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Dweezil Zappa honors father Frank’s legacy with a splendidly subversive revival at Crossroads KC

Zappa Plays Zappa performed Tuesday night at Crossroads KC.
Zappa Plays Zappa performed Tuesday night at Crossroads KC. rsugg@kcstar.com

A frisky rendition of the unofficial international anthem of nerds opened Tuesday’s concert at Crossroads KC. Zappa Plays Zappa’s brief interpretation of the main title theme from “Star Wars” set the tone for an unapologetically geeky and decidedly intelligent performance of splendidly subversive music.

Dweezil Zappa founded the ensemble in 2006 to advance the legacy of his late father, Frank Zappa. It’s a formidable challenge. Many of Frank Zappa’s compositions are too difficult for all but the most prodigiously gifted and extraordinarily dedicated musicians to re-create.

The band acknowledged the 40th anniversary of the 1975 album “One Size Fits All” by playing the recording in its entirety following the initial “Stars Wars” salvo. A combination of jazz fusion and prog-rock, “One Size Fits All” features songs like “Inca Roads” whose lyrics mock the pretentiousness associated with the forms even as the convoluted music revels in the related excesses.

Stripped of the era’s dated production techniques, Zappa Plays Zappa revealed the vitality of the old songs. The soaring rock gem “Andy” sounded like what might have resulted had the classic-rock band Kansas hailed from Berlin rather than Topeka.

“Po-Jama People,” a smug critique of convention, was highlighted by Dweezil Zappa’s guitar solo. His unconventional approach bears little resemblance to the methods employed by other guitar virtuosos.

His five bandmates were equally accomplished throughout the 2  1/2 -hour performance. In addition to contributing background vocals on “Florentine Pogen,” Scheila Gonzalez played tenor saxophone and keyboards during the preposterously eccentric song. The musicians’ remarkable versatility allowed the sextet to evoke the demented halftime show of a marching band on an inventive arrangement of “The Grand Wazoo.”

A variety of styles that included the twisted pop of “Baby Snakes” and the blunt rock of “Apostrophe” prevented the concert from lapsing into the tedium that often accompanies lengthy displays of technical prowess. Only versions of “Cosmik Debris” and “Montana” lagged. The enthusiasm of the audience couldn’t redeem the hopelessly dated elements of the longtime fan favorites.

The concert’s only other significant defect was the band’s glaring absence of charisma. Each of the seven women who were invited to the stage during a rendition of “Dancin’ Fool” displayed as much magnetism as the musicians. Exceptionally clear sound partly compensated for the lack of visual stimulation.

In spite of Dweezil Zappa’s efforts, his father’s challenging body of work seems to be increasingly out of step with popular culture. For a modest audience of about 400 on Tuesday, however, his father’s music was very much alive.

Set list

“Star Wars” Theme; Inca Roads; Can’t Afford No Shoes; Sofa No. 1; Po-Jama People; Florentine Pogen; Evelyn, a Modified Dog; San Ber’dino; Andy; Sofa No. 2; Outside Now; The Grand Wazoo; Son of Suzy Creamcheese; Society Pages; Baby Snakes; Magic Fingers; Sinister Footwear; Cosmik Debris; Apostrophe; Montana; Dancin’ Fool; Zomby Woof; Muffin Man.

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