Dweezil Zappa at the Fonda
by Larson Sutton on May 26, 2017
If ever there was truth to the contradiction of expecting surprises, it would be a Dweezil Zappa show in Los Angeles. Maybe the last night of the Spring leg of his 50 Years of Frank tour let one out earlier when it billed the performance as featuring former Frank Zappa singer/guitarist Ike Willis, but that was only one of several to come. In a tribute to both his late father’s career, and as a guest-laden fun-fest, Dweezil’s nearly three-hour concert was loaded.
The guitarist honed in early on material from Frank’s Mothers of Invention 1966 debut, Freak Out!, with an opening “Help, I’m a Rock/Transylvania Boogie” tweaked with drops of Kansas’ “Carry on Wayward Son” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” Frank usually basted his music in humor, and Dweezil followed suit, including an onstage beachball romp around “Lemme Take You to the Beach.”
He offered effusive praise to the album from “the future,” imagining a pre-teen’s paper route money spent on the subversive LP, and the mind-altering experience that likely ensued.
Apparent in the send-ups, as Dweezil and his six-piece, safe-cracking backing band tackled every last genre turn and bend, was how proficient Frank was at nailing the necessary nuances of late ‘60s pop, doo-wop, and garage rock, sometimes shadowed by the often silly lyrical content.
The first surprise came as Dweezil exited out of the Mothers repertoire and welcomed singer Lisa Loeb to sing the chorus of “Cosmik Debris,” even sliding into Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” for a few bars prior to turning loose a grinding guitar solo. After a fantastic dual saxophone display on a reading of Frank’s 1988 arrangement of “Black Napkins,” Dweezil again played host, bringing out guitarist Zane Carney. “Inzane,” Dweezil quipped after Carney shredded through “Pound for a Brown.”
There was a shifting to power-trio for “Apostrophe,” and to the full band to navigate, in note-perfect assault, the tricky mid-career gems, “Inca Roads,” “Zomby Woof,” and “Montana.”
Willis arrived to huge applause for a rollicking “Doreen.” The singer was given a stool to sit on, but barely stood still, let alone sat, interacting, even conducting through a mini-set of mostly Joe’s Garage tunes. On "Wet T-Shirt Nite" (a.k.a. "Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt"), featuring an ‘inflated’ saxophonist/keyboardist Scheila Gonzalez, Dweezil offered a subtle jab at his brother, (“…Ahmet in the tool shed”).
“Keep it Greasey” served as a platform for more pranking, aborted a measure in, as Dweezil said there was a guy in the audience who said he could execute the composition’s difficult time signature.
That ‘guy’ emerged to take over on drums: another Frank legend Vinnie Colaiuta, who, naturally, nailed every challenging change without flaw. Drummer Ryan Brown returned for percussive standout “Packard Goose,” leading to the Joe’s (and set) closer, and one of Frank’s favorite guitar pieces, beautifully delivered by Dweezil, “Watermelon in Easter Hay.”
A three-song encore began with an altered “Ride My Face to Chicago,” with Hollywood sung in place of the Windy City, and the commentary on religion, “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing.” Colaiuta returned for a final, bruising “Muffin Man,” and a solicitation from Dweezil to check out his ‘Others of Intention’ campaign, directed at his ongoing battle with his siblings. Hard to believe that such an incredibly skilled, joyful, and honorable tribute to an exceptionally talented composer and musician is acting as a potential legal football. Nevertheless, Dweezil, his band, and their guests performed magnificently in the spirit of the man and his legacy, giving 50 years of Frank Zappa his deserved due recognition.
Authors: Larson Sutton