Where the Shark Bubbles Blow: Zappa Plays Zappa in Chicago

Zappa Plays ZappaZappa Plays Zappa at the Congress Theater

Chicago, December 1, 2010

This past Saturday was the third time I’ve seen Zappa Plays Zappa, and it was the best show so far. That’s saying a lot, because the first two were incredible performances, and I had high expectations for this one as a result.

A couple of things made this show special. First, they played the entirety of Apostrophe, after a great rendition of “Gumbo Variations” from Hot Rats. Apostrophe is one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever recorded. There is not a bad song on the record, and a whole bunch of brilliant ones. It was my introduction to Zappa (if you don’t count “Valley Girl,” which they also played on Saturday), and it holds the top slot in my ranking of Zappa records. So I was really excited to see them do the entire record, and they did not disappoint.

Another thing that made the show special was the fact that they were celebrating what would have been Frank’s 70th birthday by projecting vintage video of Frank playing and incorporating that into the live performance. It could have been a disaster, but it was really enjoyable. On a number of different songs – including “Muffin Man” – Frank was projected on an enormous screen behind the band, with his guitar solo from the vintage performance mixed in with the band. And they chose clips where Frank was on fire.

Zappa Plays Zappa

It looked like it was mostly, if not completely, the same band the GLONO team saw at Rothbury in 2009. And the only difference from when I saw them at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor was the addition of Ben Thomas, who does all the main vocals now. So they’re seasoned, and it showed in extremely tight performances. Dweezil is a great band leader, and they’re working from outstanding material.

At some point toward the end of the show, Dweezil announced that the road crew had been lobbying to revive an old tradition: the panty quilt. Yes, the panty quilt. So they wanted to give it a try. Dweezil asked any of the ladies that felt up to it to throw their panties, and perhaps their bras, on stage. Then Dweezil announced that they’d play the instrumental “I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth” while the crowd gave it some thought. Despite the predominantly male audience, there were a lot of panties tossed on stage. An august beginning to a ZPZ panty quilt, I must say.

Zappa Plays Zappa

They rounded the show out with a three song encore – “Baby Snakes,” “Titties and Beer,” and Muffin Man. In all, they played 23 songs, which amounted to over 2 1/2 hours of music with no set break.

Check out more photos on GLONO’s Flickr…

Zappa Plays Zappa: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, eMusic, MOG, wiki

Frank Zappa: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, eMusic, MOG, wiki

28 thoughts on “Where the Shark Bubbles Blow: Zappa Plays Zappa in Chicago”

  1. At the risk of always being the dickish contrarian, everything about this just sounds awful. Aside from the desperate grave robbing nature of what Dweezil is up to, it just sounds terrible and tasteless all-around. I always thought most of Frank’s catalog was pretty distasteful I’ll admit, but at least it was his own. Paying tribute to stuff like the panty bit though…geez.

  2. Bob, it’s important to take risks, and I’m glad you took this one. I would argue that describing what Dweezil and co. are doing as grave robbing is a little uncharitable, though. :-) Dweezil would say that what he’s doing is keeping Frank’s music alive by introducing it to new listeners and entertaining the faithful at the same time. From my personal experience, I’ve had Hot Rats, Apostrophe and a few other Zappa classics in my catalog since college. Since I saw Zappa Plays Zappa the first time, I got sucked into Frank’s work in a huge way, and I’ve added a dozen more Zappa albums to my collection. Read a few bios. Now, I’m naturally inclined to be closer to the town’s Zappa nut than most, but Dweezil accomplished what he intended to with me, and I’ve been doing some evangelizing myself since then. So the gospel according to Frank continues to spread! Except with you, apparently :-).

    The thing I would say about the panty quilt and stuff like that is to remember that it’s just part of Zappa stage persona. There’s also the incredible compositions, Zappa’s prowess with the guitar, and the sheer musicianship of the band. Another way to look at it is as a giant social experiment. How many women in this audience will actually throw their panties on stage for a “panty quilt” while we play a song called I Promise I Won’t Come In Your Mouth. Seriously, how many? Is somebody counting?

  3. I will readily admit that I don’t understand Zappa’s appeal as a musician. He just alternated between pretentious and puerile in a way that doesn’t work for me. Plus he unleashed a lot of awful wanker players on the world. Steve Vai, Dale Bozzio…I don’t know, not my taste. But I loved Frank as a personality and social critic and video pioneer. We could use his take on society in general these days.

