10 September 2017
Zappa has been on my radar for years but not so much on my turntable so a retrospective like this was a blessing and a huge excitement. And this one was a learned outing. Gathered by Steve Fitzgerald after his Masters studies of Zappa and informed by musicologist Stephen Loy who speak between sets on Zappa, the Mothers, the '60s, pop and avant garde and Adorno. As for the music, it's similarly complex and considered and influenced and a mass of work to prepare. Lots of 16th-note unison lines and odd starts and stops and changing rhythms and whimsical grooves. The original had plenty of famously sly lyrics, too, and Clare presented some of these in tunes from mid-first set on. The two sets were very different. First up was more acoustic, or at least, less rocky, read, no drums: vibes, alto/soprano/flute, Rhodes/Moog, double/e-bass. The second set added tenor and screaming guitar, Zappa's instrument, and Steve switched from vibes to kit, so louder and heavier and rockier. We learnt of Zappa's influences in C20th "classical" music - Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varese, Cage; of Adorno's critique of art as commodity or resistance; of Zappa's perverse approach of innovation presented as a "product" or "entertainment", contradicting Adorno's perspective; of Zappa's catholicity in querying whoever, straights or hippies; of his clever contrariness joined with biting hilarity - Stephen Loy quoted Zappa: "I'm really just a phoney but forgive me 'cos I'm stoned" or "Is there any art at all ... it really doesn't matter". So much for pretensions when the guy who says that is a master. Also interesting was to touch on these "fine music" influences in rock at the time, on the Beatles (Revolution no.9, Sergeant Pepper, etc). Little time to touch on that, but it's significant that Zappa's music was recorded by the LSO and Boulez. Steve's vibes were a huge pleasure, classically trained and vital and so precise; Callum played the hardest of lines with panache and some great solos; Clare did a great job, mostly Rhodes, sometimes with effects, some Moog synth and a great take on some very challenging vocals; Jared's bass was a pleasure, great tone on double and demanding reading throughout. The second set had Steve on snappy and superbly apt rock drums (one of very many pleasures on the night), Josh on tenor with one memorably searing solo and Matt Lustri doing a fabulous take on Zappa's solos, all busy and dirty. Zappa was prolific but had an exceptional band and following in the early '70s (I saw him on tour in Adelaide at this time) and much music was from then. The finale was Peaches en regalia; others included Black page, Uncle Meat, Don't you ever wash that thing, Twenty small cigars, Sofa, Echidna's arf, Idiot bastard son, Zombie woof, Watermelon in Easter hay, Son of Mr Green Genes. Names that suggest the times but also Zappa's wit. So, a great night that must have taken a huge investment of time or some exceptional reading (probably both). I loved it and learnt lots.
Steve Fitzgerald (vibes, drums), Calum Builder (alto, soprano, flute), Clare Fitzgerald (Rhodes, Moog, vocals), Jared Plane (double and electric bass) played Zappa. They were joined for the second set by Matthew Lustri (guitar) and Josh Buckler (tenor). Stephen Loy (musicologist) spoke between sets.