On Saturday night a little after 7:00 P.M. ticket holders were having their tickets scanned in as they walked through the door. Even the ones who knew how great these musicians were had no idea what was about to hit them. No one had any idea how incredible this show was going to be. The super groups, Return to Forever-IV and Zappa Plays Zappa, were in Hammond, Indiana at the Horseshoe Casino and The Venue was a great setting for this musical display.
After paying the outrageous toll, climbing the mile high bridge, you come over the Ski-way to the bottom of the bridge to the first exit which takes you to where you want to be. As you walk in the doors, you are reminded by the smell of smoke that you aren’t in Illinois. You make your way across the building to The Venue. You find your seats and you are ready to start the show.
Opening out the evening was Zappa Plays Zappa. The amazing and talented band conquered old classic Frank Zappa Material with ease. The band led by Dweezil Zappa played every intricate change with precision and clarity. The comical lyrics and stories within the music made it hard to ever take this music seriously, but they were told amongst some of the toughest music written in the twentieth century.
Dweezil is a highly underrated guitarist. The most incredible guitar runs of the night came from the hands of Zappa. He ripped through the songs with complete syncopation, through very complicated pieces. He stepped up to the plate and tackled these songs for the crowd appearing very cool and laid back. He seemed lost in his own little world as he focused on the music coming through his ear monitors. There was no fancy stage show, just kick ass music. That’s all this crowd wanted to see anyway.
The band involved in backing up Dweezil on this quest was amazing to see. Including Zappa, there were eight musicians that made up this ensemble. Sheila Gonzalez played saxophone, flute, keyboards, and sang within this lineup. This one is really a Jill of all trades and was a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Pete Griffin comes in on bass guitar holding the bottom end together. He had a few real warm bass parts to provide. On all sorts of percussion instruments was Billy Hulting who hit out some rhythms that sounded almost robotic. This machine doesn’t make a mistake.
Jamie Kime chimed in on guitar helping this group pull it all together. He himself is a guitar virtuoso without a doubt. On vocals was Ben Thomas who did a number on the old stuff that won’t soon be forgotten. His vocal abilities are fitting, but the man’s way of telling a story was very charismatic. He is truly an entertainer of a highest caliber.
Joe Travers takes the roll on top of the riser hitting with dynamics and power creating wicked drum rolls. Chris Norton finalizes a great band within everything that he does. He is surrounded by keyboards, a laptop, and a few other gadgets to get the old school sounds. Every one of these musicians has a key part in this band. Together they make up Zappa Plays Zappa.
Some of the songs chosen to be performed were “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing,” “Pojama People,” and the classic “Don’t eat the yellow snow.” “Dancing Fool” was another whimsical song that was done to perfection. During their shared stage time they had a guest violin player sporting a candied blue electric violin. Jean Luc Ponty sat in for one of the compositions and he added some magical tones to the music that was just a delightful moment.
As their show ended there was no encore for this group. Instead Dweezil Zappa did a very cool thing. He reached down at the front of the stage and started to sign autographs. The stage hands started switching the bands up and get everything ready for Return to Forever IV. Dweezil signed autographs, took pictures, and shook hands with everyone who came up to the front of the stage. Just when everyone thought he was done, he proved them wrong. It was now time for the next act and he was still signing all the way up until a few minutes before the lights dimmed. That is such a rare thing to see and very well appreciated by the fans. It was a very nice gesture from a first class act.
It was time to see the musical masters do it up. No intro music or fancy anything. They just walked out, waved hello and started playing. From the opening notes if Return to Forever IV, it was quite obvious you were about to see greatness.
Chick Corea destroyed the egos of any amateur keyboardist in the room within his falling runs. His quick finger style was beyond just being skilled. The keyboardist extraordinaire wowed the crowd within the first few minutes of playing. At one point he even pulled out his most popular piece “Romantic Warrior.” He made the comment to the audience, “If you weren’t here …..” shrugged his shoulders and smiles, “you wouldn’t be here,” then walked back to his keyboards.
Stanley Clarke, “the master of everything,” has to be the best bass player ever. The audience at The Venue Saturday night couldn’t imagine seeing a bass player that is any better than Stanley Clarke. He played bass solos on acoustic and electric basses that were slapping and thumping away. He did runs that today’s top bass players couldn’t find by accident even once.
Jean Luc Ponty is just a graceful act. This gentleman played some intricate pieces himself. The strings were touched by his bow to help create some magical moments. At other points he did stuff in a pizzicato fashion sometimes trading off with a complimentary guitar piece. He made reference to the old days of performing Zappa’s music stating that “Dweezil was only 4 years old at the time. It’s nice to see his band doing Frank’s music so well.”
Lenny White stepped up to introduce a piece. He said, “It’s really nice to play music for people who appreciate it. We’re gonna play you some manly music now, cus we’re a man band.” He went back to this drum kit and proved it. His modest sized kit was all he really needed. Honestly, this man could make pots and pans sound good. His drum solo was filled with some offbeat jazzy stuff that is really an acquired taste that not all ears can appreciate. Only handfuls of drummers are as talented as Mr. Lenny White.
Frank Gambale is amazing guitarist in all respects to share a stage with these fine musicians has to be an honor. As the night proceeded, the talents in his hands were not used much as he appeared only to be a gun for hire. During some songs he sat back on a chair and bopped his head to the music. For as much talent as this six stringer has, it seems like his talents were wasted. He looked like the first string quarterback sitting on the sidelines being punished, itching to jump in and play.
As Return to Forever IV played, the time allotted was running out. They finished their last song and said their goodbyes. They signed a few autographs, shook some hands, and they were gone. They may never have sung a note in any songs, but they said a lot within their instruments of choice. The theater started to clear out and the stunned crowd dissipated into the casino. The ones that made it back to their vehicles right away after the show got to enjoy a traffic jam that awaited another vehicle in the parking garage.
A fantastic night of music was once again held at The Venue within Hammond, Indiana’s Horseshoe Casino. The super groups of Return to Forever IV and Zappa Plays Zappa were the talented entertainer’s of the evening. This was an amazingly talented show to see.