Concert Review: The Furious Bongos @ The Linda, 03/25/2023

The Furious Bongos, a Frank Zappa cover band out of Southern Wisconsin (Hello Wisconsin!) played the third show in The Linda’s “Mardi Prog 2” series of concerts Saturday night.

Ah, Frank Zappa, the iconic composer/guitarist who passed away in 1993, leaving a phenomenally varied catalog of work; over 60 albums released both by his band The Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. The word “genius” gets bandied about far too often in the worlds of art and entertainment, but I think in Zappa’s case, the description is fully warranted. The variety of his work is perhaps not surprising from a man who loved doo-wop and avant-garde classical with an equal passion.

During his career, Zappa continually changed his supporting cast of musicians with one caveat – they had to be amazing. The highest compliment I can pay The Furious Bongos is I think all of them could “pass the audition”, such is their mastery over this most demanding and complex music.

Bassist and musical director Conrad St. Clair both anchors and, at times, floats above the sound with his impeccable fretless playing. Alongside him, drummer Filip Fjellstrom blasts away, well, furiously, paying no heed to the mind-boggling plethora of constantly changing time signatures, somehow always maintaining a supple groove. Saxophonist Vince Szynborski is a one-man brass section, resplendent in what looks like a heavy poncho (is that a Mexican poncho or a Sears poncho?) Mallet instrumentalist/percussionist Zachary Bowers is a blur, doubling keyboard lines and spraying good vibes (ouch) throughout. There are two keyboard players, Jonathan Sindelman and “Wildman” Scott Fischer, handling the mazy organ, synth and piano work with aplomb. Lead guitarist Chris Huntington happily realizes that brevity is the soul of a solo, each one tightly coiled and not outstaying its welcome, and not simply mimicking Zappa’s licks but adding his own spin.

The vocals are just excellent. Zappa did sing some of his compositions, usually in the role of a somewhat snarky narrator, but more often employed numerous guest vocalists from many different genres. The Bongos cover the vocal spread with just 3 people: Fischer, guitarist and vocal director Lo Marie, and percussionist Willow Dougherty. The 3 of them seamlessly switch from lead, harmony and backing vocals and back again with ease. Highlights are Fischer’s sly drawl through “Montana,” Marie’s soulful “Village of the Sun” (with an impressive scat section showing her range), and Dougherty’s gritty take on the funky “Zomby Woof.” But really, everyone nails it, vocally and instrumentally.

The two sets flew by, and an enthusiastic crowd kept the band on stage for an encore before happily drifting away.

Me, I went home and cranked the album that gave the Bongos their name.

Sadly Frank Zappa is no longer around, but you can relive the magic of his music and enjoy a top-notch band recreating it superbly by catching The Furious Bongos in concert. If you are a Zappa fan, don’t miss ‘em.

Setlist (All songs Frank Zappa unless noted)

First set:

  • Chunga’s Revenge
  • Zoot Allures 
  • Three Little Birds extract (Bob Marley)
  • Zomby Woof
  • Uncle Remus
  • Let’s Move to Cleveland
  • Find Her Finer
  • Heavenly Bank Account
  • Andy
  • Inca Roads
  • Cosmik Debris

Second set:

  • Dirty Love
  • Doreen
  • What’s New in Baltimore?
  • Peaches En Regalia
  • Montana
  • Village of the Sun
  • We are Not Alone
  • Advance Romance
  • Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top (Don Van Vliet)
  • The Black Page #2
  • Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel/ Crew Slut
  • City of Tiny Lites


  • The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
  1. Mark Hudson says

    Correction: the band reached out to inform me that they are not actually “from” Southern Wisconsin (Goodbye Wisconsin!), but are based in Washington DC and have members from such far flung locales as Philly, Baltimore, L.A., Chicago, Stockholm Sweden and Madison. So “you are where you is.” 🙂

  2. Matt says

    These guys/girls are amazing. If you’re a fan of Frank, or just a fan of great musicianship, be sure to catch them if you can!

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