Camelot Lounge, December 8
In 2007 Dweezil Zappa brought out a star-spangled band called Zappa Plays Zappa that paid tribute to the genius of his late father, Frank. As good as it was, however, the performance was overly po-faced where it should have been irreverent, if not downright zany.
You can’t accuse Petulant Frenzy of that bungle. Okay, unlike Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and Zappa Plays Zappa they read charts rather than having memorised the metrically challenging and sometimes fiendish compositions, but, much more importantly, the Sydney band presents a more holistic version of Zappa’s vision. That vision was a mad world of hybridized music flecked with dada-esque flourishes; a sense of humour akin to Spike Milligan’s dancing with a musical intelligence akin to Elliott Carter’s. Zappa was rock’s most sophisticated composer (as opposed to song-writer) by light-years. Who else ranged from doo-wop to heavy metal, and from free jazz to funk with belly-laugh lyrics?
But you can’t play at playing Zappa. You either nail it or you have a front-page train-wreck. Petulant Frenzy not only nails it, the band applies putty to make the nails invisible, and then daubs on a thick coat of fun.
Mostly concentrating on two early-1970s albums, Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation, it realised the material with precision, while allowing individual musical characters to emerge in the soloing and singing. Guitarist Arne Hanna, for instance, contributed blazing solos on RDNZL and Montana that, while leaning on Zappa’s vocabulary, consisted of Hanna’s sentences.
This 11-piece incarnation was stacked with strong, distinctive players: Les Rankin (guitar, leader), Matt Roberts (vocals), Kendal Cuneo (trumpet, vocals), Ian Pieterse (baritone saxophone), Stephan Schafer (alto, tenor), Ben Hibbard (keyboard percussion), Byron Mark (keyboards), Duncan Brown (bass) and Matt Moore (drums). Hibbard’s contributions added particular piquancy, and a special shout must go to Roberts’ singing, sometimes stunningly supported by Cuneo. The vocals, however, should have been more prominent in the mix, and the band could further turn up the playful musical interaction.