Frank Zappa is very much still alive. Although not in the material world, the legendary composer’s music is carried on by New York-based Project Object.
The six-piece band, which features longtime Zappa guitarist Ike Willis, came to the Baltimore Soundstage on Wednesday, Dec. 28, to play a variety of Zappa songs and some new, avant-garde instrumentals.
The first set opened with ambient noise, which turned into a heavy instrumental to kick off the show. The band was soon joined by Willis, who led the band through a melodic, adventurous instrumental.
The first included deep cuts as well as classics like “Trouble Every Day,” “Joe’s Garage,” “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?” and “Outside Now,” the latter three from the classic album Joe’s Garage.
Classics or not, the band exhibited stellar musicianship throughout the night. In addition to the guitar theatrics of Ike Willis and Andre’ Cholmondeley, bassist Max Johnson, best known for his work in the jazz and bluegrass scenes in New York, and drummer Ryan Berg took the band on some far-out, free jazz explorations. Add keys and a classically trained electric violinist, Liz Carey, to the mix, and you’ve got a band more than worthy of playing the intricate compositions of the Zappa catalog.
The second set featured well-polished renditions of “Baby Snakes,” “City of Tiny Lites” and “I’m the Slime.” After the encore of “Zoomby Wolf,” Ike Willis took time to conduct the band, and the audience. As he pointed to individual band members to play a hit on their instrument, he got the audience to join in with shouts of “woo!”
After a night of classic Zappa music, adventurous improvisation and crowd participation, the multi-generational audience left the Soundstage with big smiles on their faces, that is, if they didn’t melt off.