This was much more than a gig, or a concert it was an event. For a start we’re talking the Royal Albert Hall, not just any old venue. We’ve got a huge crowd and you’d expect nothing more — this is Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil leading a band playing some of the most powerfully complex compositions of his father, one of the defining figures of twentieth century music. This was not any old band either but included legendary Zappa collaborators Napoleon Murphy Brock and Steve Vai! (For those who caught the tour in the majority of the twelve countries it took in — not us in England — the band also featured a certain Terry Bozzio — something that several Albert Hall crowd-members didn’t seem too happy about, continually shouting out “Terry” throughout, despite the fact that a) he blatantly wasn’t going to play and b) the drummer who was playing was just outstanding.) And this was the first official tour of Zappa’s music since the man’s death over a decade ago in 1993 and the Tour de Frank, as so termed, was awesome tribute to the man and contribution to the legend.
By switching between fast runs and a less-is-more simplistic lead style Zappa almost showed up Vai’s insatiable showboat trickery.
The main band featured eight members with a main set-up of twin guitars, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards and vocals with the keyboardists and vocalist (the legendary Napoleon Murphy Brock) offering an array of other instrumentation — saxophones, flutes and more. The band displayed an incredibly impressive technical ability throughout, with leader Dweezil taking on the mantle and delivering. Steve Vai’s appearance in the second half of the show made the band number nine and offered perfect example of the kind of acrobatics that you’d expect from the showman that Zappa termed the “stunt guitarist”. His display of speedy arpeggios, pinched harmonics, tapping, face-pulling and whammy-bar-windmills lit up the eyes of the crowd but he was gloriously tempered by the equally proficient abilities of both the entire band but more specifically the frontman Dweezil. Although more than happy to take the back seat when Vai was on stage and watch the man go, he was not just matching him note-for-note on the composed sections (on such technical masterpieces as “The Black Page”) but was technically comparable in guitar duels, in fact by switching between fast runs and a less-is-more simplistic lead style Zappa almost showed up Vai’s incredible but insatiable showboat trickery.
More than any guitarist or band member though it was of course the absent figure though who’s presence was felt the most throughout the evening — in composition from the past and as a strange overseeing conduction from above — perhaps emanating from the lights hung on the huge Z-shaped lighting rig above the stage. Previously unseen archive live footage was played on a big screen before, Frank then appearing as support act to what was essentially his own show. And he even made an apearance in the main set too — the screen descending again to offer a video recording of a lengthy guitar solo which Dweezil played along to, perfectly synched to the visuals and highlighting not just how much ability Dweezil Zappa has but also the dedication that the whole band had put into the learning of the pieces — which are often acutely complex — and arranging the show.
“Peaches en Regalia” bolstered by keyboardist Aaron Arntz use of the in-house pipe-organ making full use of the venue.
The crowd, which seemed to offer a great age range — the majority though looking like they’d have seen the man himself before, including two fantastic gents who were consistently standing up right at the front of this all-seater show because they were obviously so into it that they just couldn’t not get up and show it were treated to a fine array of material as well. Delighted by classics like “King Kong” and “Dont Eat The Yellow Snow” as well as a powerful version of the chirpy schizophrenic Hot Rats compostion “Peaches en Regalia” — which was bolstered by keyboardist Aaron Arntz use of the in-house pipe-organ making full use of the venue as the elder Zappa’s band did back in the late 60s, heard on the take on “Louie, Louie” featuring on Uncle Meat. The crowd also got “Zombie Wolf”, “The Idiot Bastard Son”, Joe’s Garage pieces and much more — the show was a good couple of hours long. Many tracks were embellished and things thrown in such as hints of Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things” or “The Pink Panther” theme. And as Zappa’s lineage through classical, jazz and rock forms helped determine, there was plenty of time and space for expansive solos, performed by each member of the band at various points, the guitar though featuring more prominently. Dweezil, early on, also took on the pointing conduction style that his faher was famous for, directing the muscians around their instruments and the piece, to interesting effect and in comic fashion.
I can imagine that every fan had a favourite song or five that they wanted to hear but didn’t — it was never going to happen with a repertoire this big — but there’s only really one, and it’s strikingly obvious, way in which this show could have been imporoved upon. But that’s irrelevant in that it’s no detriment at all — it was a first rate performance from all involved, with both the intricasies and playfulness of Frank Zappa’s music mastered, offering a fantastic chance to celebrate the innovation, difference and importance of a legend. A five star show.