Zappa Plays Zappa

Among the best overviews of prolific musician Frank Zappa's canon is a series of live perfs titled "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore." His death in 1993 unfortunately reinforced that notion, but son Dweezil has taken it upon himself to prove that someone still can.

Among the best overviews of prolific musician Frank Zappa’s canon is a six-part series of live perfs from his original Mothers of Invention days in the late ’60s through to his touring band of 1988, titled “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore.” His death in 1993 unfortunately reinforced that notion, but son Dweezil has taken it upon himself to prove that someone still can. He has mounted what he hopes will be a recurring tour to satisfy a modest but rabid and starved fan base while exposing younger music fans to the uncategorizable wonders of Zappa music.

All of Frank Zappa’s music is not for everyone, running the challenging gamut of “Louie, Louie” to Stravinsky, silly to sober, doo-wop to heavy metal, incisive to scatological and points in between. If someone doesn’t like the song that makes fun of rock groupies, maybe they’ll like the song that makes fun of politicians — but the bottom line is, Zappa made making music fun, for himself, his band members and anyone who would listen.

While Frank may have been inspired to play the guitar by the likes of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Dweezil’s style is more informed by Eddie Van Halen. Frank’s clusters of soloing notes are as difficult to emulate as his music is complex to perform as a whole, but Dweezil has done an admirable job, surrounding himself with musicians, vets and newcomers alike, who are as capable and dedicated as he is to paying respect — while giving new life — to his dad’s many works.

The most striking similarities presented themselves when Dweezil turned his back to the aud to “conduct” the band during “King Kong” with various pre-arranged hand signals. His head nodding in time to the beat, as well as showing his approval of the musical antics going on around him; the way he’d brush back his hair away from his face; standing with ironic detachment while holding the same Gibson SG his father used so prominently — it must have inspired plenty of flashbacks for those fortunate enough to have personally experienced a Frank Zappa show, the last of which occurred in 1988.

Other than the outro of the tuneful classic “Montana,” where Dweezil and one-time Zappa ax man Steve Vai squared off centerstage to see who could out-shred the other, and the over-the-top antics of singer-drummer Terry Bozzio (limited in his capacity to play due to an arm injury, yet he still managed to make a spectacle of himself), the arrangements were all in service of presenting the music as accurately as possible.

The sold-out Wiltern was particularly rapt during the sublime instrumental “Peaches en Regalia,” a personal fave of Dweezil’s that drew one of many standing ovations from his hometown crowd.

Most touching moment took place near set’s end when Dweezil introduced “someone who needs no introduction,” and a screen came down to present archival video — and audio — of Frank walking onto a stage to perform a solo to “Chunga’s Revenge” while his offspring-led band accompanied him live. It was a brilliant homage, given that “You Can’t Do That” is a pastiche of selected perfs and solos from different shows and eras, all spliced together.

Like father, like son.

Six-week tour of Europe and the U.S. ended Saturday in San Francisco, but a Halloween show is skedded for New York.

Zappa Plays Zappa

Wiltern LG, Los Angeles; 2,100 seats; $52.50 top

  • Production: Presented by LiveNation. Reviewed June 23, 2006.
  • Cast: <b>Band:</b> Dweezil Zappa, Aaron Arntz, Scheila Gonzales, Peter Griffin, Billy Hulting, Jamie Kime, Joe Travers, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio.