Dweezil Zappa, the virtuosic son of Frank, is nothing if not personable. On this tour, celebrating the 40th anniversary of “One Size Fits All,” Zappa has been holding a masterclass for his guitar-playing fans just hours before each show.
On Friday, in a beautiful conference room in the Whitney Peak Hotel, Dweezil walked in and plugged into a small Marshall combo amp before delving into his philosophies about improvising and how to expand your musical vocabulary.
“It’s all about breaking things down to simple patterns,” he explained as he transformed elementary musical phrases into neck sprawling, improvisatory runs.
He was nothing short of masterful (just as he would be on stage later that evening), but what surprised me most was his demeanor. In a world filled with arrogant guitarists dying to show off their chops, Zappa was polite, patient and genuine with the group of 10 guitarists. He was understanding of how much his father meant to the world and was never annoyed to receive questions about him, no matter how off topic they may be. He took breaks to tell anecdotes and field every question.
When asked who his influences were other than his father, he named Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.
“Compared to my dad, what they were doing was easy,” he said with a laugh.
He was just as down-to-earth when he took the stage to play “One Size Fits All” in its entirety, as well as a handful of other fan favorites such as “Montana” and “Cosmic Debris.”
He was so mild-mannered, in fact, that against the backdrop of his endlessly quirky and animated band mates, he may have come across as subdued, although the fire with which he played suggested otherwise. Either way, Zappa’s calm stage presence didn’t deter the crowd at all as fans sang and cheered along to most every tongue-twisting lyric with fervor.
After a pair of jammed out songs and a spirited rendition of the Star Wars theme, the band tore into what was the highlight for many. Zappa’s playing on “Inca Roads” was other-worldly as he took on the marimba solo of the song, something that he had described as a “bitch of a part” earlier during the masterclass, even though he seemed to fly through it with ease, as did his backing group.
The other members of the band were just as impressive. Vocalist, trombonist, and rhythm guitarist Ben Thomas, keyboardist, saxophonist and vocalist Scheila Gonzales, keyboardist and vocalist Chris Norton, bassist Kurt Morgan and drummer Ryan Brown were flawless as they not only played the complex parts to a tee but also sang, danced and entertained as they were doing them. Thomas and Gonzales in particular seemed to be having even more fun than the people in the audience. They were magnetic.
“Frank would have loved playing with this band,” I heard someone in the crowd say as they finished a remarkable rendition of “Dancin’ Fool,” and Zappa’s ever-present smile suggested he was thinking the same thing.