ZAPPA AT THE ROUNDHOUSE II
I arrived to find my good friend, author of the imminent Zappa's Gear book and fellow ZappaCaster, Mick Ekers sharing a drink and a laugh with the one and only Scott Thunes. After hugs, a quick check of Scott’s injured digit (he badly mashed his left index finger in a bizarre chair break incident a week or so back, and insisted we squeeze it), and more laughs and more drinks, Scott regaled us with tales of his wondrous sex life with his beautiful wife. Then a few more familiar faces started to appear (including Zappateers Clint and Ben), who were all similarly greeted by the ever amiable former Clonemeister.
Yo! Yo! Yo! Clonemeister in the house
(courtesy of Scott Thunes)
Pretty soon it was time for An Evening With Dweezil Zappa And Guests, so into the Studio Theatre where Dave Gaydon, the Roundhouse's Head Of Music and the guy responsible for setting-up this and the 2010 event, introduced Dweezil. Dweezil told us about growing up with Frank and the inventing-new-names-game they used to play ("insignaramous" for a guy who only ever wears rock band t-shirts). Dave mentioned a visit to Chez Zappa where he was surprised to see so many cats – turns out Gail’s a little like Eleanor Abernathy from The Simpsons. Dweezil scoffed at attempts to update his father’s music by repeating his “Yo! Yo! Yo! Beethoven in the house!” spiel (while undeniably amusing, his brother’s collaboration with DMC, Talib Kweli and Mix Master Mike on Willie The Pimp a couple of years ago devalues this argument somewhat). A few video clips were played, including ZPZ performing G-Spot Tornado at (I think) the Roxy, and a quite atrocious copy of Dweezil and Moon’s Let's Talk About It video (with its cameo from FZ). Those who watched the live stream at home won't have seen me briefly leave the theatre (at my age, two pints of Guinness and a Hells Camden lager makes that inevitable, I'm afraid) where I was again greeted by Scott, telling me what a dick I was for having to pee. On my return, I got to ask Dweezil for an update on his long-awaited What The Hell Was I Thinking composition, featuring a multitude of guitar gods. Although he didn’t really give us any idea when it might finally see the light of day, he did make some interesting observations about a couple of the contributors: Brian May (who found it difficult to play along with the preceding solo before segueing into his own) and Joe ‘one-take’ Walsh (whose contribution was, by contrast, an absolute breeze).
Scott was then introduced and answered some questions from the audience. The highlights were: his assessments of the Zappa tours he played on (“...82 was awesome...84 was also awesome. But 88...was AWESOME!”); the fact that in 1984 he ‘ruined’ many of the solos planned for inclusion on Guitar by playing extracts from a demo copy of Ike's first solo album behind Frank; the moment he failed to immediately respond to a bland question, was asked if he would like it repeated, and said, “No, I'd like you to re-phrase it.”
Dweezil then played some bits and bobs on one of his shiny Fender guitars (as well as Gibson’s prototype ‘Roxy SG’ replica), essentially demonstrating his new FX toys. When you’re into the technology that much, you can kind of lose yourself I guess. And so it was that Dweezil assumed we’d all be as amazed as he at all of the wonderful things he could make his guitar sound like. But not for too long...presently, he asked Scott to stood up with his battered old P-bass for a duet on Treacherous Cretins. This pepped proceedings up a notch, and without any further guests, it was soon over all too soon.
As we filed out, we were all given a poster for the event (hey, the Roundhouse has learnt lessons!), then it was more drinks, more 'Hellos', quickly followed by hugs goodbye.
So, far more
low key than 2010 so far. But that's because they simply couldn't repeat all
that again. I know that they’d looked into staging the ‘Official Theatrical
Presentation of Joe’s Garage’ and
having an orchestra perform, but the logistics/rehearsal costs ultimately made
both of these impractcable.
It’s alarming how charming it is to be Chalk Farming...yes, back again, and bugger me the merch stand has the new Road Tapes Venue #1 CD. Happy! Happy! And the ZPZ VIP soundcheck has free beer.
