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Live Sound

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the Frank Zappa Hologram Tour

By Paroo Streich. Kicking off this Friday, the world tour brings the late Frank Zappa’s bandmates together to play live with their leader once again.

Port Chester, NY (April 16, 2019)—“We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s ever existed in any kind of music setting,” said Ahmet Zappa. That’s no understatement—when The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa hologram tour makes its world premiere this Friday, April 19, at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, it will mark the first time the late iconoclast has appeared on a stage in some form in more than 25 years.

A collaboration between hologram production company Eyellusion and the Zappa Family Trust, the live extravaganza aims to celebrate Frank Zappa’s music, humor and showmanship, with former bandmates guitarists Ray White and Mike Keneally, bassist Scott Thunes, multi-instrumentalist Robert Martin, percussionist Ed Mann, and drummer/Zappa archivist Joe “Vaultmeister” Travers along for the surreal ride, performing live with the hologram.

Ahmet Zappa, Frank’s son, worked with Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuti with the aim of creating a holographic love letter to the unconventional tunemaster, incorporating classic images and characters from the elder Zappa’s extensive, eccentric song catalog. Still, the show’s live element is just as important. “Besides the amazing spectacle of visuals, the band is absurdly good,” Pezzuti confirmed. “They took that leap of faith [to join the production] because of their love for Frank.”

Mixing duties will be handled by FOH man Nate Lettus using a Solid State Logic L200 console, sending sound to the Capitol Theatre’s in-house d&b audiotechnik V-Series loudspeaker system. Meanwhile, at stage-side, monitor engineer Drew Consalvo will be taking care of the live band via an Avid Venue S6L console. The musicians will be captured using a variety of Shure, Sennheiser and Neumann mics, and Radial DIs to help pump out the satirical jams.

Though a portion of the show features tracks from various eras, the lion’s share of the audio is culled from an unreleased performance Zappa videotaped on an LA sound stage in 1974 with only a small crew in attendance. “We did have a little remastering on some of that stuff from the vaults,” said Pezzuti, “but pretty much kept it as is. It’s an incredible session and we’ve used that as the inspiration for about 95 percent of the show.”

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Bringing the holographic Zappa and his performance together was a challenge, he added: “It’s a combo of video file along with stereo channels for Frank’s isolated vocal and guitar, so getting four channels of Frank to sync with everything happening with the video onstage was complicated; some significant thought went into it.”

Locking in live musicians with the hologram’s performance, however, proved more natural than expected. “It starts with drummer, Joe “Vaultmeister” Travers, who’s hearing a click track,” said Zappa. “These guys did a lot of prep and they’re all really pro. Joe just lays down the groove and the band follows.” The band locks into that groove via Shure PSM 1000 in-ear monitors; live vocals onstage are also Shure wireless, in the form of Axient Digital wireless mics.

Whereas the 1974 videotapes were “the first big Lego piece to building the show in terms of audio,” according to Zappa, the holographic images of Zappa performing are completely new. “We studied that early ’70s video as the basis for building the photo-real version of Frank, but it’s all computer generated; there’s no video reference of it,” said Pezzuti. Zappa added, “That’s sort of the main look for Frank, because that’s what I gravitate towards when I think about my Dad…how I see him in my mind’s eye.”

Nine U.S. performances will be followed by seven European dates, with more to be announced in the months ahead. Understandably, Zappa and Pezzuti are hoping for a big response from Frank’s fans. “It’s hard to contextualize the feeling and how magical the band is when they’re playing,” said Pezzuti. “You’re definitely going to see the time and effort put in—it’s musically and visually stunning.”

Ahmet agrees: “It’s a larger-than-life show. I tried to capture my Dad’s sensibilities, his humor, his politics, and apply things he liked and that made him laugh. It’s going to be one extremely bizarre, live music experience!”

Frank Zappa •

The Capitol Theatre •

Eyellusion •