Zappa plays Zappa and you can too

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Frank Zappa is one of the greatest and most interesting musicians America has produced. From 1966 until he died in 1993, he released dozens of albums bending various musical genres around his acerbic wit. FZ’s M.O., as I understand it, basically was to trick people into consuming high art by dressing it up as low art. His bands were one part orchestra, one part Foley studio, and one part rock & roll outfit. Creating the appearance of radical spontaneity on stage or in the recording studio merely was a crowning achievement of what undoubtedly was a very organized process. Zappa may have held extreme political views, but he was no anarchist. In light of the complexity of the music and the number of people it took to make it, everything– even kazoo honks and beach ball bounces– had to be carefully composed, or the project wouldn’t work. Was radical spontaneity involved in the initial generation of the ideas the songs would convey? Surely, and that’s what made these songs exciting and (attractively) dangerous to fans: even though the execution of these concepts necessarily was an orderly process, it still was Frank at the helm, and the audience didn’t know how far he would push the limits or if he’d steer them entirely off the rails.

All of that is what makes it a little bit difficult to digest what Dweezil Zappa is up to. Continue reading

Concert report: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a sold-out performance by Lyle Lovett and his Large Band at the same venue where I saw Bruce Hornsby, Béla Fleck, the Noisemakers, and the Flecktones earlier this month.

Lovett and his crew put on an excellent show from start to finish, and despite taking no set break and shifting personnel over the course of the night, Lovett himself was on the stage for the all but one song, during which he let his female backup singer take control of the band. Lovett’s Large Band is comprised of Lovett on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, four backup singers (one female, three male), four other guitar players (one pedal steel, two electrics, and one more acoustic), fiddle, mandolin (who was the second acoustic guitarist), cello, percussion, piano, and a prolific, veteran bass player. (HT: @jwg31 for a long-distance ID of Leyland Sklar. More photos here.)

I’ve seen this group before, in the same spot, a few years ago, and I had an enjoyable time then despite not knowing any of the singer-songwriter’s tunes. In the interim period, I’d picked up only a sparse smattering of his recorded sounds (primarily pilfered from my paternal unit), so I was especially pleased at the number of songs I recognized during this performance.

If Lovett is two things, he is a storyteller and a Texan, and the former in particular was on display this night. He deftly adjusted his personnel throughout the performance, beginning offstage while he let his full band work out for the crowd (an approach well-used by the best, like him and B.B. King), eventually stripping the band down to bass, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and one microphone for Texas-style bluegrass, and slowly building the band back up again, featuring different alignments and arrangements along the way.

Lovett interacted with his bandmates and the crowd with ease and tumbleweed-dry wit. He took care to introduce and shine the spotlight on his cohorts, and he conversed from the stage with a child he recognized in the audience from prior appearances at this venue (they’ve played it three consecutive summers).

I enjoyed this performance even more than the last one. Lovett showed why he is one of the best singer-songwriter-big(large)-bandleaders and, despite being “one ugly dude” (in the words of my father’s friend shortly before the show), a consummate and intimate showman. He also tricked a bunch of upper-Midwesterners into liking country music for a night, and for that alone he and his band earned the audience’s applause, of which there was plenty.

Click here for more photos of the night.

Concert report: An evening with Bruce Hornsby, Béla Fleck, the Noisemakers, and the Flecktones

As promised, here is my report from a recent stop on the Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers/Béla Fleck and the Flecktones tour.
Last Friday, I had the fortunate opportunity to hear these two bands, lead by two masters, share a stage. It was hot and pretty humid, but the sun was out and there was no threat of rain. Concertgoers snacked on picnic dinners before the show began.

I’ll leave the traditional review to a professional and offer some reflections of my own. Keep reading…