Review: WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MUSIC - LÄTHER PLAY THE MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA - ADELAIDE FRINGE 20 at Governor Hindmarsh Hotel.

Läther explores a new selection of Frank Zappa's music.

By: Mar. 01, 2024
Review: WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MUSIC - LÄTHER PLAY THE MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA - ADELAIDE FRINGE 20 at Governor Hindmarsh Hotel.
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Reviewed by Ray Smith, Tuesday 27th February 2024.

It was a balmy 36 degrees Celsius as a group of fans, in a variety of Zappa T-shirts, waited impatiently in the beer garden for the doors of the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel's venue to open, in order to fulfil our annual pilgrimage to see Läther play their regular Adelaide Fringe gig.

I say beer garden, but there was no beer, just a group of individuals of a certain age quietly sweating and smoking cigarettes, texting on their phones, and occasionally glancing sadly at the pub's still locked doors.

We had all arrived early for the 7.30 show, in the fond hope of securing a decent vantage point to witness the musical highlight of the year from one of the finest bands ever assembled in Australia, and the atmosphere of anticipation was palpable.

This show was going to be particularly interesting in that it promised material from Frank Zappa's extensive catalogue that the band had never presented before, and a new line up of players that we had never seen perform together before, “together” being the operative word in that claim, although there was one very new member in a cameo performance.

I was asked once at one of these infrequent shows, where the name Läther comes from and I can't remember if Tim Hogan told me or I discovered it somewhere else, but the name comes from a 4 LP set that Zappa wanted to record in 1977, but his label, Warners, declined the idea. Zappa later recorded the material himself on 4 separate albums; Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favourites. Try to find the uncensored version of Zappa in New York if you are a true Zappanista.

This particular lineup featured two of the finest drummers in the country, together on stage for the first time. I had seen Jarrad Payne perform with Läther before, and I had seen Craig Lauritsen perform with Läther before, but tonight we would see them play together in a particularly Zappa-esque back row of two drummers and an amazing percussionist, the Ruth Underwood channelling Ryan Simm on tuned percussion.

The vocal acrobat, Gerry Masi, also picked up a guitar in this show, throwing in some slide guitar lines that mirrored his own portamento voice, and swapped some licks with guitar virtuoso, Tim Hogan.

My guest for the evening is a well-known Adelaide bass player and someone that I have worked with for over thirty years, and it was interesting to watch his face as Jez Martin's bass guitar leapt athletically out of the mix in a couple of tunes. “I think I need to practice!”, he chuckled.

Saxophonist Dave Saunders and trombone player Gareth Davies alternated solos, moving the air around in ways that are impossible and probably illegal in this State, or blatted out stabs with mathematical precision during one of Chris Norton's keyboard pieces that sound like half a dozen John Coltranes had been surgically sewn together.

There was one completely new face, who Tim introduced as Melia whom I think is Melia Naughton who has a show of her own in this year's Fringe. Melia played the part of Moon Zappa, Frank's daughter, who at the age of fourteen worked with her Dad on the song, Valley Girl.

Wikipedia tells me, “According to Zappa biographer Kelly Fisher Lowe, Frank woke Moon in the middle of the night and took her to a studio to recreate conversations that she had had with friends.”
The song appears on the 1982 album, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, and Melia absolutely nailed it.

Every Läther show is a phenomenal experience and every Läther show is different to the ones performed before, and that is just as it should be.

Some people refer to Läther as a Zappa tribute band, and they would probably be right if Läther played material from a particular album, or a particular period of Zappa's career, but they don't.
They play music from Zappa's entire and ridiculously extensive catalogue, and they also improvise sections of the music where Zappa would have written something like, “improvise in 7/4 in E flat for 32 bars” on the score.

Is the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra a Mozart, Beethoven, or Mahler tribute band? Of course not, so let's not add such a label to this extraordinary group of musicians, and try to get to the next gig from Läther, you'll love it, it's a way of life.
 



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