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Note the Notes

By Shawn Stone

Zappa Plays Zappa

The Egg, Aug. 5

The dude can’t read a note of music, reportedly. Therefore, bandleader Dweezil Zappa clearly did a ton of woodshedding to turn himself into the amazing guitarist who performed his late father Frank’s music to a sold-out crowd at the Egg. Leading a six-piece ensemble of superb musicians (plus “guest” singer-guitarist Ray White, who handled the difficult vocals admirably), Zappa the younger played some of Zappa the elder’s most exhilarating music.

Where to begin? How about near the end, with the band’s workout on the instrumental “King Kong.” It was everything a Zappaphile could hope for: a fierce jazz-rock-prog monster with ferocious soloing by all on stage. It ended appropriately with Dweezil “conducting” the band (and, ultimately, the audience) into making a joyous squawk (squonk?), just like dear old dad did, back in the day.

Though, judging from the footage I’ve seen, in the old days, Frank’s band always seemed a little scared of his Bugs Bunny-as-Stokowski conducting bit. Both Dweezil and this band are more laid-back.

Over three decades, Frank Zappa composed some hellaciously complex music. He also composed nifty pop tunes, atmospheric mood pieces and crappy novelty tunes. The “Zappa Plays Zappa” band offered a little of each. An instrumental mélange nicknamed “The Trifecta,” which included “Peaches en Regalia” and “G-Spot Tornado,” was one highlight; “San Ber’dino” was another. As someone who once listened to the eerie ditty “The Idiot Bastard Son” 11 times in a row, half-hypnotized (and half-drunk), hearing it live was a treat. And Dweezil’s playing on “Outside Now” and “He Used to Cut the Grass” (from Joe’s Garage) was epic and moving.

Unfortunately, some of Frank Zappa’s mid-to-late-’70s comic material has not aged well. (When Dweezil had plug-in problems that ended “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” abruptly, I wasn’t disappointed.) On albums like Sheik Yerbouti, he was satirizing music he didn’t like, with lyrics more bilious than humorous. I could happily have never heard “Flakes” again, save for its sharp Bob Dylan parody; unfortunately, reed player-singer Scheila Gonzalez sang the Dylan part as Eric Cartman instead. She does a good Cartman, but the point is lost.

But that’s just minor quibbling. I went in cold, waiting (and wanting) to be pleasantly surprised by what the not-always-lovable Zappy Family Trust and its scion had to offer. Short answer? I was. And they offered plenty.

Photo: Julia Zave

Makes You Wonder

On the other hand, there was Adam Levine of Maroon 5 doing his singerly shtick at SPAC Tuesday night (Aug. 12). The Los Angeles-based band came through town in support of their latest album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, and while sales of the record have trailed off, the band continue to make their reputation on the road—say what you will about the band’s music (we won’t), but as certain, unnamed members of our staff will attest, Maroon 5 are a very good live act. Tuesday’s bill also featured Counting Crows and up-and-comer Sara Barreilles.



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