NEWTON, NJ—In the same fashion as his late father, the prolific musician Frank Zappa, Dweezil Zappa aligned himself with extremely talented musicians to deliver perfect renditions of songs spanning the entire catalogue as Zappa Plays Zappa took the Newton Theatre by storm. With a super tight five-piece band backing Dweezil, who armed himself with a monstrous pedal board and his Gibson SG and Les Paul, he took the middle-aged audience with a handful of young Zappa fans on a journey through rarities and well-known songs, full of improvised solos, spot on dynamic and tempo changes, and impressive vocal harmonies by nearly all band members.
Lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, trumpet and trombone player Ben Thomas sounded exactly like Zappa of old on many of his signature songs like “Montana” and the show’s opener “Zomby Woof,” full of ironic and comical animation, enhancing the satirical material in many of the songs. He also looked strangely like Netflix powerhouse Blue Mountain State star Thad Castle. Keyboardist Chris Norton, bassist Kurt Morgan, drummer Ryan Brown and saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez each had their own time in the spotlight, playing riveting solos on certain songs including the frenzied instrumental “Eat That Question,” the famous bluesy “Cosmik Debris,” and rock jam instrumental, “Apostrophe.”
However, it was Dweezil Zappa who made the audience’s faces melt with his exceptionally technical guitarmanship, effortlessly moving up and down the neck at blaring speed with an incredible sense of melody and dynamics, imposing his own style and guitar sound on his father’s songs and reinventing many of the instrumental breaks in them. For the first encore, Zappa brought on his friend, fellow guitar virtuoso and teacher Chris Buono to play “Willie The Pimp,” which featured an intense and incredible duel between the two that ended in a flurry of furious guitar phrases.
Early on in the close to three-hour performance, Dweezil brought up two of his family friends no more than five years old, Sophie and Echo, to perform an a capella version of Alicia Keys’ “This Girl Is On Fire” that sent the audience into a standing ovation. While the stage was absolutely crammed with all of the band’s equipment, the guests still found room to squeeze in and steal their own shimmer of stardom at such an early age.
Zappa Plays Zappa effectively and impressively performed all the different genres in Frank’s music, whether they engaged in funk, jazz, traditional rhythm and blues, progressive rock or metal-sounding instrumentals. There were no light or laser shows needed in the intimate venue; the sonic skill of the band was more than enough to capture the atmosphere of the unique compositions. While this could be considered a tribute band, it has certainly brought to life and reinvigorated the original recordings of Dweezil’s father’s music, bringing them to a new generation, and warrants the attendance and applause of anyone who is even slightly interested in Frank Zappa.