Review: Zappa Plays Zappa, Royal Concert Hall, by Sean Hewitt
BEFORE I saw Zappa Plays Zappa – the band led by the alarmingly named Dweezil Zappa in tribute to his late dad Frank - I suspected I'd be dazzled by technical virtuosity, laugh at some of the jokes and once again marvel at the idiosyncratic genius of the best of Zappa's madcap, sophisticated work.
What I didn't expect was to be quite so touched.
The moment that really hit hard was at the very end when Dweezil, a fabulous guitarist now more skilled than ever at capturing the dark cadences of his father's solos, led the band through the magisterial instrumental Strictly Genteel. After explaining that this was Frank's favourite of all the pieces he'd written, the visibly moved musician was obviously struggling to hold it together.
From the start – a soaring version of Treacherous Cretins – the band was as tight and disciplined as any outfit attempting this music has to be. Highlights included an incredible high-tempo rendition of Echidna's Arf (Of You), a wondrous Outside Now, pin-accurate 60s flashbacks Oh No, Idiot ******* Son and Who Are The Brain Police? and a brilliant, reggae-fied Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.
Dweezil is evidently prodigiously gifted but Zappa Senior was never so unassuming and at times I missed a bit of his charismatic outrageousness (one wonders what he would have made of this year's US presidential election, for starters). Perhaps that was why that emotive final encore hit home. Struck by its almost classical beauty, we were all missing Dweezil's dad, too.