Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Zappa Plays Zappa - Manchester Apollo

zappa plays zappa

manchester apollo 1st june 2006

It may be over 10 years since the unfortunate death of the genius that was Frank Zappa, but for tonight in Manchester, his music lives on, aided and abetted by his son Dweezil & many friends. One of whom strat abused his way through many Zappa albums & performances, the equally bizarrely monikered guitar hero, Mr Steve Vai. Another is minus his tiny horse, but will mime one it if requested, Napolean murphy Brock.

This night should have been another night, that night being an earlier night, but for unseen circumstances it became this night & not the other night. But if that night was the night then this night would have been an oedinary night with nothing of significant importance to write about. But as this night is the night & this night is about to begin, then the start is the place to be.

It begins at the bar, where else may be asked, but lubrication is required & the bar will provide. This location must be possessed of exqusite Britishness, as the institution of the queue is in effect. An orderly line has formed in parallel to the bar and patience dictates a serving order. All is not what it seems as premium prices are in effect, 1 can of beer & a soft drink emptied my wallet of nearly £5. Time to sit down & cherish these premiumly priced beverages. Of course we are not here fot the beer, for the beer is too dear, and we have no idea, when the band will appear, oh dear (Dr Seuss would be hating me for that).

Eventually seats are filled, techies ensure all is well, armed with their maglites, drum roll please, the show is imminent. A rather large projection screen is situated at the rear of the stage flickers into being, onto which is projected concert footage of the great man himself, despite the fact we are watching a screen there is certain, quite special feeling being generated by the seated Zappaphiles. Slowly the band drift onto stage just as the projected Zappa tunes his guitar, similarly as an awaiting orchestra twiddles with sound, the non-projected band do similarly, now its live. An apt seque.

Napolean Murphy Brock provides vocals for the evening, looking younger than he did over 20 years ago, performing the same strange dance and mine routines he did many a year ago, as a fully fledged Zappa band member of previous incarnations. When not exercising his vocals, his talents are explored via the flute, sax, and some Brian Jacks style dips between stacks of equipment. Why you may ask, who knows.

Dweezil leads the menagerie of talent from the front, Gibson SG around his neck, performing leads breaks as though channeling techniques from his late father. At one point he attempts some Zappa style conducting with the band. Having devised visual queues, hand signals and gestures, a combination of which inform the individual members to perform intended musical actions. Thus providing each member the ability to show off their respective talents, and boy can they play.

As this is to be a 3 hour gig, the set comes in 2 parts, over half way through the first part, gremlins enter the preceedings. Dweezils guitar rig decides it doesn't want to produce sound anymore, techies armed with obliatory maglites try to accertain the problem, leads are exchanged, pedals unplugged and effect units reset. Nothing cures this ailment, of course Dweezil apologises to the audience & the band strikes up tunes that would not normally be part of the set (Pound for a brown), hurrah for us. Somebody from the audience tells Dweezil to plug into Vai's amp, to which he replies, 'I can't do that, it would be like sleeping with his wife'. Normal service is evenually restored, apart from the fact that Dweezil has to plug straight into his amp, no effects.

The techical delay has interupted the set, so some songs have to be dropped, not that you would know, unless you had prior knowledge of what they would be playing tonight, or had been informed somehow. Eventually the fault is found, fixed and facilitates Dweezil to effect his guitar again.

A short intermission follows, and all is resumed from where we left off. A couple more songs are played & out steps Mr Vai, the room goes wild. No surprise there, as Spinal Tap's amps go up to 11 to give them 1 louder, with Vai around the skill level tonight steps up to 12. Playing the most amazing solos, effortly and pristine, this true showman knows how to put on a great show. Trading licks with Dweezil, a crossroadian duel, where we are the victors, if anyone had sold their soul tonight it had to be Vai, you have to wonder how many fingers he has on each hand, 7 would not be enough.

The rest of the evening continues to raise the bar higher and higher, complex songs are performed to an eager audience, old favorites of many colours wash over an expected audience, nothing dissapoints even when the screen desends for a second time. This time the band are to play along with the projection, Frank Zappa on screen, Dweezil Zappa on stage, this we are told is the first time this had been attempted, again a special occasion for us at Manchester. Frank Zappa solos his way across the screen, his son looks up at his father, again a special moment. Of course all this must end, it is decided not go go through the usual encore routine of going off stage, waiting, comming back on and so on. The Band go straight into what would have been played on returning to the stage without actually leaving it.

Yes, it does end, and we have to leave, there is no encore for us, just happy memories of a wonderful night. A one off performance from a group of seminal musicians, it was well worth the wait. The music of Zappa lives on, a new generation of fans continue the memory, long may it last.