Does it get any better when you get to groove like a penguin in bondage at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan with the Zappa Plays Zappa band? On Wednesday February 19th 2014, we were treated to Zappa Plays Zappa performing the entire Roxy & Elsewhere album by Frank Zappa & The Mothers. This is the 40th anniversary of the album release and Zappa Plays Zappa is taking it out to audiences across the country.
The evening began with a brief detour from the Roxy album with The Torture Never Stops; an interesting way to start the show as this track is dark and brooding. Ben Thomas’s vocals were cool and passive as lyrics of green flies floated by.
Zappa Plays Zappa then dove into the Roxy & Elsewhere album with Penguin In Bondage and Pygmy Twylyte. These tracks are funky and groovy with that special Zappa sauce. The skit during Dummy Up was great with Scheila Gonzalez (keys, vocals, sax, and flute) playing the evil drug pusher, while Ben Thomas (vocals, trombone) lit it up with his smoking soulful vocals.
Village of the Sun with its ode to turkey farms in the sun showcases the incredible musicianship of Zappa Plays Zappa. However, with Echidna’s Arf (of You) and Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?, you get the tour de force of musical mayhem and tonal excellence. Frank Zappa’s arrangement on these songs is breath-taking.
I have to believe that Frank is smiling, hearing his son take his music to another level. Dweezil Zappa’s playing was extraordinary. Combined with the astrophysical bass playing by Kurt Morgan and Ryan Brown (drums), and keyboard mastery of Chris Norton, the theater was on fire with sonic brilliance.
You have to love Cheepnis as it conquered the world! The playful sax by Scheila Gonzalez was spot on. The tremulous guitar solo was a funtastic touch. Things mellowed out a bit as we moved into Son Of Orange County, but that doesn’t mean we stopped jamming. The band took us on a musical journey through the mind of Frank Zappa, leading us along the rocky road to More Trouble Everyday. Isn’t it crazy how topical this song still is today?
If you are familiar with the original Roxy album, you know that Be-Bop Tango is a chance for some of the audience to join the Zappa Plays Zappa band in a little dancing. Three young ladies joined the band on stage and did an amazing job translating the chaotic atonal naked lunch madness into dance. Yours truly volunteered to add my own bit of fun to the mix. You can see the silliness for yourself:
After a short intermission, Zappa Plays Zappa slid into Filthy Habits with its sinful groove and impressive percussion. Teenage Wind blew us into Teen-age Prostitute where Scheila was belting operatic vocals. Debra Kadabra brought out stunt vocalist Pete Jones for some more Franktic mayhem! Next we were treated to Black Page #1 and #2″. The sax solo by Scheila was playful and mesmerizing. The set wrapped up with Florentine Pogen. Here again, the guitar playing by Dweezil was phenomenal. He truly has re-envisioned the guitar parts and it is a beauty to witness.
The band was back in short order for an encore featuring Yellow Snow, Cosmik Debris (such a great song!), and the mind-blowing Muffin Man.
A stellar show by Zappa Plays Zappa. Amazing musicians having fun that infects the audience. If you get a chance, be sure to check them out! Furthermore, be on the look out for Dweezil on the Experience Hendrix tour.