I’ve been a Frank Zappa fan since I encountered the Freak Out album back in the late sixties, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live many, many times. Last Thursday night I saw the Zappa Plays Zappa show at the Blender Theater in New York. [ed. In 2009 the Blender Theater was renamed the Gramercy Theater.] You can read more about the ZPZ tours here.
This was my first visit to the Blender. It’s small and intimate, capacity of maybe a few hundred, tops. The stage was tiny, too; Dweezil and the band really had to squeeze themselves in and there wasn’t a whole lot of space to move around. This tour was all about smaller venues, and that’s where the tour name came from: You Can’t Fit On Stage Anymore.
Dweezil’s playing has really matured in recent years. His blistering guitar work was spot on. It’s reported that he’s put an incredible amount of effort into these concerts and it certainly shows. I was very pleased to see Ray White (of You Are What You Is, among other favorites) in the lineup. And Sheila Gonzalez, who I first saw on the earlier ZPZ DVDs, was nothing short of excellent. One song after another, they pumped out hit after hit nearly non-stop for almost three hours. The set list was a fantastic mix of stuff both ranging from Frank’s early work to the more recent. I was blown away by their rendition of Billy The Mountain – something that I’d never heard live before. The time just flew by!
After a generous three-song encore Dweezil hung by the stage talking with fans and signing stuff, smiling all the while. I joined the group and thanked him for his work, for bringing Frank’s music to us, and collected his autograph on the back of the card.
This show came with a couple of extras, too. About two-thirds through the show they drew a number and gave away a Hagstrom Super Swede guitar! The winner was pulled onto the stage to collect his prize. Dweezil asked, “do you play the guitar?” “No, but I’m gonna learn!” “Well here, let me help you get started with your first lesson.” They plugged him in, cranked it up, showed him where to put his fingers and he banged around with the band for a minute or so. Oh, man, do I ever wish that I won that! I play a little, so it would have been a real treat – um, for me, definitely, but probably not for the audience. The other ‘extra’, which I haven’t downloaded yet, is a fully-mixed mp3 of the show. Can’t wait!
All in all, an excellent night of fantastic music. If you get the chance to attend one of the concerts of this tour I absolutely, positively recommend it.