Dweezil Zappa: Live At In London

Frank's son faithfully revisits one of his father's proggiest albums.

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It’s the 40th anniversary of the release of One Size Fits All, the last album by the classic Mothers Of Invention. That’s the perfect excuse to revisit the album – considered by many to be the most prog in the Zappa canon – in its entirety, as performed by Frank’s most faithful student: his son, Dweezil.

He’s joined by his band of five multi-instrumentalists who switch between guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and trombone, and shift between tempos with a dexterity that would surely impress the man himself.

Sure, without Frank here it’s like going to be like watching one of those Woody Allen films without Woody, but you can detect the master’s signature in every quirky rhythmic sleight, even if you can’t help missing his actual wry, maverick presence.

The show actually opens with the 1977 Star Wars theme after which it’s straight into One Size Fits All and Inca Roads. Each of the musicians play so fast that they appear to lap each other – picture a dazzling form of jazz fusion or prog. There are parts recalling Weather Report at their most sublime, plus conventionally pleasant sections that remind you of the old axiom about Zappa: that he could have been a monstrously successful conventional tunesmith had he been able to resist the urge to mess with the time signature, or hurl in an atonal cadence. It’s heavy on the marimba. Oh, and drummer Ryan Brown appears to be from the school of Whiplash. The players take it in turns to sing – a term used advisedly for such droll basso profundery.

You can detect the master’s signature in every quirky rhythmic sleight, even if you can’t help missing his actual wry, maverick presence.

Can’t Afford No Shoes is a zany faux-boogie with unison singing, sounding almost like Steely Dan on steroids. Sofa No. 1 is bluesy, although naturally this is blues delivered with a sneer, a snark. Po-Jama People opens with a climactic guitar solo, before giving way to pseudo mid-70s funk. Evelyn, A Modified Dog contains passages that might pass for daft – well, Zappa was as capable of puerility as he was dizzying invention.

Scheila Gonzalaz

Scheila Gonzalaz (Image credit: Will Ireland)

The southern-fried San Ber’dino suggests One Size Fits All might have been the only Zappa-related product to make it to America’s heartland, despite the strong impression of someone mocking the very notion (and demographic) of rock. Penultimate track Andy has more in common with the space prog of Yes or Utopia, while Sofa No.2 approximates a pop ballad – another convention subverted, and that’s before you get to the bit where they squeal in German.

The second part of the show finds Zappa Junior roaming freely across his dad’s catalogue, alighting variously on The Grand Wazoo, Son Of Suzy Creamcheese, Cosmik Debris and Muffin Man. You also get a 12-year-old kid coming onstage to bash the drums, plus a part where Dweezil separates the audience into sections, getting them to respectively laugh hysterically and chant the name of Winston Churchill.

It looks as though the absurdist apple doesn’t fall far from the surrealist tree, although oddly, the more fun he gets, the more you wish it was Frank up there.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.