    His kids are another story. They all have a long track record of dubious talent and desperate desire to be famous…for something. Dweezil has tried his hand at everything from solo records to bands to acting to marrying famous people to cooking shows to…you name it. All of it pretty terrible. I guess if anyone has the right to pay tribute to Frank it’s his kid. I’m sure he loves his father and people want it I guess.

    Your piece was well written and I enjoyed it. It made me think, even if it didn’t change my opinion. I still think the panties bit is super lame though.

  4. I watched the Torture Never Stops video on the poppa post, and it took me a while to figure out that it was the name of the song and not a description of a Frank Zappa concert.

  5. Bob, perhaps FZ’s music is just beyond your comprehension. Or maybe it’s just too many notes for you. But in all seriousness, there have been few American composers in the last several decades, if any, that exhibited the range of styles, talent, and prolific output that Frank has shown. Dweezil is exposing a whole new generation to that music. That has been his goal, and he is succeeding. Fear not, there will be much more music that is less challenging for you to enjoy. A Lite beer for your ear; make mine full-bodied and craft brewed.

  6. I really don’t understand people’s indignation when somebody doesn’t like the same music they do. For me, Zappa has always been a lot better as an idea than a reality. I respect his creativity a lot, miss his nerve and cantankerousness, but I can count on one hand and a couple of toes the number of Zappa tunes I’ve actually enjoyed listening to. Lighten up Frank (the poster, not Zappa). More notes doesn’t mean better music. You sound like a jackass. Speaking for myself here, not Bob. Bob, fire away.

  7. Well, to be fair to Frank (the poster), jaimoe0, I think people tend to respond indigently when someone disses the music genre(s) or artist(s) they like with a “holier than thou” attitude. It’s pretty uncool to call what Dweezil is doing “grave robbing” and calling Frank’s music “puerile and pretentious” to people who are passionate about his music. People are going to get edgy about it. And unfortunately, that’s the nature of online commentary – none of the restraints that go along with actual social interaction are present. I’m not a fan of Oasis, for example, but I know better than to say “Oasis licks my balls with their talentless hacks they call songs and their pretentious British bullshit” when someone is blathering on about how great they are. I can communicate that I don’t like them without belittling the band or their fans, which is frankly what Bob was doing in his comments. That’s Bob’s prerogative, but if you post something like that, you shouldn’t expect that no one is going to respond in kind. Am I wrong?

  8. I think if you read my posts again you will find that I did not insult the poster or the genre. What is the genre anyway? Art-rock containing poop jokes? I kid. I honestly though it was a fair and respectful view of Zappa, and pretty well written, if I do say so myself. I also said positive things about Frank himself. I don’t see anything in my comments that “belittles the fans man!” I guess I was dismissive about Dweezil, and I’ll stand by what I said. What he’s doing is a little desperate and I think he largely a no-talent hack. The panties bit speaks for itself. And Frank, I’ll take the Pepsi challenge with you any day over, uh…complicated music? Is the number of notes the measure of quality? I love Sun Ra and Beefheart and Monk & the Residents and plenty of challenging stuff. But I don’t take offense to being attacked, I just think it’s weird. Why would anyone participate in a music blog if they don’t like to debate music? Some people are too damn sensitive and humorless…kind of ironic for hardcore Zappa defenders.

  9. I’d just like to point out my grammar/vocabulary fail in my most recent comment: when I wrote “indigently” I meant “indignantly.” D’oh!

  10. “Indigently” sounds like it would describe a gentle case of indigestion.

    I, for one, assumed Frank’s “too many notes” comment was in jest. Which is why he followed it with “But in all seriousness…” Who knows?

    I love arguing about music. I love passion and craziness and fanaticism. I don’t get offended when someone disrespects the music I love; I just assume they’re an idiot.

  11. Bob, I appreciated your comments when you first posted them, and I still do. I would not want in anyway to discourage you from posting similar comments in the future. I hope you didn’t read my most recent comment as suggesting that.

