My ticket and tour book, autographed by Dweezil.
Monday, August 20, I attended the Zappa Plays Zappa/Tour De Frank show at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Here are my impressions and experiences.
To do this properly, I have to separate it into two parts, maybe three: First, the core experience, the music. Then, aftermath and commentary.
These are the songs the band performed, in the order they played them.
The Dog Breath Variations: If there was any doubt that this eight-piece orchestra could bring off a Frank composition not just adequately, but with flair and spirit, the opening song banished it. They captured every incidental delight and nuance of this classic tune, and it was utterly fascinating to behold.
City of Tiny Lights: Featuring Ray White. What more could you want?
Advance Romance: A colossal, sprawling and spirited treatment.
Dumb All Over: Featuring Frank on vocals, projected on the screen in back of the band. Immaculately synchronized and completely riveting.
What's New In Baltimore: Dweezil mentioned the recent "Frank Zappa Day" in Baltimore, and said that the only thing better would be if they make it an annual event.
Carolina Hard Core Ecstacy: Always one of my favorites, and a cordial powerhouse of a song.
Suzy Creamcheese/Brown Shoes Don't Make It/America Drinks & Goes Home: Dweezil dedicated this to the fans who have been with Frank since the days of Freak Out! and Absolutely Free. And during "America Drinks," Gail Zappa made an appearance as The Waitress!
Pygmy Twylyte: The epic version, as performed on YCDTOSA Vol. II, The Helsinki Concert. I just played this last week on the show. Another consummate rendering.
Dupree's Paradise: A vehicle for the band to show off their individual talents. As each took their turn, fragments of other Frank songs were inserted as backing vehicles. I heard "Packard Goose" in there, among other tunes. All were A+. I must say, Jamie Kime's guitar solo was a truly jarring and innovative standout, in the best Frank tradition. Joe Travers, you are extraordinary.
Don't Let the Raccoon Scratch Your Face: Dweezil asked the audience for words to be used as the basis for an improv. (He also suggested the possibility of a dance contest on stage, but that was not to be.) I couldn't ear what was yelled out, but Dweezil said it was nonsense words, so he suggested "Don't let the raccoon scratch your face." And with that, the band launched into a bluesy, very Zappaesque piece with Ray inventing a scenario around the phrase. It was great to see them be spontaneous and take risks, as that's what Frank was all about.
Uncle Remus: Lots of people sang along, me included.
Willie the Pimp: Again, a song I played last week on the show in response to a street musician's comments.
Joe's Garage: A warm, sentimental song. This included the only flub of the night, though other attendees I talked to didn't catch it and I wonder if I was hallucinating. At one point, if I remember correctly, as Ray sang the sixth verse, (People seemed to like our song...), about midway through Dweezil cut in with the following verse, sort of singing over Ray and advancing the song ahead to that point. Ray looked surprised, and gave sort of a "What I do wrong?" look, but the song concluded without further incident. Like I said, others didn't notice this, so I don't know. And in the grand scheme of things, who gives a fuck, anyway?
Wind Up Working In A Gas Station: Another fave of mine, brought off in perky fashion.
San Ber'dino: Joyous, full of musicality.
The Illinois Enema Bandit: Featuring Ray White! Dweezil's solo started subtly, just like Frank's did, and built up to cataclysmic proportions.
Wild Love: I've always loved this song for its mixture of insight into human sexual ritual behavor and musical complexity, which is sheer Frankness. Impeccable without being careful or academic in any way.
Yo' Mama: As excellent as the concert had been up to this point, the entire experience (and, it seemed, the Berkeley Community Theatre itself) was elevated onto another plane with this song. (Song – what a trivial word to describe this soulful expression.)
I've never dwelt much on Yo' Mama. I like it, but I realize now that I haven't appreciated it. As you know, it's not fast; there's no tinkertoy discursions or huge jokes to distinguish it.
But during that atmospheric portion when Frank/Dweezil goes off on guitar against a rich harmonic backdrop... ladies and gentlemen, it became a spiritual experience. Dweezil's guitar spoke like a voice – Frank's voice. Our voice.
I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and even the memory of it makes me feel a piquant mixture of beauty/love/sadness/eternity that's all mixed up with appreciation of the Zappa ethos as conveyed by Frank, and now, so masterfully, by Dweezil. I'll never hear that song the same way again.
Cosmick Debris: Featuring Frank from 1973 on guitar. Another amazing display of synchronization. And, 30-plus years later, Frank shreds with the best of today's guitar gymnasts, but of course with the benefit of the sheer intelligence that runs through everything he did. There's that one point in this solo - people who saw the show will know what I'm talking about - when Frank just seizes the guitar and wrings a petulant frenzy of naughty notes out of it. What the hell was that?
G-Spot Tornado: Unbelievable. Who needs computers to make impossible music? This thing was a multi-level tour de Frank-force brought off with a power and precision that was simply breathtaking.
Muffin Man: A great way to end the show, with the guttural graunch of a beloved Zappa classic that rocked beyond all reason.
On the August 24, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, we'll replicate the set list with the versions of the songs Dweezil and the band played. Feel free to call or e me with your comments, especially any reviews from the Berkeley or other shows.