by Brian Weidy
Since 2006, Dweezil Zappa has assembled some of the finest musicians to recreate the work of his late father, Frank Zappa, in a show called—appropriately enough—Zappa Plays Zappa. Zappa’s music was categorically complex, and Dweezil’s improvement while learning his father’s compositions has been remarkable over the past few years.
On Thursday night, I trekked out to Morristown, New Jersey to catch the show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center; a lovely old community theater, sparsely decorated but filled with rustic charm. The band opened with the Hot Rats tune “The Son of Mr. Green Genes,” featuring a great sax solo from Scheila Gonzalez, before launching an instrumental version of “Happy Birthday” for Dweezil's daughter Zola, who turned six years old.
The dancier, disco side of Zappa's catalog came out for “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.” The band then molded into a trio for a traditional blues instrumental on “Apostrophe,” giving Dweezil plenty of space to show off his impressive chops as he ripped through pentatonic scale after pentatonic scale. During the course of Joe Travers's extended Keith Moon-like drum solo, there were elements of Frank’s major drum composition, “The Black Page #1.” After talking about how Frank wrote the music, Dweezil and company launched into “The Black Page #2,” an expanded version of the monolithic tune featuring the whole band.
Dweezil then picked up his Frankenstein guitar and played a note-perfect version of Van Halen’s “Eruption” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” with guest vocalist Ben Thomas. The band then launched into Dweezil’s own “Boodledang” off Music For Pets, a lighthearted number that, if one did not know better, could have easily been penned by Frank. This spirited take on the song featured Thomas roaming through the crowd finding people to sing along. During the closing section of “Tiny Lites,” a sax and guitar duel broke out between Gonzales and Zappa, trading phrases with increasing speed and fluidity. After a fantastic run through the Mothers of Invention tune, “Orange County Lumber Truck,” Dweezil took his turn at the mic for the set-closing “I'm the Slime.”
For the encore—and with the eleven o’clock curfew fast approaching—the band came out with “Debra Kadabra,” followed by the fan favorite “Carolina Hardcore Ecstacy.” At that point, the crowd could have gone home happy. The band had one more trick up their sleeves, however: the definitive Captain Beefheart tune, “Muffin Man.”