San Jose-based singer and keyboardist, Nick Chargin expended a great deal of effort, over a span of the last two years, to reinvigorate the music of Frank Zappa, as delivered by Frank’s hand-picked frontman of the 1970s: San Jose’s one and only, Napoleon Murphy Brock (aka “Napi.”) This effort resulted in the recent debut performance of The Stinkfoot Orchestra at San Jose’s Art Boutiki Gallery on Friday, September 11.
This comfortable but intimate room played host to a pre-show VIP meet and greet, followed by a high energy, professionally executed review of the best of the Napi-era Zappa repertoire, along with a few choice vocal and instrumental gems from other eras, delivered by The Stinkfoot Orchestra.
Chargin (formerly of the Blissninnies, among other bands) gathered a cohort of extremely talented and musically adept to support the effort of presenting this much-loved but often challenging material. As bandleader, Chargin offered Napoleon the opportunity to jump backward in time and be the face of the music.
The Stinkfoot Orchestra featured a blazing six-piece horn section with John Hassan (baritone saxophone), Jo Major (tenor and soprano saxophone), Paul Degen (saxophone/flute) Mike McWilliams (trumpet/flugelhorn), Kevin Kono (trumpet) and Mark “DBone” DeSimone (trombone). The orchestra’s rhythm section consisted of masterful percussion and vibraphonist Dillon Vado, ace-drummer Michael Palladino and rocking bassist Josh Baker, along with the exceptionally talented guitarist Tomek Sikora who delivered fantastic tones, fleet-fingered accuracy and a remarkable touch in rendering this fully composed music. Improvisations occurred but they were rare, which really emphasized the challenge put before Tomek.
Backing Napoleon at every turn, the orchestra featured Chargin’s effervescent personality, vocals and driving keyboards, along with a trio of expressive backup vocalists – Mike Boston, Lainey Leone and Suzi Baker. Napoleon Murphy Brock delivered most of the night’s vocal drama and contributed tenor sax and flute in complicated compositions like, “Echidna’s (Arf of You), from the Live at the Roxy era.
In a July interview I undertook with Napi, he stated, “I appreciate the fact that they prepared themselves properly. They learned the music properly, they play the right notes and they are articulate about it. I didn’t have to come in and teach anything. If they weren’t doing it correctly, I wouldn’t show up. I mean, the standard is high.”
Chargin teed up the evening’s entertainment by introducing the entire 14-piece band with the strains of “Zoot Allures,” as the foundational theme. A suite of songs from the 1974’s Roxy and Elsewhere album followed, which included “Son of Orange County,” “More Trouble Every Day,” and the epic, ”Penguin in Bondage,” all delivered with skill, humor and tongue-in-cheek excellence. “City of Tiny Lights,” from Frank’s 1979 opus, Sheik Yerbouti followed.
Sliding backward in time to 1972, “Blessed Relief,” an instrumental track from the Grand Wazoo, led back toward the present with another track from 1979, “Outside Now,” from Joe’s Garage Acts II & III. “Dirty Love,” from Overnight Sensation (circa 1973) had all the grind and nastiness of the album track with Napoleon expertly covering the vocal originally laid down by trumpeter Sal Marquez. With all the time-shifting, it was not surprising that “Dirty Love,” flowed seamlessly into “Magic Fingers,” from 1971’s 200 Motels LP.
“Florentine Pogen,” from the 1975 LP One Size Fits All, led to, “Uncle Remus,” from the 1974 LP Apostrophe. Toward the tail end of the set, Napoleon headed for the green room. The Stinkfoot Orchestra showed off their incredibly tight instrumental chops (laced with playful humor) by applying their skills to the familiar “Joe’s Garage,” from the eponymously named LP, released back in 1979. SFO did a terrific job in emulating all the novelty factors of the voice-over elements in “Joe’s Garage” to great effect, led by the close vocal emulation of Zappa by Boston and “nagging neighbor,” hilarity by Baker.
After a brief intermission, the second frame of the night kicked off with, “Camarillo Brillo,” from Overnight Sensation with a seamless transition toward a pair of tunes that Napoleon considers the heart of his contribution to the Zappa repertoire, “Village of the Sun,” and “Echidna’s Arf of You,” from 1974’s Live at the Roxy double LP (and movie). From there, things got cynical and dark with Napi’s expertly delivered take on “I’m The Slime,” from Overnight Sensation. “Advance Romance,” from 1975’s Bongo Fury followed by “Sofa #1” from One Size Fits All concluded this suite of tunes from the 1970s.
“Heavenly Bank Account,” from 1981’s You Are What You Is followed by a swing back to the ’70s with “Zomby Woof,” and “Montana,” from Overnight Sensation and then “Inca Roads,” from One Size Fits All concluded the pre-encore portion of the show.
The four-song encore was rich with classics starting with FZ’s contribution to The Real Book, “Peaches en Regalia,” from 1969’s Hot Rats, let guitarist Sikora blaze adeptly on guitar backed by the full-power of the SFO six-piece horn section.
“Muffin Man” from Bongo Fury was charmingly delivered by Napoleon with its existential musings on the nomenclature of baked goods and sexual confusion. The classic “Cosmik Debris” was one last comic offering for the night, with even more drama saved for the evening’s ultimate gem, “Andy,” from One Size Fits All, which put an emphatic exclamation point on this debut demonstration of devotion to the life and music of Frank Zappa.
The Stinkfoot Orchestra with Napoleon Murphy Brock admirably delivered all the musical virtuosity, compositional non-conformity, and satire of American culture that Frank Zappa distilled within his extensive oeuvre. Word has it that Napi is “all in,” for further live performances and Nick Chargin and The Stinkfoot Orchestra are currently making plans for fall shows and expanding their already broad repertoire in order to entertain stalwart Zappa-nuts and brand new fans.
The impression left upon driving home from this experience was one of deep appreciation mixed with laughter and amazement. The Stinkfoot Orchestra is more than worthy of your time and money.
Set One: Zoot Allures (Band Intros) > Son of of Orange County > More Trouble Every Day, Penguin in Bondage > City of Tiny Lights, Blessed Relief > Outside Now, Dirty Love > Magic Fingers, Florentine Pogen > Uncle Remus, Joe’s Garage
Set Two: Camarillo Brillo > Village of the Sun, Echidna’s Arf of You > I’m the Slime > Advance Romance> Sofa #1 > Heavenly Bank Account > Zomby Woof, Montana > Inca Roads
Encore: Peaches en Regalia, Muffin Man > Cosmik Debris > Andy