The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa
RAI Theater Amsterdam, 17-05-2019
Musicians: Ray White, Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Robert Martin, Ed Mann, Joe Travers
Text: Robin Boer
During the 80's, Frank Zappa talked with his children about the future, sending a hologram of himself on stage, so he didn't need to travel anymore in order to perform at various locations. His eldest son Ahmet Zappa, decided to bring this idea to life, 25 years after the passing of his father. Since there is quite some tension and legal conflict between Ahmet, his sister Diva and, on the other side, younger brother and sister Dweezil and Moon, with Ahmet and Diva widely known as 'the difficult side', reactions to the announcement of this tour were very mixed, and limitedly positive. But let's not give that case too much attention. We visited this show in the Amsterdam RAI Convention Centre Theatre purely for the love of the music of Frank Zappa, and to be able to hear it performed by a bunch of very experienced musicians that actually played in the Zappa band during (mostly) the 80's.
Only once in a while, concerts are booked within this theatre, that looks beautiful, with a lot of pink lights, which reminds more of a tanning studio, rather than a music theatre. The stories about the acoustics of this particular place are not very promising, but we'll find out sooner or later. The show started at 8pm sharp: that is a luxury nowadays. Usually concerts (especially pop music) start at least 15 minutes later than the proposed time. During the first piece, we find out that the voice of Frank is very loud and the hologram isn't a hologram after all: we are looking at a video projection, a bit far from the center of the stage, more to the back of Frank with a guitar in his hand. It's not a major dissapointment, since it actually touches our senses in a mysterious way, as soon as we hear his voice and his guitar solos on top of the band performance. It's strange to hear the real Frank, while he is backed perfectly tight by his former band personnel. The big stage is being covered by a lot of Zappa-related animation and artwork. Very well done; the creators of this show really made big efforts to come up with an impressive visual result, which is too overwhelming to describe here in detail.
What about the music? Let's say this: Zappa still isn't dead! The inspired and energetic way his former musicians are performing the challenging music is candy to the ear, although indeed the acoustics of this hall are... well.. challenging. Some elements are too loud and the overall sound is harsh. Of course the vocal capabilities of Ray White and Robert Martin aren't as infinite as they used to be, they are still very good singers and deliver the highly needed Zappa-vibe. Ed Mann is playing the marimba like a mad man. Both Martin and Mike Keneally fulfill their keyboard duties perfectly and Scott Thunes still proves to be an impressive bass player. Zappa Trust archivist Joe Travers is more than capable of letting the complex rhythms flow like they should. Pieces like 'More Trouble Every Day', 'Penguin in Bondage', 'Zomby Woof', 'Dirty Love', 'Dinah-Moe Humm' and 'Peaches and Regalia' are close to flawlessness, but bigger surprises tonight are the complete, never released suite of 'Father O'Blivion' called 'Farther O'Blivion' and the very obscure and short piece '#2' that obviously has never been recorded or performed by Frank in the first place! Ray White's showcase came during 'The Evil Prince' (from the 'Thing-Fish' musical) and a few more pieces were performed with mainly band-voices and instruments (instead of the Frank overdub), during which Mike Keneally made a huge impression, mainly because of his great vocals and guitar solos, which, vocabulary-wise, were hard to distinguish from the real Frank-solos.
After a rough 100 minutes of high quality music and a short intermission, Ahmet Zappa himself enters the stage to do his own act of running, screaming and dancing. The public reception is very cold and the reason won't be a secret to the most of the crowd. Ahmet takes the opportunity and time to thank the musicians and all concerned people who made this tour possible. From the announced special guests (Steve Vai, Ian Underwood, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Arthur Barrow and Lady Bianca) none actually performed during any show of the tour. It is what it is and who knows what the future brings...
Despite the somewhat underwhelming finale of the show (Camarillo Brillo), we certainly witnessed an audiovisual spectacle we did not want to miss and we are looking forward to the forthcoming Hot Rats Anniversary show of Dweezil Zappa and his band in Utrecht, December 1st.
Cosmik Debris | Montana | More Trouble Every Day | Penguin in Bondage | Apostrophe | The Evil Prince | Zomby Woof | #2 | Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? | Peaches en Regalia | Stink-Foot | Farther O'Blivion | The Dangerous Kitchen | Dinah-Moe Humm | City of Tiny Lites | Dead Girls of London | Dirty Love
Cheepnis | Camarillo Brillo