WILKES-BARRE — Like a lot of things that are challenging or outside the norm, the music of Frank Zappa is not for everyone.
But for the musically adventurous – such as the smallish but spirited crowd at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday – the complex harmonics and rhythms and inventive wordplay can be highly entertaining.
Friday’s show in Wilkes-Barre featured many of the tunes the elder Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention recorded in the late-1960s and early-1970s faithfully reproduced by the composer’s son, the phenomenally talented guitarist Dweezil Zappa, and his equally gifted “Zappa Plays Zappa” band.
“Good evening,” Dweezil said as he casually strolled up to the microphone. “You guys ready? Let’s play some Frank Zappa music.”
With that, Dweezil and the five-piece “Zappa Plays Zappa” band – Scheila Gonzalez (saxophone, keyboards, vocals), Ben Thomas (vocals, trumpet, trombone, percussion), Chris Norton (keyboards, vocals), Kurt Morgan (bass) and Ryan Brown (drums) – started with “Zomby Woof” from the 1973 album “Over-Nite Sensation.”
The group returned to that album throughout the evening, also playing “Montana” – an amusing ditty about a dental-floss farmer Dweezil said was one of his childhood favorites – and “Camarillo Brillo” during the 96-minute main set and “Dinah-Moe Humm” as part of the encore.
“We’re going to play some songs from some of the older records,” Dweezil said after the opening number. “There’s always so many songs to choose from, it’s a challenge to put it together.”
That’s quite the understatement as Frank Zappa released 62 albums, both solo and with the Mothers of Invention, between 1966 and 1993, the same year he succumbed to cancer at the age of 52. The Zappa Family Trust has released another 37 albums since his death, giving Dweezil and his bandmates 99 albums worth of material from which to choose. A quick perusal of the setlist from the last time the band played the Kirby Center in June 2012 showed only one or two duplicates from Friday’s show.
Fan favorite “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” from 1967’s “Absolutely Free” was an early highlight Friday as was that same album’s “Call Any Vegetable.”
Keyboardist Norton, who had never heard any of Frank Zappa’s original recordings when he joined the ZPZ band, turned in a wicked performance on the instrumental “Eat That Question.” Gonzalez displayed her saxophone skills on “RDZNL,” pronounced “Redunzel.” (Dweezil said that title was a combination of “Redundant” and “Rapunzel” and was his father’s nickname for his mother, who tended to repeat herself.)
Perhaps the absolute highlight of the main set was the scorching version of “Apostrophe,” which was originally an instrumental jam between Frank Zappa, bassist Jack Bruce (of Cream) and drummer Jim Gordon (of Derek and the Dominoes), featuring only Dweezil and the rhythm section of Morgan and Brown.
The set then drew to a close with “City of Tiny Lights” and “Florentine Pogen.” During this section, Dweezil brought a girl from the audience on stage to play the same guitar with him. “You never know what’s going to happen when you come to a show,” he said.
The 26-minute, three-song encore began with “Cosmik Debris” from the 1974 album “Apostrophe (‘),” and continued with the aforementioned “Dinah-Moe Humm.”
“Get ready to get on your feet and do a little dancing,” Dweezil said before the latter. “This is quite an up-tempo number for this evening.”
The band then finished up with an extended, joyous romp through “Muffin Man,” a song first featured on Frank Zappa’s 1975 mostly live album “Bongo Fury.”