Review and Photos: Zappa Plays Zappa @ HOB Cleveland

Zappa Plays Zappa @ House of Blues – Cleveland: July 18

Words: Zach Bloom
Photos: Michael Stein

Dweezil Zappa has formed his band at last. The Frank Zappa progeny blew the roof off of Cleveland’s House of Blues last Wednesday evening with a single set marathon performance. This show had a noticeably high entertainment value that so much resembled the energy of his father’s performances. “Sounds like Frank!” one fan shouted early on, prompting Dweezil to smile and respond with gratitude extolling “that’s our goal… to play the songs like they sound on the record.”

[All Photos by Michael Stein]

Supported by several new inductees to the ongoing ZPZ project, Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa delivered impeccable renditions of many of Frank’s greatest rock and roll compositions and ballads. The show was highlighted by instrumental works and extended jamming featuring lightning speed guitar solos by Dweezil that signify his recent re-dedication to studying the fundamentals of his father’s guitar playing. This metamorphosis was exemplified during a three-song jaunt early in the set that played out from Oh No to the epic Montana, which segued into Let’s Make The Water Turn Black.

Adding a light-hearted approach to his performance, Dweezil engaged the crowd throughout the show by bantering and re-telling the humorous backstories for many of the iconic aspects of individual pieces of music. Singer/Trumpeter Ben Thomas did a tremendous job tackling the vocal arrangements originally sung by Ike Willis, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank Zappa while adding his own humorous commentary and stage antics to show that he’s having fun with the music.

New bassist Kurt Morgan showed his prowess in an impeccable Apostrophe, which featured Morgan, Dweezil and drummer Joe Travers playing as the self-titled “rocking teenage trio.” Travers then took center-stage to perform a masterful drum solo containing the rhythmic notation of the quintessential Frank Zappa composition The Black Page. After a short demonstration from Dweezil on the complexity of the polyrhythms and polymeters of The Black Page as it is arranged on guitar, Dweezil confidently led the band through The Black Page #2, which is only “slightly less hard to play.”

The humor continued when Dweezil recounted his childhood ploy to get Eddie Van Halen to teach him how to play Eruption on guitar as he demonstrated his mastery of the piece on a black-and-yellow replica of EVH’s famed “frankenstrat” axe. The homage continued as Dweezil introduced a David Lee Roth impersonator flamboyantly dressed in a pink neon leotard to sing Van Halen’s hit song Somebody Get Me A Doctor.

Dweezil’s Eddie Van Halen Story – Eruption > Somebody Get Me A Doctor

Dweezil filled the rest of the set with many more classics like City of Tiny Lights, Camarillo Brillo and the legendary rock anthem More Trouble Everyday that brought ZPZ’s performance to its peak before I’m The Slime closed out the set. The three-song encore featured an homage to the lyrical genius of Captain Beefheart with two songs, Debra Kadabra and Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy, that led into a much anticipated, yet highly entertaining version of Muffin Man which brought the concert to a close.

Overall, this latest Zappa Plays Zappa lineup is impeccably tight and enjoyable to watch. Dweezil seems to really be enjoying himself and the entertainment component of Frank Zappa’s legacy has really started to come out in his son’s leadership on stage. As it criss-crosses the nation, this show is certain to satisfy from start to finish and is definitely a gig not worth missing if you’re a fan of Frank Zappa’s music or you’d like to introduce someone to the music with an authentic Zappa experience.

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