A Shirt on Sunday: Dweezil Zappa - 4/12/2019 - Royal Festival Hall

in #shirtonsunday3 years ago (edited)

20191204 Dweezil RFH 20191222.jpg
My December began with two Frank Zappa tribute concerts. First, the Zappadan Zappajam, wherein various West London Zappa fans perform in a community hall in Acton, and then this - Hot Rats performed by Dweezil and his band on its 50th anniversary.

Hot Rats was Frank’s only top-ten album in the UK and led to him being regarded over here as a serious musician. Apart from the barking performance of Captain Beefheart on ‘Willie The Pimp’, the album is instrumental with a jazz flavour inspired by Archie Shepp. The album features ‘Peaches en Regalia’ - one of Zappa’s more celebrated melodies the became a regular part of the rock band tours, along with a bunch of other pieces that appear in classical, jazz and rock programs.
Such is the reverence in Zappa fandom for the album, that this month saw the release of a 6-CD box set of material from the Hot Rats sessions. Over 7 hours of material around an album that didn’t last 45 minutes. It took me two days to listen to and is worth every penny!

The Zappadan Zappajam is organised by one Mike Fox, leader of two Zappa tribute bands - one small, one large, and both in attendance on a cold Friday night somewhere North of Acton Town tube. Twenty-five years ago I lived in Acton, but have seldom been back. This evening I found myself returning to a couple of old regular pubs, both changed beyond recognition, on a high street that seemed to have barely altered. It was a strange feeling to be wandering around the area again, and I had memories of attending a Zappa celebration headlined by the Pink Fairies way back in the 90s. Nostalgia and half-remembered music accompanied me as I approached the Acton Garden community hall, a classic 1960’s school-type building where I always assume the ceilings tiles are made of asbestos. It still had a higher ceiling and better stage than the venue for HRH events in Great Yarmouth.

First up were MindFood , a psychedelic rock trio who kicked off with the Roy Batty death speech from Blade Runner, which certainly made me smile. They had a couple of great jams and I really enjoyed them. The crowd was small, and mostly composed of the bands and their hangers-on, although there were a few of us fans, and it was cheerful if not raucous.
Acton Zappa are Mike Fox’s trio and they played a good set of mainly instrumental tunes.
The AMM All-Stars are a radio-based improvisation band of flexible membership, who performed the FZ album ‘Lumpy Gravy’. The original is an aural collage of rock, classical, doo-wop, people talking inside a piano and electronic noises. The band attempted the impossible and thus were rewarded for getting close. After they performed, I found myself chatting to one of the members, Ben Watson who wrote the definitive Marxist thesis on Zappa back in the 90s. ‘The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play’ is a dense read but amusing, especially at the end, where he interviews Zappa and has various matters ‘corrected’.
After a dramatic reading of ‘Evelyn A Modified Dog’ by Richard Gregory, London Zappa (being bigger than Acton Zappa) kicked off for a set of Zappa crowd-pleasers. It was a fun evening, and I just about made the last train back home.

The AMM All-Stars performing Lumpy Gravy at Acton Garden Village Club

That was Friday, and the next Wednesday was a very different kettle of fish. The Dweezil Zappa band has been going for years, replicating arrangements from the records as closely as possible, rather than the loose interpretations of other bands. For the Hot Rats tour they claimed to have gone back to the tapes to get the performances right and this certainly paid off. As an opener they played the comedy song ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’ and then stumbled into ‘Peaches en Regalia’, managing to make a muddle of the one track they’ve always played. Singer and guitarist Adam Minkoff had some technical issues which sent roadies burrowing into flight cases for something which was apparently found and Minkoff was able to relax. The performances from then on were impeccable and keyboard / saxophonist Sheila Gonzalez was on top form. Dweezil plays a mean guitar and the rhythm section were particularly tight. Couldn’t hear much of the keyboard player.

The second set was remarkable for having a whole bunch of 80’s material which the band has previously avoided, and a few other obscurities which made the whole evening special. There was also a stomping cover of The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’. It was explained that Zappa had quoted from it a few times, and even written a counter melody, but as that was only a few bars, they decided to do the whole song and drop the counter-melody in the middle. As you do.

Two nights of Zappa, from different ends of the scale of size and sophistication, but both satisfying in their way. So ends my gig-going for 2019.

Set List



The Gumbo Variations

From Hot Rats. As performed at the RFH

Tears Began to Fall

The same encore from a different night
See also this post for lots of FZ...


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