Recently I attended and shot the Zappa plays Zappa show at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. I knew it would be Dweezil Zappa playing his fathers “Roxy & Elsewhere” album all the way through but didn’t know much else about it. The album is very unique and I could see how it could lend itself to reinterpretation very easily, but before the show, people told me the performance would be very true to the original work. That was music to my ears.
The band took the stage to loud applause and then played a lengthy song that was not from the album before Dweezil spoke about the album. He said that the album was 40 years old, but new if you had never heard it before. He went on to say that there is nothing else that sounds like it, so it’s from the future. That’s when they launched into the album opener “Penguin In Bondage”. The band was made up of Dweezil on guitar and some vocals, Scheila Gonzalez on keyboards, flute, saxophone and vocals, Ben Thomas mostly on vocals and trombone, Chris Norton on keyboards and Ryan Brown on drums.
The band was flawless in playing the songs as they were on the album with a little bit of improvisation every once in awhile. Thomas’ vocals were very reminiscent of Frank’s own and the playing of multiple instruments by Scheila and him allowed the band to recreate the all over the place sound of the album.
The crowd was very much into the whole performance with people dancing, playing air drums and guitar and singing along. The original album has portions that are reminiscent of sketch comedy such as the smoking of cut up gym jocks in a high school diploma. Those parts were still included with some improvisation. While they were close to the original there was some improvisation mentioning the city or more current terms and ideas. The crowd seemed very amused by these parts of the show and even though they were performing something most everyone had memorized, the show felt fresh and interesting.
One of the big highlights of the evening for me was the performance of “Cheapiness”. On the album, before the song Frank speaks in a comedic way about his love of cheap horror movies and goes on to describe some funny moments in a couple films. Dweezil took that time to speak about his dads love of cheap horror movies and the type of ones he enjoyed before launching into a frantic and wild rendition of the song that got the whole place into it. The finale of the performance of “Roxy & Elsewhere” was “Tango” and like the original recording included getting audience members up on stage to dance the best they know how to quick flutters of high notes before Dweezil turned it into a one at a time dance competition with the same idea. The crowd seemed to enjoy all the music and little side bits of the performance of the album and not that many were sitting anyway, but the band was met with a rousing standing ovation as the show ended.
Without leaving the stage the band went into a second set of Frank Zappa songs including “Broken Hearts are for Assholes” and “I Come From Nowhere”. Before performing the latter, Dweezil described how his dad made sure the vocals on it were intentionally out of tune and that Scheila had the responsibility of singing those vocals. She did a great job at pulling it off and the crowd loved it. Now with the crowd not truly not knowing what was coming next, people were anxiously hanging on every note. By the end of the night, it was clear that every single one of us were just having a great time. Time truly does fly when you’re having fun and before you knew it, the night was over.
If you are a Zappa fan, this is the by far the best show you can still see. The album may really be from the future because it sounded fresh and exciting still and that was even with an entire different set of musicians.
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