These are a few of my favourite words
Joy! Joy! There’s been a slight delay to proceedings, but into the auditorium and here’s the band minus Dweezil. It later transpires that he was down in the bowels of the building trying to resolve some serious technical issues with his rig. During his absence, it is clear that Joe Travers is this band’s Clonemeister, and he has them fine tune Debra Kadabra, Teenage Prostitute, and the trickier parts of Packard Goose and Moggio (which won’t actually be played later in the show proper). And then the Dweez appears, with replica SG in hand, and so the band departs. Once he’s got his shit sorted, they return with Scott Thunes and run through a thumping Zomby Woof. Scott’s finger doesn’t seem to be giving him gyp, yet he attempts Sofa #1 on bass synth. This though presents yet more technical issues and is eventually abandoned, after a frustrated Dweezil suggests it may have been better to have tried it on four strings. During this, I got to speak briefly with new bassist and Zappa Scoremeister, Kurt Morgan, who seems a very pleasant individual as well as a very fine musician. Finally, we get a sneak preview of special guest Sioned Eleri, who is to play clarinet on Strictly Genteel. Sadly, for the soundcheck rendition, she is inaudible. Last night, Dweezil explained that he found Sioned via the internet and asked her to play as many UK dates as possible. She comes from Welsh Wales, and was clearly chuffed to be on the team.
Right, a quick break for some scran, and then back in for my ninth (wow!) ZPZ show. There’s been a further delay, but that merely allows us to meet a few friends, including Alan Clayson, who advises that things are starting to move a little quicker on the official biography front, and the late Gamma’s first wife, Elaine, and their son Dave, who inform me that Iain M. Banks has just dedicated his latest SF tome, The Hydrogen Sonata: A Culture Novel, to the memory of Mr Gamble. Sweet.
Okay: places, places. This concert is being filmed, with multiple cameras including one that sweeps above our heads. We will hopefully see a DVD of this in the new year (as the afore-alluded to Son Of Roxy & Elsewhere DVD is now firmly on the backburner), but it will be worthwhile as the new slimmed down line-up put on a really great show – probably my favourite since Vicar Street in 2006.
There was a concert in Brighton a few years ago where I first noticed a massive improve'lence in Dweezil’s playing: this time round, ‘twas the Vaultmeister who caught my eye. And it’s not as if Dweezil or Joe were at all shoddy previously. But all this playing (including with the likes of the mighty Keneally) is clearly paying dividends. Starting with a masterly Treacherous Cretins then, like the new FOH CD, they dip way back with Hungry Freaks, Daddy. This being the ‘Decades Tour’, the third song jumps forward to the 80s with Teen-age Prostitute, showcasing Scheila Gonzalez’s fine set o’ lungs (and spiffy new hairstyle). Then four from Roxy, including Echidna's Arf and Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?, but sadly not Village Of The Sun...can never understand why those three aren’t always played together: it oughta be illegal. Pygmy Twylyte sees Ben Thomas leading the audience through an unconvincing Freddie Mercury singalong rap thing, but the song is redeemed with some fine honking from Scheila. And then Ben too makes amends on an always beautiful Idiot Bastard Son before handing the lead vocal baton to Chris Norton for I’m So Cute and another two from Sheik Yerbouti: Baby Snakes and Tryin’ To Grow A Chin. The first real surprise selection is back to the 80s for Harder Than Your Husband (though, as we all know, Zappa family friend and occasional Dweezil collaborator, Beverly D’Angelo, covered this one way back). Thumbs aloft for Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station (my daughters’ fave FZ tune), then it’s a breathtaking DZ solo midst Ride My Face To Chicago to close set one.
The second set goes back to the 60s, with lively renditions of Motherly Love, Oh No!, an instrumental Let's Make Water Turn Black and (an admittedly Napi-era) Take Your Clothes Off, before Dweezil treats us to another big solo during Outside Now. Building to a crescendo now, roadie Pete Jones and Scott Thunes are introduced to assist with Debra Kadabra. Scott stays for Who Are Brain Police?, then departs for the final epic, Packard Goose. This unfortunately has to be stopped twice while DZ sorts out some more guitar problems: these technical issues, and Dweezil’s song introductions, conspire to break the flow of what otherwise has been a most invigorating show (hopefully some judicious editing for the eventual DVD will right these wrongs)...but it’s not over yet: Dweezil kicks off the encores with a bagpipe (on guitar) intro to Peaches, re-introduces Scott for a monster Zomby Woof, and brings on Sioned for a tear-inducing Strictly Genteel (with Ben on trombone and trumpet; Scheila on alto sax and flute).
So Sofa too was fully discarded, but no mind: overall this was a much better than expected Zappa weekend, and I sincerely hope they can keep the tradition going – every couple of years or less.
Finally, a big thanks to FanTom – yo’ the man!
Introducing Kurt and Sioned
(courtesy of Clint Walker)