I first became aware of Frank Zappa as a teenager. A boyfriend of mine owned a copy of Strictly Commercial and songs such as Valley Girl and Muffin Man made their way into my adolescent consciousness.
When my brother studied journalism, he developed an intense interest in Hunter S Thompson as well as an interest in some of Frank Zappa’s witticisms and keen social insights. During this time, my brother emailed me the following Frank Zappa quote which I often think about, particularly when writing a review: “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” (or something to that effect) A very astute observation.
Frank Zappa wasn’t just an accomplished musician but also an activist and filmmaker. Dweezil Zappa’s 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the Fuck He Wants covers the entirety of his father’s musical career in two and a half hours. Quite a feat considering Frank Zappa produced over 60 albums during his lifetime. I’m hoping to hear an anecdote or two about his father apart from the music during the show.
The first thing I notice when I arrive at the Gov is that the place is really packed. I wasn’t expecting this on a Sunday night in Adelaide. I’ve been to many shows at the Gov and even for the Sonics and the Marky Ramone tour there weren’t as many warm bodies walking around. I’m not sure if every fusion jazz enthusiast and prog rock music teacher in Adelaide is here, but it certainly seems like it.
Because Frank Zappa’s compositions incorporate elements of different genres as diverse as the blues, classical music, jazz fusion and progressive rock it would only make sense that it would appeal to a diverse audience.
Dweezil Zappa’s band are highly competent musicians and the show highlights not only Dweezil’s technical ability to navigate his father’s often complex compositions and conceptual continuity, but simultaneously highlights the diverse talents of Cian Corey (vocals), multi-instrumentalist Scheila Gonzalez (sax, flute, keyboards, vocals), Chris Norton (keyboards, vocals), Ryan Brown (drums) and Kurt Morgan (bass, vocals). Also, guest performing is Kendall from the Australian Zappa tribute band Petulant Frenzy.
We hear Zappa’s back catalogue from Mothers of Invention and his solo work including tracks from Sheik Yerbouti and Joe’s Garage amongst others. Absent from the setlist are Valley Girl and Muffin Man. Before launching into Who Needs the Peace Corp from the 1968 album We’re Only in it for the Money, Dweezil quips: ‘It’s a great time to be alive.’ I’m not sure if this is sarcasm or not, but I really hope that it is.
One of the highlights of the show is Kendall’s performance of I’m So Cute (Sheik Yerbouti). Her voice is perfect for the song and showcases not only her vocal abilities but Frank Zappa’s sharp mind and satirist tendencies. As Zappa commented: ‘If you’re out there and you’re cute, maybe you’re beautiful. I just want to tell you somethin’ — there’s more of us UGLY MOTHERFUCKERS than you are, hey-y, so watch out.’
I would have liked to have heard some stories in-between songs from Dweezil about some of his father’s activist campaigns against censorship, but I am aware that there is a limited amount of time to get through such a vast music catalogue. Besides, I guess all the Zappa fans there already know the history of Frank Zappa and what he was all about.
Judging by the audience’s enthusiasm in the form of spirited dancing and singing along, I’m pretty sure the show is a success. But as I’m writing this article for people who can’t read, it doesn’t really matter what I say anyway.
Live Review By Romana Ashton