Zappa Plays Zappa

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.

You Can't Fit On Stage Anymore
YCFOSA card front

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.

YCFOSA card back

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!

Dweezil Zappa
Dweezil Zappa after the show, hangin’ on stage talking with fans

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.

4 thoughts on “Zappa Plays Zappa”

  1. Good to hear from you, Will.

    No question about it, they could have played for days and days and not made a significant dent in Frank’s incredible catalog!

    The hat was Aaron Arntz, I think.

  2. I was at the thursday show too, and thought DZ was tight and, well, understated. He didn’t (or couldn’t) move arund much because of the small stage, and we never even got to see the keyboard player behind him, just his hat! B the M was long, but what a treat! 1st time in 30 years that it was played live, and done quite well, no apologies necessary to Flo and Eddie! Some dropped notes here and there, but the best bit of off-off Broadway I’ve ever seen! With so many hits to choose, the 3 hrs only scratched the surface of what I want to hear, but there will be other ZpZ shows. Check out his blog at:
    BTW, Ray White is a gem and should get more song time.
    See you all at Project Object in NJ sometime…

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write, John, I appreciate your perspective on the show. The world would be a pretty boring place if everyone thought the same way.

    Did you vote your top five choices when they emailed? Did your choices get played? For me it was some yes, some no. As for Billy, well, for all the shows I’ve seen over the decades I’ve never seen that played live. I was what, maybe 15 or 16 when that record came out… it definitely brought back memories for me.

    As for Ray White, while it was great to see him in the lineup I also wish that they would have used him more.

    Y’know, I’m thinking that small venues are a double-edged sword. From an audience perspective, it brings a level of intimacy that’s not possible otherwise. But boy, that was one tiny stage! There sure wasn’t much room to move around up there, and maybe that contributed to the constrained feeling I think you’re talking about. I don’t know how the Halloween show went off.

    I haven’t had the pleasure of a Project Object show, so I’ll defer to your comments. Of course, I’ve seen Ike Willis and Ed Mann before – Ed’s work was nothing short of amazing! Did you happen to catch the blog entries on the ZPZ site from July 2008 (I linked to the site in my original entry) where Dweezil wrote about André Cholmondeley? I don’t know anything about André, but I thought it made an interesting read.

  4. I was at that Thursday night show and left a little disappointed. Not in their execution, mind you, but in terms of song selection and stage presence, it wasn’t all that. Billy the Mountain is okay, but it’s like watching a four hour movie – it’s exhausting and put a damper on the show’s overall momentum (for those who don’t know, the song is 25+ minutes). I can think of a good 4-5 songs that I would have preferred hearing and would have nicely fit the same time slot. After seeing ZPZ last Halloween, I really expected more. Maybe that’s part of it – because this was the night before Halloween, I’m thinking they may have been saving their best material for the “big night.” Oh well. Also, a total waste of Ray White — why have him up there if they’re not going to perform any “Ray White” songs?

    At least we have have Project Object in town 11/17… while they may not be as technically proficient as Dweezil’s lineup, they’re infinitely more fun and can boast twice the Zappa alumni! (Ike Willis and Ed Mann)

    I agree with you on the guitar giveaway — that part was cool. I appreciate your review, I just wish I agreed with you more overall.

Go ahead and say it.