Zappa Plays Zappa: A DVD Review

There's been a number of amazing concert tours in the past few years... many of which I was lucky enough to attend. Certainly up near the top of the ones I wish I could have seen is the Zappa Plays Zappa tour. Critically acclaimed, this project was the brain child of one Dweezil Zappa, who put together an amazing band, complete with a few special guests, to tour performing the music of his late father, Frank Zappa. Having not been able to see Frank when he was still performing, I thought this was a really cool idea and was looking forward to catching a show. Unfortunately various circumstances prevented that me from doing that over the years, but luckily at least a few moments of this amazing tour were captured, preserved for posterity and are now being released in DVD format.

Planned for release on April 29th 2008 (I believe), this DVD has over 3 hours of footage taken from two shows on the west coast of the US, during the band's time out on tour. It will be available in both a DVD release, a CD release and a special edition that I believe contain both the DVD and the 3 CDs of audio, plus additional bonus material. I was lucky enough to be able to preview the DVD release and was so impressed, I not only wanted to review and recommend it, but was inspired to add a few more Zappa albums to my own catalog as well.

Here's the track listing for the DVD:

Disk 1:
1. Andy
2. Call Any Vegetable
3. Tell Me You Love Me
4. Florentine Pogen
5. Cosmik Debris
6. I'm The Slime
7. Pound For A Brown
8. Don't Eat The Yellow Snow
9. St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast
10. Father O'Blivion
11. Inca Roads
12. Eat That Question
13. I'm So Cute
14. Tryin' To Grow A Chin
15. Punky's Whips

Disk 2:
1. Black Page #1
2. Black Page #2
3. Regyptian Strut
4. Peaches En Regalia
5. Montana
6. Village Of The Sun
7. Echidna's Arf (Of You)
8. Zomby Woof
9. Back Napkins
10.The Torture Never Stops
11. Oh No
12. Son Of Orange County
13. Trouble Every Day
14. Sofa
15. Cheepnis* (*bonus track not listed on package)

There's also a brief interview with Dweezil Zappa about putting together the tour and the band, which is pretty interesting as well.

And here's the track listing for the CD:

1. Tell Me You Love Me
2. Florentine Pogen
3. Cheepnis
4. Cosmik Debris
5. I’m The Same
6. Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow
7. St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast
8. Father O’Blivion
9. Black Page #2
10. Peaches En Regalia
11. Zomby Woof
12. The Torture Never Stops

Although I don't think any band can ever really compare to some of the bands Frank put together during his career, that doesn't diminish the quality of this bunch... they're the real deal. Anyone who's ever tried to transcribe or even just play one of Frank's compositions can attest that they range from challenging, to extremely complex and next to impossible. To even come close to being able to perform this kind of music one has to be extremely talented and extremely dedicated. This band is extremely talented and extremely dedicated. Often times playing multiple instruments (sometimes at the same time) on complex harmonies and melodies, all while staying tightly in time through the twists and turns of Frank's poly-rhythms... the everyone's caliber of musicianship is just stellar. The additions of the incredibly soulful Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals and sax, the always mind-bogglingly good Steve Vai on guitar and the one and only Terry Bozzio playing the "mother of all drum sets" (you'll see what I mean) are the icing on the cake. And lets not forget Dweezil on guitar either, who although has his own unique and equally impressive style, more than once hits that special phrase that recalls Frank's own progressively fractured, yet stunningly beautiful guitar work. From a musician's perspective, the dedication of everyone in the band (and the special guests) is palpable from the very first note and a testament to their talent and their commitment to performing this music in a way that does it justice and respect.

As one might expect, all of that makes for some truly impressive performances with tons of highlights throughout. In fact, I can't really say there are any less than impressive moments throughout the entire set, but there are a few that standout for me as just taking things to the next level. Certainly the funky "Call Any Vegetable" merged seamlessly into the hard rockin' seduction of "Tell Me You Love Me" is one of them, as are some of the songs you'd expect to see in a show like this... songs like "Cosmik Debris", "I'm Slime", "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and "Inca Roads". I'm also especially partial to the hard hitting "Eat that Question" which features not only some killer feedback laced guitar work and one of my favorite Zappa melodies, but also one of the longest, most complex and demanding saxophone solos I've ever seen.

