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Zappa Plays Zappa at the Berkeley Community Theatre

by VM Brasseur on August 21st, 2007

Zappa Plays Zappa? Dweezil Zappa and his band of young upstarts playing the music of Frank?

Thus billed, this concert is either going to be a colossally tragic display of hubris or it will be a triumph of skill and musicianship. There can’t be much middle ground for Zappa’s stuff. You either bring your game to the yard or you slink home.

Guy and I met for dinner before the show (Fellini, decent food and all bottles of wine are only $12 on Mondays), then headed up the street to the theatre. Our seats were front row balcony, so we had an unobstructed view of the stage. The theatre was stifling. For crying out loud, Berkeley. You can bloody well afford air conditioning, dammit.

The band came on a little after 8pm (only slightly late) and kicked right off with one of the complicated pieces. Methinks they realized that a lot of the audience (like me) were likely to be skeptical of the band’s ability to pull this off so they wanted to dispel that little doubt right out of the gate. I was convinced. If nothing else the group had the technical chops to do the job.

Ray White joined the group on stage after that and remained there for most of the show. His vocals cast an aura of authenticity over the performance (except when he messed up some lyrics to Joe’s Garage).

At one point in the show they projected a movie of Frank onto the big screen over the stage. It was of a live performance, probably from the 80’s. During that segment the projected Frank sang vocals and played the guitar solo while the live band backed him up. When it first started I thought it was a cheesy ploy, but by the time the solo came around I was on board with it. It was about the closest I could get to seeing Frank live, after all.

The entire show went on for about 2.5 hours, including the encore. The encore, BTW, which we didn’t get to see. That’s my fault since after the end of the main set I asked Guy to leave since I was fading fast. Lack of sleep is one of the many disadvantages of working at 7am (or earlier) and living an hour away from most of the good venues, alas. There came a point during one of the long solos where I actually nodded off. Whoops.

My sleepy head aside, overall I really enjoyed this show. Admittedly the performances were more antiseptic than any of Frank’s that I’ve heard, but for all that it was still a very good piece of work. I’m zombie girl at the office today (in at 6:30am… Oy), but it was worth it for me.

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