His father would be proud

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Live review: Zappa Plays Zappa at the Sage Gateshead

It is becoming an annual autumn event at the Sage – the return of the return of the son of Frank Zappa.

And a happy return it was, with Dweezil Zappa and his incredibly talented band performing the live music that made his dad so famously fascinating.

Last year’s critically acclaimed Apostrophe tour was always going to be a hard act to follow, featuring as it did one of Frank’s most iconic albums played end to end.

The current tour, Decades, covers a broader spectrum and features a mix of Frank Zappa’s music from the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

That’s a lot to choose from – more than 50 albums. But then, unlike most tours, Zappa Plays Zappa is not about marketing an act’s latest hits or promoting a new musical direction.

Coincidentally, perhaps, Frank Zappa’s entire musical legacy has recently been returned to the hands of the Zappa Family Trust. The original recordings are currently being remastered and re-released, which is a very good thing.

The new set list is a showcase for the versatility of the late FZ as a composer and arranger of music. It is also a testament to his innovative guitar playing – and song titling.

The gig opened with Treacherous Cretins, an instrumental from the album Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. If anyone thought that this sort of intricate noodling would set the tone for the entire two-and-a-half-hour set, though, they were to be mistaken.

The Zappa catalogue is nothing if not extensive in musical genre, and the band performed an astonishing selection, giving a demonstration of musicianship at its most demanding best.

From the operatic highs of Teenage Prostitute to the country-and-western twang of Harder Than Your Husband and from the jazz-fusion of Peaches En Regalia to the complex orchestral melodies of Strictly Genteel, it was all there.

There was certainly something for everyone, but it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time. While the sound quality at the Sage is, of course, brilliant, the all-seated layout makes the atmosphere a little too strictly genteel for some.

At this particular venue, however, the music takes precedence over any desire to be a Dancin’ Fool – as the ever-growing audience attests. And since nobody else plays Zappa like Zappa, I hope we see him here again next year.

Phil Cullen