    Stepping away from Zappa for a minute, I’m sure everyone has seen the constant bitch slapping of Justin Bieber in YouTube comments on unrelated videos. I think it’s fair to say that fans of Justin Bieber will take offense and feel like they’re being criticized when he’s being criticized. Music is like religion. When one is passionate about a given artist, he or she may not take someone else’s criticism/comments with a sense of humor about it. When I say to a Christian “so you think some sort of space god pointed his finger at Mary and “boom!” she was magically pregnant? That’s just crazy talk” I think that’s funny, and would like them to see the humor in it. The devout Christian will not, though. At least in my experience.

  12. I think the music and the artist are definitely fair game. Personal attacks on an artist are a bit unseemly, and usually unfounded, but saying a particular tune is the aural equivalent of ass water is no big deal. However, turning around and saying that someone is too stupid to appreciate the artist you’re defending is lame. Discuss the music, criticize the criticism, but don’t attack a guy because he disagrees with you. That was my point. And frankly, a lot of Zappa’s lyrical content was puerile. I think that was the point. Pushing envelopes. Doesn’t mean I love it, though.

  13. I’m not a Zappa freak but appreciaiate and enjoy a chunk of his work. So, if Dweezil is doing right by the old man’s music, then more power to him. Yes, the Zappa kids have been a little too show-biz for my taste, but if it turns out Dweezil’s professional purpose in life is to keep his dad’s music alive, I could think of tons of worse things the dude could do with his talent. And he is talented. Which brings me to…

    From the Bo Diddley beat to Yes at its peak I enjoy the vast majority of musical tangents that fall under the rock and roll label. (Hell, I own records by both Pavement AND Phish!) But it kinda rubs me the wrong way when musicians are dissed for their instrumental dexterity, as Bob did with Vai and Bozzio. At least a wanker like, I dunno, Yngwie–who annoys the crap out of me in every way–put in plenty of time and effort to excel on their given instrument, unlike a talentless hack like Meg White, whose lack of skills has gotten more praise than Jesus at a church revival. Bottom line: I don’t enjoy chops for the sake of it, nor the lack thereof out of some misguided attempt at authenticity. Let’s stop this lack-of-chops-as-a-badge-of-honor nonsense. In the end, I don’t care if your playing is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain or you can wail like Jimi, as long as your tunes are solid.

    Btw, nice pics, Mike.

  14. Agreed – it’s not cool to personally insult one another in web commentary, which I think I have been personally guilty of doing in the past. One of the downsides of web commentary – it’s easy to speak before thinking through something, and just going with anger from initial reading.

  15. I think the problem with posting in general is the lack of body language or even verbal nuance. I’m guilty of having my sense of humor about things lost via the medium. Sometimes the funny just doesn’t translate…maybe I’m not a well enough writers. I disagree about dissing guys like Vai and Bozzio, I think they’re fair game. If you put product out there for sale, it’s open to criticism. I didn’t say they were bad guys or ugly or beat their wives. But they represent a certain style of playing that is, to me anyway, ALL technique and zero soul or taste. Steve Vai is technically ten times the guitar player that Dex Romweber is but I’ll take Dex every day of the week. And I would much rather look at Meg than Bozzio, thanks. I think the definition of hack is somebody who doesn’t something phony, purely for the money or recognition. I used to know Meg a little bit, I don’t think there is a phony, hacky bone in her body. She sure as hell isn’t taking advantage of the money she could be making.

  16. One half science and the other half soul

    His name’s Mike D. not Fat Morton Jelly Roll

    That, to me, defines rock and roll. You’ve gotta have some of both: the science (technical ability, skills, talent) and the soul (feeling, vibe, funk, slop…the roll). And I think 50-50 is pretty much the perfect mix. Steve Vai is probably 100-0, and good old Meg is probably 25-75.

    Meg White might not be an awesome drummer, but she’s perfect for the White Stripes. What would the White Stripes be with a technically great drummer? Boring. The Black Keys. Who needs that? The simple, primitive drumming keeps the band from being too full of itself, too self-important. Worked for the Velvet Underground and it works for the White Stripes.

    I have a theory that only dudes who played in jazz band in high school (i.e., Rush fans) hate Meg White.

    I can appreciate virtuosity but I rarely want to listen to it. It’s impressive but it rarely moves me. Which is why I’m listening to Crazy Horse as I type this…

  17. OK, how the hell did I find myself defending Steve Vai? Oh, yeah: hyperbole.

    Jake, 100-0? Really? So, you don’t like the guy’s music. Fine. I’m not necessarily a fan myself. But you’re basically calling the guy passionless and he’s not. (Listen to “Sisters” from Passion and Warfare, for instance.)

