Whether you’re family/friends or just a person that reads my write-up’s with any regularity, you’re likely already aware of my undying love and affection for almost all things Frank Zappa. With minimal research (if you’re bored enough to do it and aren’t already aware) you would learn that at the age of 13 or 14 I received the tape 200 Motels from my Dad with the caveat that if I liked it, I could have it. And of course, obvious enough, not only did I like it, but I loved it and started my fanboy adulation of Frank and his wild and crazy music.
In fact, my obsession with his music actually consumed the better part of the last 3-4 months. I decided on a whim that I would listen to every single second of music and interviews I had in my possession in chronological order of release or show date if it was a live recording (bootleg or otherwise.)
Keep in mind, my friends, I have a TON of his music. Instead of lugging around a bunch of CD’s I already had them all converted to MP3, so the 25+ gigs worth of stuff was added to discs and while I was in the car I would wade my way through all of it.
From the very first release Freak Out in 1966 to a compilation of various radio interviews I compiled myself, I poured through every single stitch of music, some songs repeated multiple times, rarely an identical adaptation, some recordings I had never listened to before. To say that this was a daunting task would be akin to saying the Grand Canyon is a really big hole.
These are the things I discovered: I’m not a big fan of his synclavier stuff. Albums like Jazz From Hell and his epic piece he considered his finest work Civilization Phaze III simply didn’t really do it for me. The first album has some neat stuff on it, but it was tough slogging my way through Phaze.
I have tried a few times prior to give it a shot, but the heavily computerized synthetic music just doesn’t appeal to me. I can see where some folks would enjoy it, but it’s just not the stuff I’d prefer to listen to from him. I also came to the realization that I’m not big on his orchestral stuff either. I would listen to it much more readily than I would the synclavier stuff, but it’s just not a genre I tend towards. Admittedly, his orchestral stuff is simply incredible and unique and my lack of appeal stems more from a stylistic viewpoint than a talent aspect.
Other things I noticed were that even if he played songs over and over in a live setting, the basic structure tended to remain the same (unless he became bored with it,) yet there would be different approaches to it which kept it interesting.
Between listening to the live shows of Zappa compared to my other favorite band KISS, the obvious winner is going to be FZ because seriously, there’s only so many times you can hear “Rock and Roll All Nite” before you want to stab out your ears. At least if you heard the song “Camarillo Brillo” 4-5 times in a row it would be altered enough to keep it interesting. With this endeavor I walked away with an even bigger appreciation of his talent and genius.
Not to state the obvious, but Frank had a knack for picking out some of the most incredible performers to represent his music to its fullest. Folks like Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai, Adrian Belew, Ansyley Dunbar, Chad Wackerman, and far too many others to list that are legit monsters in the world of music. I found that the stuff I enjoyed the most was the jazzier side with Hot Rats, Waka Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo plus the more rock stuff like One Size Fits All, Sheik Yerbouti, and Roxy and Elsewhere.
Whenever anyone asks me who, other than Frank obviously, my favorite member of any era of his bands is, my automatic first response is Napoleon Murphy Brock. I’ve always admired his voice, his musicianship, and the obvious joy he gets from performing on stage for the fans. Granted I only knew this from watching DVD’s and Youtube clips.
Frank passed before I was able to see even him live, and the only other time I was at a Zappa related function was Zappa Plays Zappa and no one in that band had been a member of Zappa’s group other than a couple appearances Dweezil had done. When I learned a couple weeks ago that The Grandmothers of Invention was playing at The Grey Eagle in Asheville the wheels started turning and I started implementing my plan of action of getting the night off from work (thanks Shannon!)
Who are The Grandmothers of Invention? In its current form it is Don Preston from the original Mothers of Invention era, some super talented guys in support and the one, the only Napoleon Murphy Brock! Since this was going to be the closest thing to seeing Frank live I knew I had to be there.
Billed as an “Evening With…” I knew it was going to be just them likely playing a couple hours of Frank’s music. The tour was the One Size Fits All Tour, and they were playing a great portion of that album from what their web site stated. Zappa Plays Zappa was such an incredible performance, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. This was a small club compared to a larger venue, and ZPZ had more members. Clearly, my biggest concern was how good the guitarist was going to be.
Joining my girlfriend and I for the evening was my friend Laura. She flew in from Seattle just to hang out with us at the show…no not really. She was in town visiting family and realized she was going to be able to check out the show with us so she got to join us. She’s been a friend of mine since college, as well as one of my most faithful readers.
What’s funny is she wasn’t overly knowledgeable about Zappa’s music and when I spoke to her on the phone prior to hitting the road for Asheville she mentioned she checked out some of his music and thought it was “weird.” I was concerned that perhaps she wouldn’t enjoy herself. I can assure you that once the show got underway any fears I had or she had were taken care of instantly.
We met at the club then made our way to a place called Juicy Lucy’s for dinner. A Juicy Lucy consists of two hamburger patties melded together with cheese inside and grilled. Having seen these sandwiches several times on TV, as well as hearing from one of my co-workers how good the food was, plus realizing we were only going to be a few blocks away from the club it was clear we had to go.
