Dweezil Zappa’s Auckland gig has remained steadfastly under the radar, but GARY STEEL gives it his heartiest endorsement.
It could be claimed that I have a vested interest. After all, Frank Zappa is my musical hero. I’ve been eagerly devouring his every musical utterance since I was 13, and that’s going back a bit – all the way back to 1974.
But there’s more than one reason for that, and why Zappa has remained resolutely on my turntable after all these years when I’ve had brief flings and one-night-stands with so many other music acts: his music is so multi-levelled and often so complex that it demands to be listened to at a forensic level.
Since the so-called punk revolution the main thread of pop and rock music has been along the lines of “keep it simple, stupid.” That can be great, but it’s meant that we’ve ended up getting cosy with music that, while it can be comfortably listened to as background while you’re working or washing the dishes, often doesn’t stand up to critical listening.
They don’t call it “Zappa’s universe” for no reason. Frank Zappa’s son, Dweezil, has referred to growing up with his father’s intensely busy music, and thinking that all music was like that: crazy, eccentric, funny, caustic, unpredictable, and often with everything but the kitchen sink vying for attention. He was disappointed when he heard what other people called music. I don’t remember the specifics of what he said about that, but I can imagine: it would have sounded overly simplistic, sentimental, overly ‘emotional’, predictable, and Dweezil may have found it really odd that most pop and rock music was about the same stuff. Stupid love lyrics.
In Zappa’s universe, there are no stupid love lyrics. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here are 10 reasons you should get off your lazy ass, spend a little cash and get over to see Dweezil Zappa playing his Dad’s music this Tuesday at Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna, Auckland, this Tuesday.
1 – You’ve heard of ‘crack musicians’. Dweezil Zappa and his band are the crack musicians’ musicians, the likes of which are seldom seen in these parts. Dweezil himself is a virtuoso guitarist who can shred with the best of them, and we can rely on the members of his ensemble to faithfully reproduce the ‘dots on paper’ (compositional integrity) of Frank’s music as well as its indefatigable spirit.
2 – Going by the set lists from Dweezil’s recent shows we’ll be in for a gig that traverses the length and breadth of his Dad’s career – including seldom played 1960s compositions and focusing on many from the Zappa cognoscenti’s favourite period from the early ‘70s.
3 – It’ll be a gig that will entertain the hardcore fandom and the merely curious alike. While Zappa’s music was at times frighteningly complex, it was always imbued with both a sense of fun and a huge amount of eclecticism.
4 – This could be the last time we ever hear Frank Zappa’s music the way it’s best heard – live in concert – and it’s the first time it’s been heard in New Zealand since Frank’s only-ever concert here in 1976.
5 – It’s an opportunity to enjoy hearing songs about subjects other than the lovesick pop template. Who knows exactly what Dweezil will perform, but Frank wrote (for example) songs about talking mountains (‘Billy The Mountain’), b-movies (‘Cheepnis’), the phoniness of the love generation (‘Flower Punk’), guitars that attack parents (‘My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama’), the hidden perils of kitchens (‘The Dangerous Kitchen’), Erich von Daniken’s silly alien theories (‘Inca Roads’), and, er… lots of naughty stuff. But people get side tracked by what they think of as smut, when it’s actually social anthropology. And there’s so much more to Frank’s words than just sex. [Not that there’s anything wrong with sex].
6 – The way Frank Zappa wrote music, when listened to with full attention, is guaranteed to give your neural pathways a good workout and ward off future Alzheimer’s or dementia. And it will make you dance in your head.
7 – While Zappa’s humour is often discussed (in both glowing and derogatory terms by dissenting critics) what’s seldom mentioned is the sheer physicality and at times funkiness of his music. While influenced by experimental classical composers like Varese and Webern, his music was also indebted to the fabulous rhythm and blues of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and other 1950s R&B exponents. For all his music’s required precision, there’s also dirt underneath its fingernails.
9 – Dweezil is on record as saying that it’s not so much a typical nostalgic tribute show but he’s fulfilling a similar function to that of a classical orchestra when it plays a concert by one of those 200-year-old dead composers: he’s attempting to perform the songs with the integrity of the original recordings and with respect to the style and technology of the era.
10 – Dweezil could do with your cash. He’s involved in a massive spat with two of his siblings who have ended up controlling the Zappa Family Trust and preventing Dweezil from even calling the show what it’s been known as since 2012: Zappa Plays Zappa. [Note: Dweezil’s own music also rocks. I don’t know if we’ll be hearing any of that here, but you can always buy or download the tracks].
‘Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@%k He Wants’, Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland, February 20, 2018. Tickets from Ticketmaster. More info here.
Read Gary Steel’s full interview with Dweezil Zappa here.
Here’s Dweezil in concert in 2016: