Rant’N’Roll: Zapped By Dweezil

Dweezil Zappa, photographed by Michael Lewis for the New York Times on April 6th, 2016 at his home in Los Angeles CA.
Dweezil Zappa, photographed by Michael Lewis for the New York Times on April 6th, 2016 at his home in Los Angeles CA.

Montclair, NJ—“I’m Dweezil Zappa and I’m going to play whatever the fuck I want!” With that bold declaration of independence, super-guitarist and extraordinary bandleader Dweezil Zappa, 46, launched into a two-hour+ set that set heads banging and minds spinning due to the band’s constant and dizzying tempo shifts. Dubbed “The Cease And Desist Tour” because of some ugly legal family bickering, that mattered not on this inspirational hard fusion rock funk metal jazz musical theater. Some songs had six or more different time signatures. Every single band member could stop on a dime and start chugging off in a different direction. Oftentimes only half the band would take a different route to the same end and they’d play in two tempi simultaneously. The result was a freewheeling cacophony where all the parts fit tight like a master jigsaw puzzle of 1,000 pieces.

Thus, whatever legal wrangling is going on behind the scenes was made moot. Sure, Frank Zappa [1940-1993] is a hero to many, a true pioneer visionary who backed up his music with political activism against censorship. But it’s Dweezil, in all his ragged hippie glory, his anti-show biz stance, who is single-handedly keeping his father’s legacy not only alive but brilliantly executed on stages so vivid and exciting, it’s like Frank is still around smiling through his Fu Manchu.

And for that, I can only paraphrase the late Waylon Jennings…

“Now they say Dweezil done strayed away/

Of all them songs that put his daddy in an early grave/

But his daddy would be proud if he could see ol’ Dweezil now/

Why don’t you leave that boy alone, and let him sing his song.”

OK, ok, I know the similarities between the only son of Hank Williams and the only son of Frank Zappa are like concave and convex images. Hank Jr., forced to sing his daddy’s songs by his mama, forged his own path. Dweezil, being sued not to sing his daddy’s songs by his siblings since the death of his mama, is forging his own path by keeping Frank’s songs vital to new generations. To that end, despite having to change the band name and not use Zappa Plays Zappa anymore, his well-oiled machine spewed out “Help, I’m A Rock” by Frank’s first band The Mothers Of Invention before pummeling us with Frank’s “Transylvania Boogie.” After four more Mothers Of Invention tunes (“It Can’t Happen Here,” “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here,” “Harry, You’re A Beast” and “The Orange County Lumber Truck”), they did seven straight Frank classics that totally blew the minds of the Zappa faithful who were dancing and romancing to the soundtrack of their lives. A majority of the audience looked Frank’s age, with Frank t-shirts, bellbottom pants and gray pony tails amid the sweet smell of herb (despite their hero being notoriously anti-drug). There was plenty of stored-up enthusiasm to go around and it made the son smile at the severity of the daddy’s cult.

By the time the 21-song set was completed, the crowd, satiated, exhausted, thrilled and happy to the point of laughing, singing and dancing in the old Wellmont where I used to go see movies in the ‘80s, started a rhythmic clapping and chanting for more that lasted to the point of this reporter overhearing an overweight bearded reveler shout to his even more overweight missus, “he’s going to make us work for it.” He did but rewarded the pulsing and swaying throng by coming back out and laying waste to us all, obliterating the social niceties of time constraints by plowing through a holy triumvirate of his daddy’s “Cosmik Debris,” “You Are What You Is” and, the final song of the night, “Keep It Greasey” from Frank’s 1975 Joe’s Garage.

His label can’t be too thrilled he played nothing from Via Zammata which traverses a wide spectrum of sound from jazz-rock fusion (“Funky”) and the catchy “Rat Race” where he writes “got money in the bank and I’m feeling alright” to the metal-tinged “Dragon Master” which demands we should all get on our knees to hail Satan and the delicious closer, “Billionaire’s Son,” complete with oddball Tex-Mex Mariachi horns.

Upcoming at The Wellmont Theater is Englebert Humperdinck Aug. 5; “Legends Of Rock” with Jefferson Starship, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Rick Derringer and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels Aug. 6; David Sanborn & Dave Koz Aug. 26; Frank Caliendo Sept. 22; 1964: The Tribute Sept. 23 and Tom Jones Sept. 28. I’ll be there for Tom Jones. What other artist doesn’t even hit his stride until after 70?