The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa review – toking poodles and holographic necromancy

Playhouse, Edinburgh
The latest star to be resurrected as a hologram is beamed in for a gloriously garish night of uncanny jazz-rock revelry

Ever since Tupac Shakur’s shimmering Coachella guest spot in 2012, the eldritch art of resurrecting music stars via holograms has been steadily gaining traction. Despite the cutting-edge technology, it is a process that seems to particularly suit the oldies: Elvis, Maria Callas and Roy Orbison have all recently embarked on digital comeback tours.

As a total geyser of jazz-rock creativity who spent an entire career refusing to be pigeonholed, Frank Zappa may not seem like a natural candidate for being reanimated within the strict confines of a specialised projection window. But, arriving 26 years after his death, the eye-popping new revue The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa is an entertainingly brash blowout that succeeds in venerating a man who was fiercely irreverent.

On a stage set constructed entirely of seamless LED screens, Zappa first materialises as a giant head in a scrolling starfield narrating the suitably galactic groove Cosmik Debris. When he beams down for a righteous guitar solo, it is a startling moment: this Zappagram has been harvested from unseen footage shot in 1974, capturing him in his flared prime. It is an uncanny act of necromancy.

Hard-working ... the band bringing Zappa back to life.
Hard-working ... the band bringing Zappa back to life. Photograph: Bryan Weber Photography/Bryan Weber

Over the course of a two-hour show – extended further by an interval – the hologram is actually deployed rather sparingly, perhaps to limit scrutiny. Instead, it is a springboard for a parade of daft visuals, blending 60s counterculture collages with the rapid-fire barrage of the modern lyric video. Zappa is reimagined as an appealing cartoon avatar, embarking Mr Benn-style on various trippy adventures while a hard-working six-piece band recruited from longtime collaborators lay down forceful but antic grooves.

The boudoir breakdown of Penguin in Bondage becomes a neon tour of animal strip clubs. The faux-strident Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? showcases a choir seemingly recruited from Fraggle Rock. The fungal blues of Stink-Foot features a toxic, toking poodle. It is all immense fun, a heavily ironised hybrid of concert film and augmented gig. As a devotee of trashy monster features, Zappa himself might have approved of headlining his own zombie experience.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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