April 30 could have been any other night in semi-sleepy Napa, California. But it wasn’t. This was the night that Dweezil Zappa and company set up shop at the Uptown Theater and brought an audience to its feet, then to tears, then to its feet again.
The San Francisco Bay Area is not lacking for live music, but when the likes of Dweezil et al roll into wine country, it’s truly something to behold. At least two hours of non-stop beholding happened in Napa’s West End district on Sunday night. From the deliciously demented opening notes of the three-part “Help, I’m a Rock” suite to the almost-a cappella “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” to the final four-song encore, the band performed with well-honed wit and precision that held everybody’s attention for more than two hours of aural and visual delight.
In a region where elder musical statesmen such as the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir find themselves irked enough to admonish chatty audiences to “Shut the fu*k up!” it was rare and refreshing to sit among a packed house of Zappa aficionados who were clearly there to listen. A preponderance of attendees appeared to be baby boomers who may have actually spent their newspaper route and babysitting earnings on a Mothers of Invention album or three. And they knew the words.
Napa loves Zappa for several good reasons. In addition to “the Dweez” on lead guitar and occasional vocals, Sunday night’s show featured Chris Norton on keys and vocals, master drummer Ryan Brown, and Scheila Gonzalez Santiago on saxophone, flute, stacked Korg keyboards, vocals, and kazoo. Meatloaf band veteran Cian Coey provided roof-raising rock vocals, Kurt Morgan brought the beefy bass bottom, while David Luther proved his prowess on baritone sax, electric rhythm guitar, and anything else he got his hands on. Known as Zappa Plays Zappa until Dweezil’s younger siblings started playing legal games with the name, the septet now enchants audiences under the moniker Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The Fu*k He Wants.
With no intermission, DZPWTFHW flew through three decades of Frank, offering up impeccable renditions of “Flower Punk,” “Black Napkins,” “Packard Goose,” “Apostrophe,” and “Keep it Greasy.” Around the two-hour mark, Dweezil bestowed a tender “Watermelon in Easter Hay” upon the audience, many of whom joined the worthiest heir to the Zappa legacy in tears as the piece concluded.
Ever the gentleman, Dweezil did not beleaguer the heinous situation currently unfolding between him and his younger brother and sister. During the comedic musical sketch, “Fembot in a Wet Teeshirt,” an impromptu “Ahmet’s waiting for you in the tool shed” elicited guffaws from those in the know. Later in the evening, Dweezil thanked Napans for their support of his dad’s music and explained how Ahmet Zappa and sister Diva are making his life a living hell due to their incessant legal demands that he stop performing under his own surname. Noting several front-row audience members in Others of Intention tee-shirts, Dweezil invited fans and friends to contribute to his legal campaign to save his name, while getting great merch at Dweezil Zappa & The Others of Intention.
The current Dweezil Zappa tour celebrates in splendid style the 50th anniversary of his father Frank’s mind-bending debut album, Freak Out. After a rousing rendition of “Who Are the Brain Police,” Dweezil reminded the Uptown crowd that his father, Frank Zappa, was only 26 years old when Freak Out was released in 1966. The following is from the original liner notes.
“These Mothers is crazy. You can tell by their clothes. One guy wears beads and they all smell bad. We were gonna get them for a dance after the basketball game but my best pal warned me you can never tell how many will show up…sometimes the guy in the fur coat doesn’t show up and sometimes he does show up only he brings a big bunch of crazy people with him and they dance all over the place. None of the kids at my school like these Mothers…especially since my teacher told us what the words to their songs meant.
Napa loves Zappa!
[Featured Image by Sang Tan/AP Images]