The Hippo


Mar 17, 2018








Dweezil Zappa. Courtesy photo.

Zappa Plays Zappa
When: Thursday, July 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach
Tickets: $36-$79 at

Progeny power
Zappa Plays Zappa hits Hampton

By Michael Witthaus

In 2004, frustrated with those who considered Frank Zappa a Firesign Theatre-with-guitars novelty act, Dweezil Zappa set out to teach younger audiences about the music of his late father. Preparation required total immersion and two years of studying a 62-album catalog from start to finish. It also meant changing his guitar style of 20 years — “like learning how to walk all over again,” he said at the time.

Zappa Plays Zappa launched in 2006. Early shows steered clear of humor. 
“We would do ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’ and some things along those lines, but didn’t get into anything super wacky. … We really wanted to focus on the instrumental things and have that carry the weight,” Dweezil said in a recent phone interview. “Now that we are 10 years in, there is a little bit of loosening of the reins.”
Sometimes, a show is devoted to a single Zappa album, like Apostrophe in 2010 and last year’s Roxy & Elsewhere tour. To mark its 40th anniversary, One Size Fits All will receive the full-length treatment at Casino Ballroom on Thursday, July 23.  
“It’s a fan favorite and one that we really enjoy playing,” Zappa said. 
Some of the songs on the 1975 release are fun, like the first live performance of “Evelyn, A Modified Dog,” the goofy desert love song “San Ber’dino,” and “Po-Jama People.” 
It may surprise some to learn that the latter track isn’t about Internet trolls living in mom and dad’s basement. 
“That song came about on the road  [from] cliques that form in the band,” Zappa said. “There were people who were just hanging out in their pajamas on the tour bus doing crossword puzzles … they were the pajama people, considered more uninteresting than the others.”
One Size Fits All contains the complex “Inca Roads,” a Close Encounters themed opus. 
“It’s one of the hardest songs in the catalog just because of all of the changes,” said Zappa. “There’s an interlude section that has a bunch of septuplets that are very fast [and] not something that falls naturally on any instrument, the guitar in particular. When I set out to learn that section, it took me months to figure out a way to play it.”
“Can’t Afford No Shoes” is another challenging number. 
“That one is a surprisingly tricky … lot of chords moving in the song, and Frank played fretless on the solo,” he said. “I had to do some weird bending to recreate that.”
Material from the entire FZ oeuvre is in the show, including “Grand Wazoo,” “Sinister Footwear” and “Imaginary Diseases,” an obscurity only heard during a 1971 Mothers of Invention tour. 
“It’s one of the few tunes that Frank ever did that was solely a brass arrangement … that’s the main instrumentation,” Zappa said. “It’s like a marching band with a kick-ass rock feel, and a really cool piece of music.”
The first time they played the song live, Zappa nerds in the audience didn’t recognize it and figured Dweezil Zappa had slipped an original into the setlist. 
“That’s the thing about Frank’s fans, they fancy themselves as super experts on absolutely every element,” he said. “Sometimes if they are not familiar with the song, they just assume it’s mine.”
Fans will soon have a chance to sample the younger Zappa’s original work. Due later this year, Via Zammata is his first new album since turning toward his dad’s music a decade ago. Whether he’ll tour behind it is an unanswered question. 
“Zappa Plays Zappa is really its own entity and fan base, so we don’t know if those people will come to [my] shows,” he said. “We won’t know our plans for touring until we have an idea of what people think of the record.” 
The legacy theme continues on the upcoming release with “Dragon Master,” a song co-written with his father. 
“It is an homage to what I consider the true heavy metal mythology; Frank wrote the lyrics to be sort of a goofy heavy metal song but what I did with the music was to give the goofiness of the lyrics some actual weight. … It walks that fine line,” he said. “Ronnie James Dio would sing about rainbows and unicorns in the dark and dragons — this preposterous imagery — but just because of the delivery, he would sell the idea in his performance. Anyone who is not a metal enthusiast will most likely hear more of the joke, but it’s also heavier than anything else on the record.” 
As seen in the July 16, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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