    What would the White Stripes be with a technically great drummer?

    The Raconteurs. That’s a compliment, btw. (Here comes the flood!)

    The Stripes’ have some tunes I enjoy, but ultimately the lack of bass guitar–a sonic obstacle for me, which I was willing to overlook–coupled with the drumming of a less talented, female Matt Sorum–king of the plodding drummers–just turned me off. (For the record, I dig Flat Duo Jets and The Black Keys, two bass-less duos w/solid drummers.) Meg holds Jack White back. But that’s just me.

    The simple, primitive drumming keeps the band from being too full of itself, too self-important.

    Welcome, Mr. Chops R. Pompous; we’ve been expecting you.

    So, are we equating chops with too much self-importance? This is EXACTLY what my beef is: the notion that musical dexterity = artifice, while a lack thereof = authenticity. Sorry Charlie. Not buying it. Virtuosos and people who could barely cobble a couple of chords together have both made awesome, transcendent music. And crap, too.

    I have a theory that only dudes who played in jazz band in high school (i.e., Rush fans) hate Meg White.

    Ugh. Man, I expect better from you, Jake. That’s the flip side of saying musicians who can really play are only criticized by those who envy their talent. Way too lazy, friend.

    Anyway, snark aside, your theory fails the smell test. Also, in it you lump together 2 groups of people that have a tenuous, at best, relationship. Except for your dislike of them of course.

    I’ve never been a jazz musician of any stripe–though I do love jazz–but depending on the moment “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “The Spirit of Radio”, respectively, can make my day. Why? ‘Cause they each speak to me, albeit for different reasons. Same with The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell and Eddie Van Halen; Crazy Horse and Yes. If Cobain wasn’t given grief for playing with a technically proficient rhythm section–nor did he obviously have a problem with it–then why the selective criticism?

    I don’t like virtuosity for the sake of it; don’t dig basic, primitive playing for the hell of it either. Neither have found a home in music collection. All I ask is that the playing not be detrimental to the song, and Ms. White’s clearly is, more often than not.

  18. My main point is that Jack White is a grandiose, self-important dork and having Meg in the band keeps him from flying off into total wankery. There are other elements in his other bands that keep him in check. But Meg is necessary for the White Stripes. And Jack knows it.

  19. Fair enough, Jake. But if there’s anything to the rumors that he’s been pulling a Billy Corgan and actually recorded her parts–I’ve been told this by Stripes fans, I personally don’t know anything about it–then he needs her in the band for different reasons altogether.

  20. This argument really pivots, as do all musical arguments, on one thing! The songs. Whether you can barely play a note or if you’re Segovia, the songs are what matters. The White Stripes have great songs, and they would most likely succeed no matter who was drumming. Steve Vai may have some good songs, but I haven’t heard them. All I’ve heard are dull frameworks for even duller noodling. Don’t know the whole Vai catalog. Just making a point. Good songs win out. Nobody would ever accuse the Ramones of being exceptional musicians. They did have, especially on the first few albums, some exceptional songs.

  21. I agree with you completely re: songs, Jaimoe0. I just dislike instrumental or vocal prowess being immediate cause for derision and/or suspicion, as if this were detrimental to being an artist. Which, by the way, is a conceit almost exclusive to rock and roll. I mean, I’ve rarely, if ever, heard of anyone playing R&B, jazz, classical, blues, salsa, etc. etc. etc. being held to this absurd standard. (For the record, I’m a musician of average dexterity/competence, so it’s not like this alludes to me, personally.)

  22. The best thing Steve Vai did is that talking guitar part in DLR’s “Yankee Rose”

    VAI: Wah Wah!

    DLR: Wha?

    For those of you who remember, by the time of the “Paradise” video, the drummer was riding the toms like a moron, Diamond Dave was rock climbing, and that joke wasn’t funny anymore.

    For perspective, I encourage everyone to take a gander at the many Yngwie Malmsteen videos on You Tube.

  23. I dunno ’bout best, Todd, but that talking guitar part in DLR’s “Yankee Rose” is my favorite thing Vai ever did on guitar. (Was listening to that tune recently, btw, and it still sounds more VH than Eddie and co. did at the time.)

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