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The Way of the Frank: Dweezil Zappa on learning, teaching and accurately dishing out his dad's face-melting tunes 

Dweezil Zappa on learning, teaching and accurately dishing out his dad's face-melting tunes.

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Here's perhaps the most rock star attribute to be deduced from a 20-minute interview with Dweezil Zappa - the dude uses an alias when checking into hotels. You just don't hear about quintessentially rock star stuff like that these days.

But even with his rock royalty lineage and '80s-'90s celebrity status, that's about where the rock staredness ends with Zappa these days. He seems more akin to a devoted musical student (or teacher) than a guitar god, or the sort of public figure he was as a "VJ" on MTV, back when MTV played music videos rather than "reality" soap operas.

With his act Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil pays a steadfast and meticulously accurate tribute to the music of his late father, Frank, all the while trying to preserve a much revered yet hardly mainstream piece of rock and roll history. And he, along with a small army of handpicked players, does this with plenty of musical mastery and attention to detail.

Now heading into its fifth year, Zappa Plays Zappa is constantly in a state of expansion, adding in more and more of the mind-bendingly complex Frank Zappa prog rock catalogue while also venturing into uncharted waters by contemplating the addition of original material. They've put out a live album and had an entire concert featured on public television, gathering a sturdy fan base of old-time Zappa fans, as well as some runoff from the jam band arena. The band is now planning a sort of Zappa fantasy camp for those who want to learn the way of the Zap, which is notable, considering Dweezil was largely self taught, not taking lessons until he immersed himself in a two-year monk-like state in which he studied not only his father's guitar style, but also the legend's compositions.

"The whole idea of it is to keep exposing the music and concepts of trying to be a better musician," he says, "These days there's so many people, kids in particular, that get exposed to music and think they only have to learn three chords and get the right haircut and a few tattoos and you're ready to go."

Onstage, Dweezil has his band diving into new material, adding almost 10 new cuts to their arsenal for this current tour. Adding a song to the ZPZ set list involves more than merely covering the verse-chorus-verse changes - Zappa tunes are wickedly tough sons of bitches, crammed full of melodic wizardry. For the Zappa philistines out there, a Frank Zappa tune is often probably closer in complexity to an orchestral arrangement than a rock song. Dweezil wants to expand the band's repertoire, picking more of Frank's hundreds of compositions, but only if he can do it correctly.

"There's a standard that you want to reach and maintain, so any time you have little details that go awry here or there, you're looking for improvement. On any given tour, things improve the more you play it. The more you tour the better the band gets," he says.

As Zappa has gained a following of both old Frank fans and a younger set just now coming onboard, Dweezil says there seems to be desire from the fans coupled with a need on his own part, to turn the collective from a tribute act to an honest-to-God band. That would mean turning his focus from recital to creation, opening up a new world for the act.

"When we started the band, that wasn't even on my radar. I didn't want to blend my music with Frank's music because it just wasn't an appropriate step to take," says Dweezil, "But at this point. I do want to make a record and exercise that part of the brain."

Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa

8pm Monday, November 30. Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St. $45, $61, $81. All ages.

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