Review: Zappa Plays Zappa @ The Morse

Zappa Plays Zappa is an incredibly tight, well-rehearsed orchestra performing the complex, challenging material of a deceased composer for overjoyed audiences. How does that differ from a symphony performing the works of Bach? It doesn’t. Just as classical music lives on in future generations due to careful ensemble performance, Frank’s music needs to be heard.

While André Cholmondeley and Project/Object have done an incredible job of keeping Frank’s music alive in the live setting since his passing, they obviously lack the funds and reach of the Zappa Family Trust. I don’t want to get into the politics of it all because they’re not important. This is about music, and specifically Frank’s wonderful, complicated, witty, mind-bending music.

When I saw ZPZ was coming to Chicago for the first three shows of their “You Can’t Fit on Stage Anymore” tour of tiny clubs, I knew I had to be there. Tickets were unattractively expensive but a conveniently delayed tax refund check enabled me to attend two of the three engagements. I’m incredibly glad I did.

The Morse Theater on Chicago’s far north side is a recently restored silent movie nickelodeon which first opened its doors in 1912. To see such high-caliber performances of some of my favorite music in that setting was a treat. The room sounded great and was gorgeous. I can only imagine how much fun the band must have had, playing this music for a packed club of true die-hards.

The two shows I caught were truly a celebration of Frank and all he has given us. Dweezil lead his band with precision and gusto through an incredible range of material. The compositions were always nailed, but what has set the ZPZ of ‘08 apart from previous tours is their maturity as an ensemble. They’ve gelled into an improvisational force over the past two years, and the confidence in their own abilities shows through each night. This is a band not afraid to take chances.

You might now be thinking “OK. Thanks for the rant, Joel, but how were the songs?” The setlists speak for themselves. This is as close to the “real deal” as we will get, and if you consider yourself a fan of Frank’s music they really are a must-see.

October 17, 2008
The Morse Theater
Chicago, IL

Camarillo Brillo, Black Napkins, Tell Me You Love Me, Dog Breath, Billy the Mountain, Inca Roads, Flakes, Broken Hearts are for Assholes, Bamboozled by Love, King Kong, [Guitar Giveaway], Fembot In a Wet T-Shirt, Outside Now, Illinois Enema Bandit
Encore: Uncle Remus, Willie the Pimp, Peaches En Regalia

October 18, 2008
The Morse Theater
Chicago, IL

Purple Lagoon, Imaginary Diseases, Zomby Woof, Cheepnis, Peaches En Regalia, Billy The Mountain, Montana, Echidna’s Arf, Pound For A Brown, [Guitar Giveaway], Yellow Snow, St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast, Father O’Blivion, The Torture Never Stops, Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station, San Berdino, Packard Goose
Encore: Black Napkins, Muffin Man, I’m The Slime

October 19, 2008
The Morse Theater
Chicago, IL

Treacherous Cretins, Andy, Magic Fingers, Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy, I’m Not Satisfied, My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama>Inca Roads, Filthy Habits, [Guitar Giveaway], Billy The Mountain, I Don’t Even Care, Camarillo Brillo, Dirty Love, Oh No, Son Of Orange County, More Trouble Everyday
Encore: Peaches En Regalia, Muffin Man, Pygmy Twylyte (Quaalude Thunder version)

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9 Responses

  1. I saw the show in Chicago last year at the Civic Opera House and it was GREAT, but the ticket prices scared me away this year, but now seeing the setlists, I have regrets. Great review!

  2. yes, a good time was had by all. It is all about FRanks music and it should always be.
    ZPZ gets better and better each show and tighter each tour.
    DZ be praised

  3. Looks like incredible highlights at each show.

    I’d kill to see that Remus, Pimp, Peaches encore.

    Great work, Joel!

  4. Nice piece, Joel.
    Saw ZPZ last night in Toronto and I’m going back for more tonight.
    Awesome music, great musicianship & FUN!
    Just like Frank would have wanted.
    Zappa’s music is being brought to an new generation of listeners through the ZPZ tours. A lot of younger fans in attendence each time I see them, along with the “I saw him in 71 etc” crowd.
    arf, she said

  5. Joel,

    Great Review! I really enjoyed what you had to say about the performances and I like your perspective.

    Thanks for writing that!

  6. Just saw ZPZ in Harrisburg, PA last night. Incredible! If you are a FZ fan, you must see this show. If not, go just for the treat of these extremely talented musicians.

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