THE BREAKDOWN ROOM - Rock. Writing. Redefined.

Son Keeps Spirit of Frank Zappa Alive in Baltimore

When it comes to recreating the experience of seeing the late Frank Zappa's music in a live setting, Zappa Plays Zappa has excelled at capturing the spirit and musicianship that continues to draw music fans to Frank's diverse catalog. Led by son Dweezil Zappa, ZPZ's performance Frank's hometown of Baltimore, on Jan. 15, was no exception.

ZPZ, like the performances of Frank in days gone by, found the right balance between shorter rock tunes and longer instrumental jamming. The shorter numbers, such as "Broken Hearts are for Assholes" and "Dumb All Over," showcased the satirical and social commentary that is the cornerstone of Frank's lyrical side.

Not to be outdone, the band stepped up on the instrumental side to capture and recreate with a high degree of accuracy the complex nature of Frank's original arrangements. Yet, while the performance was clearly tight, the unique stage presence that Frank brought to the table was noticeably absent.

That said, Dweezil did make a solid, good faith effort to try and capture some of his father's charismatic charm with some audience interaction. It was clear he was not necessarily trying to mimic his father's actions, but instead worked to capture the essence of how Frank interacted with the crowd.

To that end, it was successful, but given that Dweezil, unlike Frank, does not serve as the band's primary lead vocalist, it might enhance the show if Dweezil let main lead vocalist Ben Thomas be that focal point on stage.

Seeing Dweezil, as lead guitarist and occasional vocalist, take center stage for the entire performance while Thomas sang from a spot on the left side of the stage might give the impression that Dweezil was in his own way trying to dominate the spotlight. That definitely was not the case here.

There were moments throughout the show where Dweezil would simply stop playing and allow the rest of his band to take over while he watched. The subtle smile on his face let the audience know that despite being at the forefront, he too was enjoying the show with them as a spectator at those times.

Despite the overall talent on stage, one performer clearly shined above the rest: the multi-tasking Sheila Gonzales, who effortlessly transitioned back and forth between saxophone and keyboards and even supplied lead vocals at times, including on "You Didn't Try To Call Me." That song was one of a few with specific arrangements drawn from Philly '76, the latest posthumous live release from the Frank Zappa archives.

Overall, it was clear the music provided a trip down memory lane for the older members of the audience who had seen Frank perform. For those too young to experience it or who simply got on the Zappa bandwagon too late to see the Frank live, for 2.5 hours, they received a glimpse into the complex mind of one who many regard as a musical genius.

Zappa Plays Zappa
Jan. 15, 2010
Ram's Head Live!
Baltimore, Md.

- Gregory Twachtman

Copyright 2010, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.