The line for tonight’s sold-out September 7, 2019 show at The Newton Theatre in Newton, NJ extends down Spring Street as people excitedly wait for a performance by Dweezil Zappa and his band. Tonight, they’ll be playing Frank Zappa’s landmark 1969 album, Hot Rats, in its entirety — in addition to “other hot stuff” from his famous father’s catalog.
Once inside the cozy Newton Theatre auditorium, we chat with audience members, including a family of three generations of music lovers.
Says Buddy, visiting New Jersey from Newark, CA, “I’m a huge Frank and Dweezil Zappa fan — I first saw Frank Zappa in 1979 and I’ve been hooked ever since. As a result, I brought my mom, my sister, and my niece to hear Dweezil Zappa play tonight.”
Recalling, “Altogether I saw Frank Zappa four times, and this is my seventh time seeing Dweezil,” Buddy asserts, “Dweezil does it right — everything he does is authentic,” before joking, “Gray-haired guys like me want to hear Frank’s music, and I’m so glad Dweezil is playing it — otherwise, it might just disappear.”
Recalls Buddy’s Mom, Karen from Vernon, “When Buddy was growing up, he would listen to Frank Zappa’s music every day, full blast, and I would hear it through the floor,” acknowledging, “I liked it — even though I frequently asked him to turn it down!”
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We also chat with Buddy’s sister, Karen Ann — sporting a Dweezil Zappa T-Shirt — who says, “In our family, we’re all Zappa fans, which is why I wanted to bring my daughter, Celeste, to tonight’s concert,” noting, “This will be her first experience with Zappa’s music.”
Celeste, 18, seems to be looking forward to finding out exactly what all this “Zappa stuff” is all about.
In addition, we chat with another Dweezil and Frank Zappa fan — Bob from Glen Ridge — who tells us, “This is my tenth time seeing Dweezil. I never had the opportunity to see Frank play live, but I listened to his records in college. Initially I was drawn to him for his novelty songs, but I soon realized that even though he might be playing fun songs, there was always good stuff going on musically.”
Adding,“I play guitar, so I really got into the musical aspects of his creativity,” Bob notes, “I’ve been following his music ever since, especially as it’s recreated by Dweezil and his band.”
The lights dim and a cadre of musicians — including Scheila Gonzalez on woodwinds, keyboards, and percussion; Ryan Brown on drums; Chris Norton on keyboards; Kurt Morgan on bass; Adam Minkoff on keyboards, drums, and guitar; and Cian Coey on vocals — takes the stage as the audience cheers and applauds.
The cheering and applause increases as Dweezil Zappa takes center stage with his guitar and the band begins to groove when Dweezil says: “Who’s ready for Hot Rats?” and the strains of the album’s opening number, “Peaches En Regalia” fill the theater.
While the musicians trade places playing multiple instruments, heads in the audience bop as listeners move in their seats to the catchy melodies, rhythms, and harmonies of this joyful jazz fusion piece.
Next up is “Willie the Pimp,” a blues-influenced rock tune on which lead female vocalist Cian Coey sings, “I’m a little pimp with my hair gassed back/Pair of khaki pants with my shoes shined black/Got a little lady walk that street/Tellin’ all the boys that she can’t be beat.”
Backing up Coey’s soulful and bluesy voice are Dweezil Zappa on guitar and Kurt Morgan on bass. Zappa impresses on lead guitar as Morgan slaps out a funky rhythm on his bass. The crowd applauds for Zappa’s guitar solo which brings several in the audience to their feet as they applaud his recreation of his dad’s original Hot Rats solo.
“Welcome to the show,” announces Zappa, as he tunes his guitar. “How you doing?”
After an audience member shouts out, “Turn it up!” Zappa replies, “Maybe it will get louder as we get into more of the rock music.”
Another fan yells out, “Happy Birthday, Dweezil!” to which Zappa responds, “Thank you! I was born the year this record came out, so that makes both of us 50.”
The band launches into the third song from the Hot Rats album, “Son of Mr. Green Genes,” but in the midst of his guitar solo, Zappa stops the music, joking, “I need some ginkgo biloba tonight.”
Announcing, “We’re going to try this again because I have no idea where I am in the solo,” Zappa confesses, “I could try to fake the next eight minutes of solo, but lets make this the best it can be and take it again from the top.”
After counting off, the group replays “Son of Mr. Green Genes.” On this intricate melodic rocker, Dweezil recreates his dad’s exciting solo — performing live without sheet music or an iPad — backed by swirling keyboards, rhythmic drums and percussion, a driving bass, and interjecting horn lines. The audience stands and cheers for his thrilling performance.
After Zappa thanks the crowd, he introduces the next tune, “Little Umbrellas,” a jazz-rock number which features Kurt Morgan playing an acoustic ukulele bass and Ryan Brown on drums.
After presenting its Middle-Eastern sounding introduction — fueled mainly by Adam Minkoff’s and Chris Norton’s keyboards — Zappa again stops the song saying, “I care about this and want to do it right.”
