Irony may not be dead, but unfortunately, iconoclast Frank Zappa still is. Never afraid to take this country’s cultural, political or religious temperature — rectally — the late composer’s ironic, sardonic and often scatological voice is painfully missing among artists compelled to reflect on these times and climes of disposable pop stars, artist/label battles, free speech, religious zealotry, a Bush in the White House … indeed, little’s changed since his death. Thankfully, there are musicians — some of whom go as far back as his ’60s avant garde outfit Mothers of Invention or various ’70s high-quality touring groups — determined to resurrect the satirist’s biting words and thought-provoking music on a semi-nightly basis for an appreciative bunch.
Much was made, in the onstage patter, of Project/Object’s playdate in Hollywood proper and Southern California in general, where an inspired Zappa honed and recorded most of his prodigious social commentary/musical concoctions — some of which were written before several of the tribute band members were even born.
Bunk Gardner, sitting in for a number after his opening slot with fellow former Mother Don Preston, got to show off more of his monster sax chops on the appropriately titled “King Kong.” But then all of the players onstage, young and old, brought the necessary skills to pull off the demanding range of Zappa music, from doo wop-inflected, “Louie, Louie”-level rudimentary garage rock to long, complex odd-meter passages of progressive jazz.
Napoleon Murphy Brock, singer-instrumentalist from the “Roxy and Elsewhere” period, currently reinvents Zappa alongside Ike Willis, who followed Brock in the late ’70s (“Joe’s Garage”) as a foil to Frank both vocally and on guitar. Brock’s animated style of singing, horn- and flute-playing and Willis’ angular, never-resolved solos colorfully recalled the Sunset Strip experience in its heyday for the heavily ponytailed male crowd in attendance (which also seems to include Zappa admirer animator Matt Groening at every local gig).
And our nation’s (and the free world’s) leader, as well as Enron’s Kenneth Lay, took a body blow or two in loving lyrical Zappa homage.
Band, at times featuring three guitarists as well as vibraphonist, so thoroughly enjoyed themselves playing such ever-topical ditties as “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” “Crew Slut” and “Trouble Every Day” that their second set ran up against the venue’s closing curfew, necessitating a nearly apoplectic club manager to throw numerous “cut” signs toward the group before finally bringing up the house lights and pleading with patrons over the P.A. to exit immediately.