began, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, you’re just few key words away from witnessing it second-hand. After that, the entire audience were invited to take part, and so we shared our animalistic magnets with each other in no other form than improvised body movements. Fun times.
After a quick break, the band was back on the stage for the second half of the show, containing some of the greatest Zappa pieces, starting with Florentin Pogen, Teen-Age Wind, and Teenage Prostitute. Next, it was time for The Black Page, one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, pieces in Zappa’s catalog. The piece was originally written for the drum kit and melodic percussion and was later rearranged in several versions, including a disco and a New-Age version. Before starting the original version of the song, Dweezil shared a story about Frank, when he was asked if he has ever witnessed a miracle?
“One of my bands played The Black Page right.”
First, the original version of the song was masterfully performed by the drummer, Ryan Bown. Next, it was time for the band to join in, and who knows, perhaps we all had witnessed a miracle.
ZPZ continued with Flakes, including the impressions of Bob Dylan, Liane and Eric Cartman’s Timmy Horton piece, wonderfully done by the talented multi-instrumentalist superstar, Scheila Gonzalez. Following with Broken Hearts Are for Assholes, and Wonderful Wino, ZPZ performed I Come From Nowhere for the first time, ever. Scheila Gonzalez once again stole the spotlight on this one. The last song of the set was Cosmik Debris, which was followed by two encores, The Duke of Prunes, with it’s tricky “feedback roulette guitar solo” wonderfully done by Dweezil Zappa, and then Muffin Man, for the grand finale of the 3 hours Roxy & Elsewhere’s 40th Anniversary tour show in Toronto.
Since 2006, Zappa Plays Zappa have been a retreat to extraordinary musicians, from Frank Zappa’s alumni Napoleon Murphy Brock, Terry Bozzio, and Steve Vai, to the younger generations who perhaps haven’t experience Frank Zappa first-hand, with one element in common:
The love of Frank Zappa, the man, the artist, the musician, the legend, and the teacher. And it’s this love that bring the fans back to ZPZ shows, year after year, to experience something that is nothing less than magic, interpreted into the universal language of sound and music.