Explaining, “Sometimes you have gremlins, but I need to hear so I can play along,” Zappa has the band’s sound engineer adjust the instrumental volume levels until they are satisfactory and the band restarts the song.
With the improved mix, this complex number takes on a new dimension, mesmerizing the audience as each musician contributes his or her individual performance to the whole.
The crowd cheers and Zappa apologizes for having to stop two times joking, “Let’s see what happens this time — this one has a lot of improvisation so who the f*** knows what will happen next.”
After announcing, “This features saxophone from Scheila Gonzalez,” the audience cheers.
Gonzelez handles the edgy tenor lead on the jazz-rocking “The Gumbo Variations,” her jazzy sax rollicking through the song and bringing cheers from the crowd as people move in their seats to the infectious groove percolating from the stage.
The crowd rises to its feet for Gonzalez before Zappa impresses with a guitar solo while Kurt Morgan’s bass and Ryan Brown’s drums keep the groove churning. Brown’s drums sound like pistons firing and Morgan rocks out on a bass solo before the band reenters and grooves along.
Following avid cheers, Zappa announces, “This next song was never performed live by my dad.”
Here, Zappa and Co. play “It Must Be a Camel,” an intricately-arranged jazz piece filled with dissonance and complexity.
The live performance of this indescribably delicious number — filled with unusual riffs, rhythms, meter shifts, and chordal harmonies played on sax, bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, electric drums, clarinet, and more — elicits avid cheers from the standing crowd.
As the audience hoots and hollers, Zappa sums up his thoughts on Hot Rats exclaiming, “Hot Rats — they started sweating before they started boiling!”
When a fan yells out “‘Free Bird!’” Zappa smiles and replies, “Uh — we’re going to use what they call in this ‘business of show,’ a set list.”
Here, the band launches into a suite of nine Frank Zappa songs.
First up is “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin,” a fast-driving song on which Coey sings, “Hey! I’m only fourteen/Sickly ’n’ thin/Tried all of my life/Just to grow me a chin/It popped out once/But my dad pushed it in/Why did he hurt me?/He’s my next of kin.”
Four-part harmonies ring out as the song crescendos into a frenzy of sound before the band segues into “Reeny Ra,” a rocking sea chantey which features breakneck guitar playing, three-part vocal harmonies, sax, keyboards, and drums.
Next up is a story song about going to a monster movie, “Would You Go All The Way,” which features Adam Minkoff and Cian Coey crooning, “Remember Freddie and Jo?/The night you went to the show?/(A monster movie)/Clutchin’ at yer hand/(Wait ten seconds)/Clutchin’ at yer arm/(Wait ten seconds)/Clutchin’ at yer elbow/(Wait ten seconds)/Where did your brassiere go?”
Coey and Gonzalez handle the lead vocals on “Dirty Love,” a rocker with a funky feel in which they sing, “I don’t need no consolation/I don’t want your reservation/I only got one destination/An’ that’s your dirty love,” before Zappa entrances with a distorted guitar solo.
Minkoff and Coey are featured on “What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are.” Following a bluesy guitar intro, Minkoff changes the original lyric, “This is the swingin’-est place in New York City,” to “This is the strangest place in all of New Jersey,” much to the amusement of the crowd.
Coey’s voice is powerful and bluesy — and, at times, cutesy — as the song morphs from blues to rock on the rock-operatic “Bwana Dik,” and Gonzalez plays soprano sax like a runaway Western train on The Munsters-like “Lumpy Gravy.”
Minskoff sings lead on the infectious R&B number, “Village of the Sun,” before the band segues into “Echidna’s Arf (of You),” a driving funk tune with amazing call-and-response playing on two guitars, saxophone, bass, keyboards, and drums which lifts audience members to their feet.
“Thank you very much!” replies Zappa, as the crowd continues to hoot and holler.
Continuing, “We have some other oddities we’ve learned,” Zappa explains, “We heard some of my dad’s rehearsal tapes, and there are some mystery riffs that we’ve sprinkled into some of our songs,” before stating, “You’ll recognize the next one, but it has some mystery riffs inside of it.”
Launching into the rockin’ “Bamboozled by Love,” Minkoff soulfully sings, “Bamboozled by love/Oh Lord, the sh*t done hit the fan,” accompanied by the driving beat and big sound from the keyboards. Gonzalez’ sax is featured on the bluesy “mystery riff” instrumental interlude which elicits cheers from the crowd.
Five-part vocals are featured on the slow and funky “Brown Moses” and Minkoff raps on the up-tempo and funky “Dumb All Over” before Zappa and Co. perform “Heavenly Bank Account,” a tongue-in-cheek gospel number on which the group sings, “He’s got twenty million dollars/In his heavenly bank account/All from those chumps who was/Born again/Oh yeah, oh yeah.”
The audience hoots and hollers and the band follows up with another Frank Zappa song with a “mystery riff,” “I’m a Beautiful Guy,” a swing number featuring Minkoff’s smooth lead vocal, gliding guitars, and bassist Kurt Morgan and Scheila Gonzalez dancing in place as they play.
