Zappa’s Universe (the album and video of the same title) documents the big tribute concert thrown for Frank Zappa over four nights (November 7-10, 1991, although the footage on the album and video are from the first two nights), organized by conductor Joel Thome, who assembled the Orchestra of Our Time at the Ritz in NYC. Mike Keneally and Scott Thunes were joined by other ex-Zappa sidemen Steve Vai, Denny Walley among many others including Frank’s son, Dweezil Zappa.
At an afternoon press conference on the day of the first concert, Moon Zappa faced dozens of microphones and cameras to make an announcement on behalf of the family:
‘We’re here to make a statement on behalf of our family. Although Frank was looking forward to being here, and really intended to be here, unfortunately he’s not here. As many of you know, he’s been diagnosed by journalists as having cancer. We’d like you to know his doctors have diagnosed prostate cancer, which he’s been fighting successfully and he has been feeling well and working too hard and planned to attend. Up until the last minute we were still hoping he would feel well enough to get on a plane and come here. There are occasional periods when he’s not feeling as well, and it’s unfortunate it happened to coincide with this event. He’s thrilled people are performing his music. The more the merrier. And we’re thrilled. And we’re here to participate in this event…’
Although Mike Keneally, Steve Vai, and Dweezil Zappa are each equally exceptional (especially on the clip “Dirty Love” above, and Mike and Dweezil’s rendition of “Chunga’s Revenge” in the clip below), Mike Keneally is really the star of this show (see clip of “Jazz Discharge Party Hats” below). His vocals and guitar work make the album (and the video) the tribute that it is. Unfortunately, the final mix itself is uneven. Rather than presenting the whole concert, certain songs are skipped. Even Keneally suggests that fans avoid the CD and go straight for the video (Click here for more on Keneally’s views of ZU).
It’s always been my hope that the complete recordings of these concerts surface one day. If anything, their value as archival material is immeasurable.