Joined by Terry Bozzio, they tear through "I'm So Cute" with plenty of punk energy that continues into the equally hard, yet also classically tinged "Tryin' to Grow a Chin". More great moments in both "Black Page #1" and "Black Page #2", as well as Peaches in Regalia and the necessary take on "Montana", but my favorite trio of standout songs comes later... "Zombie Woof", "Black Napkins" and "The Torture Never Stops". The first is one of my favorite Zappa tracks, but it's also is just such an high energy performance with amazing guitar work from Steve Vai on lead. Followed by one of Frank's classics, performed as a fitting tribute with plenty of emotion by Dweezil, "Black Napkins" is just beautiful and powerful first note to last. It blends directly into the next song, "The Torture Never Stops", which is haunting and soulful. What I really love about this one though is the guitar solo... I think it's easily Dweezil's best throughout the entire set (which is saying a lot seeing as how they're all pretty awesome). Starting off soft, subtle and restrained, it then soars to searingly powerful and huge, pushing the song so much before pulling back again.

The set concludes with a few other great highlights, "Oh No" and the closer "Sofa" being two of my favorites. Add in that there is some great spontaneous improvisational moments, guided by hand signals and motions from Dweezil to create completely unique melodic moments, along with some great guitar dueling between Dweezil and Vai, and you have an intensely melodic, powerfully complex, and yet fun concert set.

The performances aren't perfect, with a few mistakes showing up if you really look, but I actually think that adds to the impressive nature of the show. So often when you see a complex musical piece performed flawlessly it can become slightly surreal and almost too perfect. These small flaws seem to add to the authenticity and realism, sort of confirming that this music is indeed being performed live... something I like actually, so I don't think these flaws detract from the set as a whole, but instead enhance it. The collector in me also wishes that this set was a complete show, or two complete shows instead of patched together, but I don't find the combined sets too distracting so I can get over that. I also wish there were some more bonus features included (the actual release might have more than the few I've seen), but it's not as if there needs to be more material to make this DVD worthwhile... the main performances alone do that.

Overall, a nice little concert DVD. Along with stellar musicianship and some great performances throughout, I think that Dweezil's commitment to getting his father's music out to new people and new generations through these DVD's and concert tour really comes through... and that adds to the authenticity and performance. As I mentioned previously, I think comparisons to Frank's bands from back in the day are pretty irrelevant and so of course there are going to be differences between the original takes and Dweezil's versions (although lots of attention has been paid to keep things as authentic as possible it seems... or in the same spirit). This isn't about the differences though... it's about performing the music and that's what's important. It's obvious that this is more than just a fun type of concert event (although it is that too), but a powerful and fitting tribute... more than just covers... one that will hopefully do much to keep the music of Frank Zappa alive and well, and hopefully in the minds of members of younger generations for years to come.

I know that for me personally, seeing this concert footage has inspired me to seek out more of Frank's compositions, discovering new favorites all the time, so it has at the very least been successful in that respect. I think these performances might just do the same thing for you, so if you're a fan of Frank Zappa, then I definitely think it's worth your time to check out the work of Dweezil and the gang either in the form of this great DVD set, or better yet... in concert. There's been such a positive response to the Zappa Plays Zappa shows that the tours are continuing on with new guests (Ray White is with the band on guitar and vocals now) and new songs, so if you get the chance, make sure to get out to the show. If you can't then this Zappa Plays Zappa DVD set like this will certainly suffice... I highly recommend it... and bet the CD version and deluxe version will be worth checking out as well.

Also, the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is doing more to support this release than just publishing a review, I'm also offering a special opportunity for my readers to get this DVD for free in the next month or so. More information on that here: Zappa Plays Zappa: DVD Giveaway

If you can't wait, then you can preorder this DVD here at Amazon: Zappa Plays Zappa (Amaray)

Or you can preorder the CD version here: Zappa Plays Zappa

Or the special fan pack here: Zappa Plays Zappa (Fan Pak)

Also make sure to check out the Zappa Plays Zappa site for more information on the tour, the DVD, and even some clips and trailers, here: http://www.zappaplayszappa.com/

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