Zappa Plays Zappa at Comerica Theatre Last Night
Monday, December 6, 2010
Grey-haired dudes in tennis shoes, file in Co-mer-i-ca
They throw back beers and let loose cheers, they scream 'woo-hoo, oh yeah!'
Their past they seek sans acid peak, at the Zappa show
Live it up, do it big, Just don't eat that yellow snow
Dweezil Zappa played Frank Zappa's Apostrophe(') album, Monday night at Comerica Theater. A bunch of boomers re-lived the 70s. And I caught a glimpse of my future.
Sitting at Seamus McCaffrey's prior to the show my father recounted how his college roommate use to play the albums. He told me how dense Zappa's music was and how that prevented him from being as famous as some of the others rockers of his time.
Meanwhile four guys at the table next to us -- one wearing a Zappa t-shirt -- put back a few pints. One of them started recalling a Pink Floyd concert on a beach where he was in attendance. Just when it was getting good, it started to rain and they had to cancel the rest of the show.
"And everyone was just peaking on acid?" one of the guys asked. They all laughed.
All these men and many of the women at the show were getting a chance to cut loose and re-live their glory days. It may have been Dweezil shredding his father's guitar rifts, and Flomax may have been popped in place of Quaaludes, but they were still having a great time. Meanwhile, I was previewing a night, 35 years down the road when perhaps I'd see Jim Jame's son, belt out Tennessee Fire.
The music was very, very good. They started the show by playing the entire Apostrophe(') album. An eight-piece-band banged out Zappa's complicated rock-symphonies, often for 15-minutes at a time (which began to lose me at the end of the show). Dweezil shared guitar solo duties with another guitarist. There were videos of his father playing songs like "Cosmik Debris." Another band member took on singing duties. I was surprised by the aggressive funk guitar riffs and bass lines that frequently appeared live but had been lost in my headphones.
Dweezil did a good job of making the music accessible to everyone in attendance.
"I think a lot of my father's music is criminally under-heard," Dweezil told New Times prior to the concert. "I want younger people to be exposed to it. They don't have any idea what they're missing."
Apostrophe(') was Zappa's greatest commercial success in the United States, peaking at #10 on Billboard in 1974. That meant that most people in attendance could sing along. Before playing the more obscure, jammier stuff such as "Redunzl," Dweezil would explain the music to the audience.
"How many of you have heard this music live before?" he asked the audience. It's tight and well composed at both the beginning and at the end of the song but in between anything could and would happen, he said.
More entertaining than the music was the crowd. It was mostly grey-haired men with their friends. Some brought their wives. There were more grey-ponytails than at a powwow. There long-haired hippies in their late 30s and a few hipster types sprinkled in. After sitting down in the theatre prior to the show, the man behind me voiced what I was thinking.
"This might be one of the weirdest crowds I've ever seen at a show besides maybe like Def Leppard," he said.
A moment later, a man who had been throwing popcorn at the couple in front of him, shouted something unintelligible at the stage as they dimmed the lights. Eventually he was escorted out, wearing his popcorn tub as a helmet.
In front of me, this guy's doppelganger tried to start a fight with a drunk guy. His cut off shirt revealed a baseball seem, armband tattoo.
I'll be there one day, I thought.
1. Gumbo Variations
2. Don't Eat That Yellow Snow
3. Nanook Rubs It
5. Cosmik Debris
9. Pick Me, I'm Clean
10. Dynamo Hum
13. Keep It Greasy
14. I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth
16. Baby Snakes
17. Muffin Man
Last Night: Dweezil Zappa plays Zappa at Comerica Theatre
Personal Bias: Frank Zappa died before I had heard of him.
The Crowd: Grey-haired dudes in tennis shoes, New Times critics and everything in between.
Overheard: "This might be one of the weirdest crowds I've ever seen at a show besides maybe like Def Leppard."
Random Notebook Dump: It felt more like a bunch of musicians jamming, joking around in a studio than a production. I like that.