Date: 5th December 2019
Tribute band or the real thing?
Dweezil Zappa would, at under initial consideration, appear to fall between the two. He’s Frank’s son and so clearly has the history, inherited capability and familial right to perform his father’s music, but he isn’t Frank… Is he?
In reality, and despite historic disputes between Dweezil and the Zappa Family Trust over his rights to use the Zappa “trademark,” the question posed above is, to me, a moot point. FZ was always as much a composer as he was a performer and his music was always meant to be performed, either by Frank himself or, equally, by anyone else with the musicality, dexterity and incredible memory to undertake this task with credibility, and Dweezil, and his band, showed that they have these qualities by the bucketful.
The Manchester show was the tenth date of a tour that also takes in appearances across Northern Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia and the band is now clearly well bedded-in.
Alongside Dweezil, the band includes the fantastic Scheila Gonzalez on sax, flute and keyboards, Ryan Brown on drums and percussion, Kurt Morgan on bass and Adam Minkoff on guitar, keyboards and incredible vocals.
The theme for the evening was set by the taped “radio ad” introduction, following which the band launched into “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” the opening track and theme-setter for the “Apostrophe'” album, and we were away.
The tour title is “Hot Rats Live! Plus Other Hot Stuff,” and the first half of the show after the opening number comprised a track-sequential performance of the classic “Hot Rats” album.
“Hot Rats” has, for many years, been a personal favourite of mine and I was prepared to be hyper-critical but I was genuinely amazed by the band’s virtuoso reproduction of this often challenging suite of tunes. It also occurred to me, as I listened to the live performance of this album (and I was surprised to learn that three of the tunes; “Son of Mr Green Genes,” “Little Umbrellas” and “It Must Be a Camel” have never been performed live by Frank or Dweezil before this tour) that, although they are 50 years old, the songs and tunes sound as vibrant and fresh in 2019 as they did when I first heard them.
Particular highlights of the “Hot Rats” set included Adam’s quasi-Beefheart vocal on “Willie the Pimp” and Scheila’s sublime sax solo on the beautiful version of “Gumbo Variations.” The performance reminded me what a great album “Hot Rats” is and I’ll certainly be digging my copy out for a replay!
For the second half of the show, we were treated to a selection of Frank’s “hits” in a setlist that covered most of the main musical styles featured in Frank’s vast and eclectic repertoire. Selections from the “Overnight Sensation,” “Broadway the Hard Way” and “You Are What You Is” albums featured prominently and many of the songs were segued seamlessly together to form a captivating medley.
Adam demonstrated that his mimicry skills extend beyond a Beefheart impersonation and accurately reproduced FZ’s own distinctive vocal style, particularly during doo-wop numbers such as “I’m Not Satisfied” and “Here Lies Love.”
Indeed, the vocal contributions from all band members were exemplary throughout and I was particularly knocked over by the 4-part harmony during “Brown Moses.” Each band member was given the opportunity to excel…and excel they did! Dweezil in particular stepped up to the mark with sublime guitar solos in the instrumental version of “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” “Twinkle Tits” (such a pity about the Spinal Tap-type title!) and “Pick Me, I’m Clean.”
The 26-song set seemed to fly by and, in what seemed like no time at all, we were singing along to the double encore of “I’m the Slime” and “Tears Began to Fall.”
As we filed out of the hall, I overheard several members of the (overwhelmingly male and predominantly over-50) audience announcing an intention to dust down their old FZ albums for a prolonged listening session. I’ll certainly be joining them.
The tour still has a number of UK dates to run – check out the Official Website for details.
For anyone with a liking for FZ’s music and a particularly fond memory of the “Hot Rats” album, this show is a “Must See.”