Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dweezil Zappa at the Warfield

Dweezil Zappa at the Warfield Theater: April 29, 2017

The area around the Warfield theater isn’t a war zone, but it is near the Tenderloin. I should be used to the desperation by now. It’s a place where the radar should be on. Lost souls wander up and down Market Street screaming at demons. Most of them are “harmless.”   
I was standing outside, waiting for the box office to open. There were only two guys in front of me in line. They looked about thirty. Not everyone here tonight would be a geezer. A Warfield employee encouraged us, “Don’t worry. There are plenty of tickets.” We waited while the meet and greet crowd was let in. It was still exciting to see Dweezil’s name on the marquee.
A black man walked up to the short line. He looked about sixty. I braced for the inevitable solicitation, but he surprised me. “Why don’t they mention Frank?” he asked us loudly. It took a minute to realize that this guy obviously knew who Frank Zappa was, and that he had some kind of interest and respect for the man and his music. “Why isn’t Frank’s name up there?”
One of the millennials in front of me explained, “It’s the family. They won’t let him use the name.” The black man looked puzzled. We explained what little legal implications we understood. The Family Trust had tried to prevent any use of the Zappa name, even by his own son. One of the young guys mentioned that, “It’s ugly.” In this viral age the family feud had gotten more than its share of coverage. At one point there was an attempt to keep Dweezil from using his own name. Dweezil retaliated by billing the tour as “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F**k He Wants.”
“Oh, it’s a family thing,” the black man said. It was a family inheritance battle. He’d heard that before. He gave us a round of fist bumps and walked away. 

I was rescued from the ticket line by one of my colleagues from the Masonic Auditorium. She had an extra ticket. It was in the fourth row! I had expected to buy a ticket in the upper reaches of the balcony. Thanks Leslie!!! We were seated in the orchestra pit! 

There are two kinds of people in this world. Zappa fans and the bulk of humanity who just don’t understand. There was some of that old Zappa excitement in the air. I saw a few familiar faces on the way in. Zappa fans are a strange breed. I can certainly see why most people don’t like Zappa. Much of his music is abrasive. His satirical and smutty humor certainly wasn’t for everyone. Some just dismissed his work as “comedy music.” 
The tour was a continuation of the Fifty Years of Frank Tour. It was a celebration of the release of the Mothers of Invention’s first album, “Freak Out.” Dweezil and company didn’t play San Francisco last year. 
In 1966 “freak out” wasn’t a familiar term to most people. The double album broke new ground. During the last tour Dweezil had played the album “In its entirety.” 
It was great to hear that first blast of the Zappa sound. The early going would feature songs from Freak Out. It must be hard to start the show with “Help I’m a Rock.” It’s jarring and dissonant. It’s the first song on the first album. Zappa was really testing us. Are you in or out? It must be hard to reproduce the timing of the zany vocals. The original recording sounded impromptu, but I don’t think it was. Dweezil and the band made the vocals sound improvised.  

The rocking sounds of “Transylvania Boogie” almost sound relaxing after “Help I’m A Rock.” Dweezil rocks out on guitar. From the fourth row, I can see his fingers moving across the frets. I’m glad it’s not one of those “In its entirety” nights.

Dweezil looks older and more mature. He’s not as “cute.” Maybe it’s the shorter hair. He doesn’t look as emaciated as Frank did. He doesn’t sing as much. Kurt Morgan sings many of the Frank parts.  

It’s back to the first album, Freak Out, for the next song. We’re treated to the vintage vocal styling of “It Can’t Happen Here.” It’s scary how relevant some of these songs are today. What would Frank be saying about current political events? 

I’m using It’s an amazing age we live in. Within days there is not only a set list, but there is some footage of this show on Youtube. 
The next song is one of the first Zappa songs I can remember hearing. “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” was always a bit of a challenge. That first exposure to the Mothers could be puzzling. The song worked both ways. Even veteran members of the band were confused to find themselves touring in strange, remote parts of the U.S.A. The next line is, “And so are we!” 
Dweezil and the band members recreate “Harry You’re A Beast” with its snorts and gurgles. Dweezil does the great solo on “The Orange County Lumber Truck.”  
“Let Me Take You To The Beach” is peppy and light hearted. It’s life in Los Angeles. If all else fails, go to the beach! 

