ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA
SATURDAY 4/11/15 • KESWICK THEATRE • GLENSIDE, PA
By: Barry Brandow
Edited by Mike Marsala
I’ve had some crazy dreams before, but the one I had Saturday night April 11th might be one of the craziest. After returning from the Major Rager in Augusta Ga. on Friday night, and then working early Saturday morning, I came home from work exhausted and laid on the couch to rest. I must have dozed off pretty quickly because the next thing I knew, I had left the comfort of my couch and entered a crazy dreamworld. First I dreamt I was building a go-cart with my former boss, Hank Davenport. Then I dreamt I was stuck in an elevator with my cousin Cindy, and Alex Trebek; who only spoke in question form. Crazy shit…right?
Then things got really weird!!
That same night I was in the 6th row of the Keswick Theatre in Glenside Pa. when this freaky band walked onto the stage. On the left hand corner of the stage, keyboardist Chris Norton set up his gear high above the stage on an 8 ft platform. Next to him on a lower platform was an enormous drum kit occupied by the drummer, Ryan Brown. Bassist, Kurt Morgan stood center stage. To the right of Kurt and surrounded by a keyboard, 2 saxophones, a clarinet, flute, tambourine, and kazoo was Scheila Gonzalez. On the opposite side of the stage was a tall, lanky gentleman named Ben Thomas who was also surrounded by several instruments; a trombone, trumpet, and a few other random bells and whistles. He also had a unique but familiar voice that sounded eerily close to the legendary musical genius and virtuoso, Frank Zappa. Then out walked a soft spoken, low-key gentleman wearing jeans, a black sweater, and carrying a beautiful guitar. Dweezil approached the microphone and said that since it was the 40th anniversary of the Frank Zappa album ‘One Size Fits All’ they would play the classic album from 1975 in its entirety. They started playing ‘Inca Roads’, ‘Can’t Afford No Shoes’ and ‘Sofa #1’. The drummer was playing the shit out of his enormous drum set while the keyboard player played incredibly while he sang. Scheila Gonzalez played sax, flute, keyboards, xylophone, clarinet, and contributed to the vocal arrangements. You would almost swear you were at the Fillmore in the 70’s. The talented 6-piece band continued to play more songs from the classic album, ‘Po-Jama People’, ‘Florentine Pogen’, ‘Evelyn, A Modified Dog’, ‘San Ber’dino’, ‘Andy’, and ‘Sofa #2’ among them.
Dweezil then stated that they were going to continue playing more Frank Zappa music from several time periods and started playing a song from 1967 called ‘Status Back Baby’ from the ‘Absolutely Free’ album he recorded with the Mothers Of Invention. After the 1978 song “Big Leg Emma.” The Zappa Plays Zappa band played an amazing version of the jazz fusion song “The Grand Wazoo” which featured solos by Dweezil on guitar and Scheila Gonzalez on sax. The group continued their incredible recreation of “Baby Snakes”, “I’m So Cute, “Society Pages”, ”Magic Fingers”, “Suzy Creemcheese”,“ Who Needs The Peace Corp”, “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body” and one of my all-time faves “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama”. Before the set ended we were all treated to one of the more difficult interpretations of the evening with the song “Sinister Footwear”. The 2 hour set covered many eras and framework of Mr. Zappas vastly eclectic library of music. Dweezil announced to everyone that the band will continue to perform shows like this one as long as we continued come out and support Frank Zappa’s music. The SOLD OUT crowd roared while we all stood and applauded. While most bands play 1, maybe 2 encores, Zappa Plays Zappa played four more songs like the popular “Cosmik Debris”, the infamous “Dancin Fool”, and fan favorite “Carolina Hardcore Ecstacy” before closing the show with a sensational rendition of the classic “Muffin Man”. The house lights illuminated as we all floated towards the exit. It was then that I noticed Hank (the boss from my dream) waiting out front in the go-cart we built earlier to give me a ride home.
I have to honestly say that Zappa Plays Zappa is one of the most entertaining and talented bands I have ever seen live. Their fine musicianship and mild theatrics keep you mesmerized during the entire show. You’ll find yourself not knowing where to look or who to watch because there is so much going on musically. If you have never seen them… or NEVER heard a Frank Zappa song before, you will find yourself thoroughly entertained for 2 ½ hours. This was the fifth time I have seen them play live and will never miss a show close by as long as they continue to tour. Anyone who can appreciate great musicianship will love this band. Six phenomenal musicians playing some of the most complex music ever composed….with great precision! I’ve had the privilege of being present for a few of the band’s sound checks prior to a show and know how passionate they all are for the music Frank Zappa created. With several months of practice and preparation it becomes very evident that they pay strict attention to every chord, note, and detail when they play. Kurt Morgan and Chris Norton are amazing and set most of the foundation to this incredible music. Ryan Brown is one of the most ambitious drummers I’ve seen in a long time. If you close your eyes you’ll testify that the vocals of Thomas sound exactly like Zappa’s. The beautiful, captivating, and multi-talented Scheila Gonzalez is one of my favorite musicians to see live. She plays saxophone, keyboards, clarinet, flute, and even the tambourine, slide whistle, and duck call. Oh, by the way… she also has an extraordinary singing voice.
Then there is Mr. Dweezil Zappa who does a phenomenal job recreating the sensational music his father composed. His self-taught guitar work is exquisite and proves him to be one of the most elite guitarists in music. Having met Dweezil a few times I can also say he is one of the most genuine, down to earth musicians I have had the pleasure of meeting. He, along with his bandmates, take time after every show to meet and greet with anyone and everyone…signing autographs, taking pictures, or chatting about whatever you’d like to talk about. He’s a very special person and sets a great example for all young musicians. His father would be extremely proud. I highly recommend adding these guys to your must see list and spend an evening with Zappa Plays Zappa….You’ll think you’re dreaming too!