London Palladium, that London
So I went to see a hologram. And you know what? It was rather good.
The Zappa Family Trust, never slow in identifying new ways of monetising their late father, have assembled a touring band comprising some of Zappa’s most competent and least imprisoned members to accompany a full height hologrammed Frank, captured from 1974 footage. I brushed off the sneers of some of the Zappa cognoscenti and joined Billy Bragg, Steven Wilson, Nick Beggs and Carl Palmer to witness what I imagine will soon be a common sight – your favourite inconveniently dead star brought back to life to dip into his/her back catalogue and your wallet.
The hologram was actually the weakest part of the show, looking highly fake and rather small, being set back behind a scaffold structure that forced the drums over to the left. Thankfully, it only appeared on four songs. The taped period guitar solos were all outstanding – and unfamiliar to me, despite owning everything released from 73/74. The vocals were a bit echoey and distant – odd given how well recorded everything from that era sounds on disc. The visuals however were superb, featuring some excellent animation to accompany songs like Cosmik Debris, Penguin in Bondage and Zomby Woof. But having seen ‘Elvis – The Tribute’, where large screens featuring period Elvis and band footage had you looking to the stage half expecting The King to be there, there was no fooling the eye here. Zappa looked smaller, more saturated and a lot less real than the rest of the band. And stuck in 1974 attire, for no obvious reason, given the wealth of video and photographic material available.
The setlist was a little unadventurous for the kind of superannuated Zappa nut that filled the Palladium – 12 of the 19 songs dated from their 1973/74 incarnations and I would gladly have swapped the likes of Dinah Moe Humm, Montana and Cosmik Debris for something a little more challenging from One Size Fits All. But there were a few treats – Farther O’Blivion featured a blistering Mike Keneally on guitar and Apostrophe an on-fire Scott Thunes on bass. Percussionist Ed Mann, Scott’s nemesis on the acrimonious 1988 final Zappa tour, was relatively subdued throughout. Ditto singers Ray White and Robert Martin, both of whose vocals have lost some power and range since their 80s heyday. The vocals were generally thin – something that would not have escaped doowop-fan Frank’s attention. Mann, White and Martin were almost entirely inaudible to those of us on the left-hand side of the auditorium, where drum, bass and Zappa’s voice and guitar ruled supreme, especially in the first half of the show.
The highlight, aside from superb musicianship and visuals, was seeing how much the band seemed to enjoy themselves – this, after all, is the nucleus of the 1988 tour whose break-up finished Zappa off as a touring artist. It’s was just good to see Scott Thunes and Ed Mann on the same stage. Zappa’s tape librarian (or ‘Vaultmeister’) Joe Travers did a fantastic job on drums, filling some pretty legendary boots, albeit the drums being placed far stage right didn’t help the overall sound mix. I enjoyed the concert so much, I did something I never have before – I stood up before anyone else, clapping like a fool. Eventually the whole downstairs seemed to join me and I got a ‘thank you’ from Keneally. No, thank you Mike. Not least for making my efforts to play the same instrument seem entirely pointless. And thanks Ed and Scott for burying the hatchet. If you could just get Ahmet and Diva to drop the painfully embarrassing microphone and stage takeover at the end, that’d be much appreciated.
Largely pale, male, stale and on the ale. And carrying a few more pounds and a little less hair than any of us ever imagined we would, I suspect.
It made me think..
I’m bloody glad I got to see the real thing in 1988, but this was a decent enough trip down memory lane. I’m firmly on the Dweezil side of the Zappa family divide, but Ahmet did a good thing here. Particularly in his selection of musicians and visuals. More adventurous material next time. Plus a better job on the sound mix and vocals.