Led by Zappa Jr.
Zappa Plays Zappa - Live at Brighton Dome

Tribute acts. They aren’t usually known for being anywhere near a fair reflection of the original artists’ talents, are they? The flabby balding bloke in the back room of a pub who thinks he’s the Thin White Duke doesn’t really cut it.

So with some trepidation we headed to the Brighton Dome to see Zappa Plays Zappa. A tribute act with a twist: Frank Zappa’s own son, Dweezil, heads up this particular ensemble. Now the cynics out there may be thinking: “ker-ching!” – surely this is simply an opportunity to cash-in on his late father’s musical legacy, but you’d be very wrong.

Brandishing what could easily be his Dad’s old Gibson SG, young Zappa takes to the stage fashionably late, accompanied by an impressive supporting cast of eight other band members. In keeping with the original Zappa line-up, ZPZ bring together extensive percussion and guitar sections, along with saxophone, trumpet and keyboards, producing a heady mixture of doo-wop, avant garde jazz, funk and rock ‘n’ roll – served up with a healthy dose of trademark Zappa wit.

Dweezil, whilst being an accomplished guitarist who certainly does justice to the old man’s compositions and epic solos, draws the line at attempting to emulate the vocal style of his father. This task is handed to the highly versatile singer, Ben Thomas, who must have spent many a long hour getting his mock-Zappa just so. If you close your eyes, it’s as if the original Zappa is there once more, imparting his unique observations on numbers such as ‘Stinkfoot’.

From the outset, the audience is primed for a full evening’s entertainment, including the whole of the Apostrophe (‘) album, which, at the start of the show, Zappa Jnr announces will be central to the performance. In total, we are treated to a bulging three-hour set (thankfully, with an interval), including some of the wackier (‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow’), funkier (‘City of Tiny Lites’) and jazzier (‘Cosmik Debris’) tracks from Zappa Snr’s extensive oeuvre.

Though ZPZ have previously toured with some original members of Frank Zappa’s band, such as vocalist and guitarist Ray White, for this run of performances, the entire band is made up of youngsters who can’t have been long out of nappies when Frank was in his heyday. However their youth does not stop them from turning in a cracking performance, which indeed encapsulates the energy and drive of the late Zappa’s live shows. Scheila Gonzalez shines as vocalist and outstanding sax player, ripping the roof off with a solo which has everyone out of their seats. These guys are very good at what they do, regardless of being ‘just’ another tribute band, they manage to pull off a performance which Zappa Snr would be very proud of.

By the time the band leaves the stage, the audience are up and out of their seats, ignoring the Dome stewards’ futile pleas to remain sitting. Following an epic encore rendition of ‘Muffin Man’, the band finally depart, leaving behind an ecstatic crowd of followers who surely must join agree that this performance sets an unattainable benchmark to other tribute acts.

Words by Ellie Bennett
Photos by Andy Sturmey

For a photo gallery of the event, click HERE.

Follow Clash: