Live Review: The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa

Film editor Joe Holloran reviews the Gateshead leg of the tribute tour celebrating the music of the legendary Frank Zappa.

Joe Holloran
22nd October 2019
Image: Wikicommons
One of the many perks of living in this day and age is the abundance and easy availability of music of every genre. Living in a city like Newcastle allows us to experience many of our favourite artists first hand. We follow them on social media, watch them grow and eagerly await the release of their latest LP and the live show to follow. Unfortunately for me, most of my favourite artists are dead. Of these now departed legends one man stands out as the single individual I would have loved to have seen perform live - Mr. Frank Zappa (1940-1993).

Imagine my surprise and glee then, when it was announced last year that a group of Zappa's former band mates had come together and go on a short American & European tour playing the music of the great man. As if this wasn't enticing enough, fans were informed that the 'Bizarre World of Frank Zappa' tour would feature a 3D-holographic projection of the man himself. Despite being dead for twenty-five years, for one glorious night in Gateshead, Frank Zappa played again.

"Look here brother. Who you jivin' with that Cosmik Debris."

The gig took place at the wonderful Sage concert venue in Gateshead on May 11th 2019. As it was one of only sixteen gigs in total the band would play I expected the venue to be full. Sadly, this was not the case. I estimate it was less than one-third capacity. Those in attendance were an eclectic mix, much to my surprise. There were plenty of youthful faces alongside the middle-aged majority and that warmed my heart. Again, great music has no restrictions, and those with a taste for the strange and unique will seek it out regardless of their age. I took my dad along to the gig as well. I remember him saying years ago that one of his biggest regrets was not seeing Frank Zappa perform live. So, until I have access to a time machine, this is as close as he would get. Music, particularly live music, is best when the experience is shared, and the excitement and joy of the music with my dad is something I will be forever grateful to Mr. Zappa for.

The show itself was put together by Frank's song Ahmet. On stage were luminaries mostly from Frank's 80's touring band. These included vocalist Ray White, bassist Scott Thunes, keyboardist Ed Mann and the virtuoso, multi-talented guitarist Mike Keneally. The holograph of Zappa appeared sparingly throughout, but this in no way dampened the show. To see these guys play together again after nearly thirty-years was much more pleasing then any hologram. Interesting side note: the hologram of Zappa was taken from previously unseen footage of himself performing in his garage in the early 80's. Zappa was always ahead of his time and fascinated with technological developments. He deliberately filmed himself from multiple angles so in the future he could be a performing hologram. Now that's forward thinking.

Adrian Belew of legendary British progressive rock act King Crimson provided vocals on this classic track.

The show lasted for around two hours and they played nineteen songs. Fan favourites and concert mainstays such as 'City of Tiny Lights', 'Cosmik Debris' and 'Peaches En Regalia' were played alongside some lesser known deep-cuts such as 'The Evil Prince' and 'Dead Girls of London'. Both the casual fan and the obsessive (my dad) were equally catered for.  The musicianship of all the members of the group was flawless, despite them all approaching pension age. The stage itself featured two massive screens which played animated music videos specifically made for the tour. The whole multimedia aspect could have detracted from the performers on stage, but thankfully it did not and only improved the whole experience.

Overall the gig was a resounding triumph. I love the music of Frank Zappa and this show got me as close as I will ever come to seeing the great man live. The talent of the musicians, the love they clearly still have for Frank and each other made for an unforgettable night of celebrating the legacy of one of music's only true geniuses.

If you haven't listened to the music of Frank Zappa, please, please put aside a couple of dedicated hours, go on YouTube or a streaming service and take a musical journey into the realms of the weird.  I recommend starting with some of his more straight-forward classics such as 'Montana' or 'Muffin Man' and then just go from there. Trust me, your ears will thank you.

"He knows not a drop, not a crumb not a whit of the reason for doing this criminal shit."
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