Following a jazzy rendition of “Beauty Knows No Pain,” an arpeggiated keyboard part is featured on “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth,” a reggae tune on which keyboardist Chris Norton wails on the high vocal part and Dweezil Zappa wails on his guitar solo.
The group continues with the R&B number, “Any Downers,” and follows up with “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy,” a rocker with complex harmonies, a killer Zappa guitar solo, and comical lyrics which state, “I could’a swore her hair was made of rayon/She wore a Milton-Bradley crayon/But she was something I could lay on/Can’t remember what became of me/Carolina hard-core ecstasy.”
The crowd cheers and Zappa announces, “We’ve got one more, but it may sound a little weird at first.”
Here, the group performs their interpretation of “Muffin Man.” Atop the band’s powerful sound, Zappa solos, the musicians having fun playing this impossible piece live, before the number ends with Dweezil and his colleagues jamming to thunderous applause and cheers from the standing crowd.
The group exits and the crowd continues to cheer patiently until the musicians return and Zappa announces, “Thank you for supporting us! We’re going to play one you’ll know.”
Audience members hoot, holler, and scream when they recognize the intro to “Cosmik Debris.”
Minkoff sings lead on this bluesy toe-tapper, which has heads bopping in the audience.
As Scheila Gonzalez plays the sax, Zappa asks her to incorporate various musical elements into her solo including theme songs from The Brady Bunch, The Pink Panther, and Star Wars. She complies by effortlessly honking out the themes within her solo to avid cheers and applause.
Norton plays a bluesy chordal solo on the keyboard, Minkoff scats while he solos up and down his guitar, and Kurt Morgan plays a funky and bluesy bass solo which is accompanied by Ryan Brown on drums before Dweezil Zappa solos fast and furiously to flashing lights.
Five-part vocals fill the Newton Theatre auditorium on the swingin’ “Tears Began to Fall,” prior to the band bowing together and exiting to enthusiastic applause by the standing crowd.
As audience members filter their way out of the theater, we chat with several music lovers in the crowd who share their thoughts about tonight’s concert.
First, we catch up with the family of three generations with whom we spoke before the show.
Comments Buddy from Newark, CA, “This was the tops — one of the best shows I’ve ever seen! It was awesome — I loved it — and Dweezil and the group looked like they were having a lot of fun.”
Buddy’s mom, Karen from Vernon, remarks, “I enjoyed it,” before her daughter, Karen Ann, exclaims, “Dweezil Zappa is such an amazing guitarist!”
Even Karen Ann’s daughter — Zappa first-timer, Celeste — agrees this was one “good” concert.
Next, we chat with Yvonne and Frank from Branchville.
Yvonne — who is wearing a T-shirt that reads: “Better to have a few rats than to be one” — says, “I loved this show. All of the songs made me want to move,” before adding, “The music is so difficult,” and revealing, “Actually, Frank and I met because of Zappa.”
Explains Frank — wearing his Hot Rats T-shirt — “Yvonne and I met in a Greyhound Bus station in Denver in 1991. Even though I’m usually quiet, at the time, I was in the habit of singing Frank Zappa songs, and I sang to Yvonne, ‘Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?’ — and now we’re together!”
Continuing, “This is my fifth time seeing Dweezil Zappa, and it was great to hear him and his band perform so many songs which they pulled out of obscurity,” Frank adds, “And Scheila Gonzalez was amazing — she’s been on tour with Dweezil since 2006, and she’s just multi-talented.”
Kim from Pine Grove agrees stating, “The quality of musicianship on the stage tonight was exceptional,” before noting, “Even though I wasn’t familiar with every tune — and there were a lot of them played tonight — this was really a great catalog of Frank Zappa music.”
Matt from Newton calls tonight’s concert “Phenomenal!” Recalling, “I’ve seen Dweezil four times,” Matt says, “This is the best concert yet — absolutely incredible — unbelievable, really.”
Lastly we chat with Noah and his dad, JB, from Bethlehem, PA.
Declares Noah, “Dweezil Zappa and the band got everything right tonight. The instrumental tones recreating Frank Zappa’s original recordings were great,” before explaining, “I’ve been listening to Frank Zappa’s music ever since I was a baby — it’s such progressive music.”
Dad JB concurs explaining, “I have between 50 and 100 Zappa LPs — I’ve been a fan of Frank Zappa’s music since 1967.”
Explaining, “Frank has such a vast catalog — his music was ahead of it’s time when he created it, and it has held up over time,” JB asserts, “Dweezil Zappa’s performance tonight was excellent — all the guitar work made for a great night of music,” before concluding, “Frank would be so proud.”
To learn more about Dweezil Zappa, please go to dweezilzappa.com. For information about future performances at The Newton Theatre — including Don Felder on September 26, Don McLean on November 22, Joan Osborne’s Dylanology on December 1, and Blood, Sweat and Tears on December 8 — please click on thenewtontheatre.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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