Let me tell you my peeps, the food there is out of sight! It is even a good assumption to say that the food is worth the almost 2 hour drive to get there just for it alone. Enjoying some amazing food and catching up on old times and making new memories is always a great thing, but we also had a show to go to as well. Once supper was complete we made our way to the club to get ready to have our minds blown.
The club isn’t a very big place, and they had seats set out in front of the stage. The band simply walked out onto the stage, picked up their instruments, and looked towards the drummer who started beating patterns and scatting along. Gradually the members joined in for the warm up song, and then the show started. I’m not a religious person, but there have been a handful of shows I have witnessed in my life that I would label a religious experience.
Seeing Ace Frehley solo back in 2007, seeing Zappa Plays Zappa and Dream Theater on the same night, and probably the first time I saw KISS live (though that was pretty far back and religion mattered even less to me then,) and the first time seeing KISS with make-up and original members fall into this category. Well, you can add GMOI to that list now too. With my knee problems I was glad to have a chair, but it also felt confining to me.
I wanted many times to jump up and shake my large booty, but didn’t want to block the view of the people behind me. I wasn’t sure what the etiquette of this show was as the last time I was at this club (seeing Unknown Hinson) I don’t recall seats beyond some bar tables. There were many moments that I had no choice but to leap to my feet and applaud voraciously when they would nail a particularly complex piece of music.
It doesn’t seem that Napoleon and Don have lost anything at all. Napoleon still dances around like a madman, and his voice is just as stunning as ever. The setlist was pretty close to everything I wanted to hear, and expected to hear.
They didn’t just play selections from One Size Fits All, but the whole damn album. I was glad they included “Inca Roads,” as it wasn’t one I was expecting based on my research. Plus they did “Oh No” and “The Orange County Lumber Truck” which was fantastic! Staples like “Peaches En Regalia,” “Echidna’s Arf (Of You),” and “Village of the Sun” were present (thankfully) as well as “Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown” and “Aybe Sea” which are definite rarities.
There were a handful of moments when the guitarist messed up, but he just shook his head and kept at it, and the flubs were minor in comparison. He’s an incredible player to be able to pull off even some of Frank’s music let alone the stuff he did. The drummer handled the Captain Beefheart vocals on “Debra Kadabra” and freakin’ nailed it! The whole band were tight as hell and were able to not only do faithful renditions of Frank’s music, but added their own little flair to it.
The show went well beyond my expectations and truly was one of the best nights of music I’ve ever experienced. Preston even did a cell phone solo using some keyboard app that was astounding, not to mention that during one of his earlier keyboard solos he managed to pull 4 eggs out of his mouth too. It was hilarious. Brock made two announcements during the show that excited me no end.
The first was that next year they would be touring in support of the Bongo Fury album. It’s not necessarily one of my absolute favorites, but the fact they’ll be coming back was the best news. The announcement that got us all three giddy was that after the show they would be doing a meet and greet.
Through Laura’s encouragement and AJ’s abilities at taking orders well she bolted and got us a good spot in line. Within ten minutes the band made there way to where we were. I bought both of Napoleon’s CD’s, one of which was the live performance in Hawaii that Frank discovered him.
Because I bought both I received a free picture of him that I got signed. He even personalized it to me, which really touched me. He stuck his hand out to shake it, but I said, “I’m sorry, a handshake isn’t going to be enough I need a hug.”
And then he chuckled and said, “Of course,” and then hugged me in a tight embrace. I can’t put into words how awesome it was because it wasn’t some perfunctory hug he could’ve done, but a strong one that showed his appreciation for the appreciation I was giving him. Then I spoke to him briefly, telling him how much I loved his music and that I was glad he was keeping Frank’s music going. I then got my picture taken with him, one more hug, and then snapped a couple of him with Laura and AJ.
We then moved over to Don Preston. I had gotten a few comments about my Powdered Toast Man shirt I was wearing, but Don asked what the significance was. I started explaining, but I’m fairly soft spoken and he couldn’t hear me.
I explained it a little louder and closer, but he still wasn’t sure what the hell I was talking about. I told him it was OK to not know he was Don Preston. To those that don’t know, on the cartoon Ren & Stimpy, there was a character named Powdered Toast Man who was not only a cereal spokesman, but a superhero as well. In one episode he had to save the Pope who was voiced by none other than Frank Zappa!
I wanted to buy Don’s book, but it was already sold out, so instead I got my picture taken with him, and then Laura got one as well. I didn’t want to leave, but we had no choice. Hell, if I had taken the day after off I would’ve gone to Raleigh to see the show again. With one final look back at the band we made our way out.
We all exchanged hugs with Laura and then parted ways making our way home. We did make a side trip to Walmart so I could buy a picture frame for my signed picture. It’s now nestled on top of the bookshelf in our room looking over us as we sleep.
Seriously, this was an amazing night of music and I highly encourage everyone to get out there and see this show. Unless you hate good music and having FUN then I guess you can stay at home. The level of musicianship alone makes this a worthwhile event. I guess that wraps up this one. Until next time my peep’s remember: Watch out where the huskies go and don’t you eat the yellow snow!
Review by Chris Martin
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 21 February, 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT
More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 7 February 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 26 January 2021.
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09:00-12:00 RADAR Lost In The Atlantic (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 DURBIN The Beast Awakens (Frontiers)
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