Frank never liked romantic love songs. Maybe he just got sick of them. “How Could I Be Such A Fool?” is a biting, bitter look at the travails of love. A grinding, scary version of “Who Are the Brain Police?” follows. It’s a frightening dirge.  

“What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?” starts with some sweeping romantic music. Wait a minute! Is this a love song? It sounds like one, but segues into the ode to finding groupies: “Shove It Right In.”  
There were women in attendance tonight, but I’ll put the male to female ratio at about seventy per cent male. Most women are put off by Frank’s humor, his satirical love for the scatological. It is adolescent, and I still thrive on it.  

Then a fast, blistering version of “Flower Punk.” Frank despised the San Francisco Hippie music scene. “Psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street!” It was more than just the Los Angeles versus San Francisco rivalry. Frank rarely played in the Bay Area. 
He just never went for the Peace and Love philosophy. “I’ll love the police while they’re kicking the shit out of me,” didn’t make sense to him. He was against violence, but he had no patience for the Love Generation’s simplistic solutions. What biting, acerbic comments would be Frank be making about the celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Summer of Love? 
Another great Dweezil solo on “Inca Roads.” “Black Napkins.” 
  Most of the band leaves the stage and a power trio is left to blast a heavy metal “Apostrophe.” The crowd is into it. 
There are just some songs that a Zappa has to do. “Montana” has maybe Frank’s greatest line ever: “I might ride along the border with my tweezers gleaming in the moon lighty night.”  
The pace of the show picks up with “Doreen” “You Are What You Is” and “Yo’ Mama.” 
Scheila Gonzalez comes onstage during “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt.” “It’s wet tee shirt night.” To say the least, she’s a good sport during songs like this and “On the Bus.” It must be hard to keep a straight face sometimes while singing lyrics like “Keep It Greasy.” 
“Packard Goose.” There are many songs from Joe’s Garage tonight. “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” 
Dweezil doesn’t direct the band with hand signals as much as Frank did. Frank did enjoy being the puppet master.
“Ride My Face to Chicago” has a “geographical update.” It’s now “Ride My Face to San Francisco.
Then they do one of the first Zappa songs I remember hearing live: “Cosmik Debris. The song roasts New Age charlatans. Scheila’s husband James Santiago joins on guitar as a special guest. 
“The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” is almost acappella. It’s another political song that still rings true. 
Dweezil sees someone wearing a “Others of Intention” tee shirt. He invites us to go the web site and join this organization.  
  I’ve seen or heard the same family inheritance story many times in recent years. The last parent passes away. Mom and Dad have worked hard for years to leave something for the kids. After they’re gone, the kids battle over the estate like a pack of hyenas. Old wounds are reopened. There seems to be an epidemic of this among the Baby Boomer generation. The Zappa family’s story is being played out in pubic. 
What is puzzling to me is that Dweezil kept Frank’s music alive at a time that the Zappa Family Trust was floundering. He also paid Gail to use the Zappa name. I doubt he ever made a fortune out of his Zappa Plays Zappa Tours. It was the family trust that really profited from Dweezil’s efforts. Keeping him from touring just doesn’t make sense. 

The band plays the majestic opening chords of “Muffin Man” and we know the show is approaching its end. It was always the last song. Dweezil does the band introductions.
Scheila Gonzalez played keyboards and saxophone. 
Ryan Brown: drums, percussion. 
Ben Thomas, Chris Norton and Cian Coey played various instruments including keyboards. 
Female backup singer: Mikki Hommel.
Kurt Morgan: bass.
Everybody helped out on vocals.  
They’re not the Mothers of Invention, but Dweezil and whoever the F@%k is playing with him still delivers a great show! 

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