Monday, March 2, 2009

Bourdain Does Bourdain / Zappa Plays Zappa

This past weekend was such a thrill. Friday night Lin (my spousal support unit) and I sat enraptured and shedding tears of laughter at Anthony Bordain's talk in Santa Barbara. He's currently best known for his Travel Channel show No Reservations and regaled a packed house with a bit of biography, a rant or two about the FoodTV current line-up and his lust for travel and food. Everyone in our home has read most everything he's written, including two crime novels delving into the dark world of NYC restaurants and the mafia - bloody good stuff (and don't ever order fish on Mondays).

I was a bit surprised and disappointed that he didn't recognize me in the audience back in row W. I had a brief encounter with him about two years ago when my family was vacationing in NYC to see Spamalot. We were on a mission to find a great slice of pizza a few blocks from Madison Square Garden and he was walking toward us carrying his dry cleaning. Actually, I didn't notice him but Lin tipped me off. I doubled back, did a 20 second praise, prostration and shoe licking and after being begged to stop, allowed him proceed. I'm guessing that the stage lighting on Friday night might have obscured his view of me. Plus, I've grown a goatee. That would explain it.

Can I top that? Hell, yeh! Saturday night at the Majestic Ventura Theater (actually, they should have named this former 1928 movie palace The Majestic Ventura Theater As Long As You Don't Visit the Upstairs Mens Room, but that's for another posting). My big brother, David, introduced me to the brilliant world of Frank Zappa's music, twisted world view and troubling cover art in the late 60s and I've been worshipping the guitar strings he stretched ever since. Frank died of prostrate cancer in '93.

Many people only associate him only with some of the novelty pieces he got some notoriety for, but there's a deep core of highly sophisticated, challenging works that brought me to another musical plane, especially his orchestral works, performed by the likes of the L.A. Philharmonic, under the baton of Zubin Metha in 1970. I even wrote a blog entry a year ago about pushing the limits of landscape design, entitled 'What Would Zappa Do?'.

I recall deciphering the odd rhythmic times he employed, working for hours to perform along with his recordings from my drum set. Didn't even get close, but my ears grew and some synaptic connections got linked up that still serve me today. So imagine my delight in hearing his son, Dweezil Zappa and seven other virtuoso players take dad's compositions apart and put them back together.

I've heard some amazing performers, from Hendrix to Carlos Santana to the Majavishnu Orchestra and sat in front of the drum sets of a few greats, like recently departed Louis Belson. But nothing prepared me for two hours of the most stunning performance I've ever witnessed - Zappa Plays Zappa. Each band member deserves to headline their own act, but taken together the experience was mind blowing. Frank was, in my humble opinion, the finest rock-based guitarist ever. He had all the skill of the fastest guitarists on the rock scene, but unlike 95% of them he actually had profound musical ideas to express. In my humble opinion most legendary "guitar heroes" could fly up and down the neck of their git-box at the speed of light, but when the smoke cleared, they hadn't really said anything. Just a bunch of hot licks strung together in no particular relation to each other. Dweezil has channeled his father's spirit and musical prowess, effortlessly coaxing brilliance from his instrument.

I could go on and on, but I just needed to praise and thank Frank's son for exposing a couple of new generations to his pop's brilliance. And I have to reserve a few words for Joe Travers, the drummer. I thought Keith Carlock, recently of Steely Dan fame, was everything a drummer could be, but Joe fried my brain. Speed to die for, rock-steady drive, and the ability to groove like mutha on some of the most complex time signatures you could conceive. I'm considering running all my drumsticks through a shredder and putting them to use as mulch.

Gotta go - just had to flush this out of my system. Back to garden-related stuff next time. I'll be attending the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show the week on March 19 - should be some interesting observations and images. If you're anywhere near the SF Bay area, do attend. This is the last year for the event - poof, gone.


dinzie said...

How cool is that :O) Follow Bordain a lot on the TV ... Whata lifestyle with all that travelling


Red Icculus said...

I missed Zappa Does Zappa when it was up in Minneapolis. Being a fan, I really regret it.

Love the blog.

Skrip said...

That is very cool! I also watch Bourdain along with Zimmern all the time.

Anonymous said...

My head instructor in my engineering school was one of the soloists on "go with what you know"(TJ Helmerich) and we got to sit in on some work he did for Zappa Plays Zappa. The guy does such amazing justice to his father.