Sunday, July 15, 2012

Zappa Plays Zappa

A few nights ago, I had two musical firsts. I saw my first show at the Cannery Ballroom, and I got my introduction into the world of Frank Zappa, by way of Dweezil and the rest of Zappa Plays Zappa.

As long as the Cannery has been open, it has had a reputation for being a pretty bad place to see a show. The room has a funny L shape to it, and many a line of sight has been blocked by its mid-room pillars. Until recently, that is. The powers over at the Cannery/Mercy compound have just done some remodeling, and after removing said vision obstructors and raising the stage, it turns out that this venue isn't all that bad. Of course, it was only at about 70 percent capacity, and all the lines were short. I can imagine it being a bit more of a nightmare trying to get to the bar when it's sold out.

 I have been wanting to get into Zappa recently, so when a friend called with a plus one, I jumped on the chance to get as close as I could to the real thing. I've dabbled a bit with some Youtube videos and such, and I knew they were weird, but the one thing I knew for sure was that there was going to have to be some pretty great musicianship to pull this off.

They started with  "The Gumbo Variations", and took us on a complete tour of Zappaland. Now, I'm not going to pretend to know the entire catalog, but my friend at the show was in set list heaven, clearly approving of the night's selections. At one point, they were joined by Chester Thompson, former Zappa drummer, for a power house trio version of "Apostrophe". The obligatory drum solo rocked  and the Van Halen portion of the show was fun, as Dweezil showed off his Eddie chops. "I'm The Slime" and the show ending cover of "Whipping Post" were other musical highlights from the night.

The band did a great job with the psychedelic funk rock, nailing all of the weird stops and starts, along with every funny time signature. The singer had all the strange lyrics and voices covered, and the rhythm section kept it all together. Of course, I fell instantly in love with the purple wigged sax/keyboard player, who also took charge of the female vocal parts. And Dweezil, man that Dweezil, sure can shred. And not just run of the mill shredding either. He can play Frank's stuff right down to the T, all the while adding his own personal flavor. I've spent my whole life wishing I could play my Gibson SG like my dad, but Dweezil took it to a completely other level. Man, that guy can wail.

I'm probably not going to go out and buy a bunch of Zappa stuff, but my interest remains and my respect has doubled for the music of this wonderfully strange, yet freakishly talented family.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Collective Soul

Tonight, I got off of work just in time to slide down to Marathon Music Works and catch the encore of the Collective Soul show. The bad news is, I missed most of the show. The good news is, the two songs I caught in the encore were really the only songs I was interested in seeing. My friend who happens to work at the venue told me that most of their set was an album played in its entirety, which, I couldn't imagine being that great for anyone who likes music. The encore consisted of "December", or to us non-fans, "Spit Me Out", and the never-gonna-die, Du nu nu nu nu nu nu nu nu nu nu, YEAH, "Shine" anthem of flannel-hangers-on who still love the 90's. Two songs was quite enough. Three might have made me lose my expensive beers.

The crowd emitted a really strange vibe. Imagine the type of people who were into the Soul 15 years ago. Then imagine them 15 years down the road. The type of person who would sit through an entire live version of some record, only to yell "YEAH" at the end of a dozen Nu's, the type of people who stand behind their dates with their hands in the lady's back pockets. Not as long in the tooth as an Eric Clapton crowd, but pretty up there. Let's just say, on my way in, I saw a lot of people leaving. At 10.

The band itself made me wonder if what I was watching was serious. Really? It was like watching a Lab/Boxer mix run around the yard. There was some energy, but no real intelligence or depth behind their eyes. The encore reeked of a band that was playing songs that were almost 20 years old, but songs they knew they had to play none the less. The singer didn't even do the "YEAH". He "let" the crowd have that honor.  Basically, it made me laugh.

After the big rock ending, all five members staggered around the stage like they were drunk and hugged each other like they hadn't been sitting on a bus together all day. It was like they had just reunited and played their first show since Flannel Fest in 1994, and couldn't believe that the rock gods had brought them back together for this great reunion. The whole thing made me remember why I felt a little sick ever since the first time I heard these guys on Thunder 94. I can see people justifying going to a nostalgic show, maybe The Eagles, or Van Halen, or even Guns N Roses, but all you gotta do is turn on your local 90's radio station for an hour and you can get your fix of Collective Soul. I still haven't decided if I'm going to check out Bush Saturday night. On the upside, if I do, I might be able to copy and paste this article while only having to change a few key words.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Roger Waters The Wall

For months and months, the Roger Waters show loomed on the sold out horizon, and I just hoped that a ticket would magically find its way to me. I just figured that somehow it would work out and I would get to see The Wall performed live in all its theatrical glory. Well, about 24 hours before the "prompt" start time, an old friend found out that I hadn't found a ticket yet and bought me one for my birthday. How awesome is that? Magic.

About ten minutes after I reached my seat in what felt like the attic of the Bridgestone Arena, the lights went down and two soldier types came out with a "Pink" dummy and recited the famed "I am Sparticus" scene before the huge opening boom of "In The Flesh?" rocked the arena with fireworks and eventually a real, flying, and crashing airplane. From there, it was on. Projectors showed images on the wall as more and more bricks were added, and the familiar Pink Floyd style circular screen added even more footage. The sound was also true to the old Floyd style, with speaker towers in all four corners of the room and surround sound panning making the effects much more effective. It truly was a sensory overload, all set to one of the best concept albums of all time.

Some personal highlights from the first set include standing and crossing my arms over my head for the huge opening riff of "In The Flesh?", chanting "We don't need no education" at the huge inflatable teacher puppet during "Another Brick In The Wall 2", and screaming the angst-filled words to "One Of My Turns". My favorite early moment was seeing "Mother", performed with footage from a young Waters in 1980. I've always loved that song, and seeing it live gave me chills. "Goodbye Cruel World" closed the first set perfectly as the final brick was placed in the massive wall.

After intermission, I scored a much closer seat in the club section, right behind one of my favorite local rockers. Now this is how you do a show. "Hey You" was strong, and "Vera" and "Bring The Boys Back Home" tugged at the heartstrings with footage of soldiers being reunited with loved ones. "Comfortably Numb" was perfect and the eerie second version of "In The Flesh" ended with the "surrogate" singer firing a machine gun into the crowd.

If I had one complaint about the show, it was that "The Trial" was accompanied by the animated footage from the movie projected onto the wall, and not by gigantic inflatable puppets as I had hoped. But I guess you can't have huge  props out there when the massive structure comes tumbling down. It was still pretty awesome, and 30,000 people chanting "TEAR DOWN THE WALL" is pretty moving.

The band, led by G.E. Smith, was top notch. Every original note was played with perfection, and no one seemed shy about trying to imitate the real Pink Floyd members' sounds. The theatrical presentation blew my mind, and just being able to see this show was truly special and definitely another one checked off of the list of shows to see. Knowing that the original Pink Floyd will never fully reunite, this was close enough for me. Big props again to the ticket fairy. Thanks T.