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Arts and Entertainment

Zappa Plays Zappa at the Wiltern 8/23/07 She Says

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Unlike Bob, who is a fan of Frank Zappa's, I am a superfan. I am a devotee. I have every album, as well as imports and bootlegs, and I have played them over and over and over. Some people tire of his Foley-esque Edgar Varese-inspired noise explorations, but for some reason I always found the humor in them. And I'm not usually very patient with masturbatory jams. My friend Dez and I used to listen to Zappa records all day and call 1-800-pumpkin to ask them ridiculous questions. And they were always so patient, answering every single one of them. We were beyond obsessed. It bordered on Trekkieness.

I never had the opportunity to see Frank Zappa perform. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from tonight's performance. The song selections were definitely eclectic, from Apostrophe to Zoot Allures. I was disappointed by the extremely short medley from Absolutely Free. Son of Suzy Creamcheese slid straight into Brown Shoes Don't Make It and Plastic People. Usually with a medley, they at least do one full stanza and verse, but this was like "Absolutely Free in 3 minutes". The band soon went from this truncated medley to other extended dance mixes. Or extended tripping mixes. I was extremely pleased with Ray White's amazing performance. Although he was not the original singer, he was able to duplicate the sound flawlessly on songs like Willie the Pimp and Uncle Remus. And he can tear up that guitar.

When they finally broke into Joe's Garage, one of my favorites, the voices were so familiar, everyone was so on, that it was as if I was really seeing Frank. I never expected to hear any of these songs performed live, so it wasn't something that I even knew would mean so much to me. Seeing skilled musicians play it over a good sound system struck a chord. I have always felt the lyrics of that song contained a universal theme of nostalgia and longing for a lost era. When they hit the lyric, "I guess you only get one chance in life to play a song that goes like..." I started weeping. I felt so stupid because it is such a goofy song. Maybe part of Frank Zappa's genius was his ability to combine goofiness with genuine sentiment. It just seemed like the lost music parallelled the loss of Frank Zappa himself "...and we will never play again..."

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They teased us by slipping in The Central Scrutinizer before Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station. I thought we had more of Joe's Garage coming. But it fits the theme. I guess that's what happened after the band broke up.

Another point in the show that was strangely affecting was "Your Momma". When there are songs that you play again and again during a certain time in your life, they become inextricably linked to those feelings and experiences. Even if there is not a conscious awareness, certain songs can become strangely evocative. The band stretched out the middle of the song with one of their Yes-like jams that were testing Bob's patience. But it made me realize that all that 70s dinosaur rock was really meant to be played live. Some things just don't translate to vinyl. Robin Trower albums bore me, but I bet if I had seen Robin Trower live it would have been a totally different experience. The musicianship is what makes it work.

Like Bob, I also had mixed feelings about the big-screen duets. I guess everyone has a right to decide what is and is not appropriate for themselves. It's his father's image and art. But as an audience member, it was just a little strange at times.

Overall the performance was spectacular, and if Dweezil does return with it again next year as promised, I will go to that show as well. It is similar to watching a symphony play your favorite composer. People who love Beethoven don't complain that Beethoven isn't there to play his music for them live. Of course, if they had only had video back then, we might be seeing his great-great-great grandchildren joining him in a duet.

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All photos by Elise Thompson

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(Thanks to Sara Israel of Special Ops Media and Phil at the Wiltern for the photo pass and great seats. Bob was seated next to Pamela Des Barres all night, but didn't know until I told him on the way home.)