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1980 10 17 - Convention Center, Dallas, TX  
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Zappa Penguin
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Post 2007-04-07 16:29   [Quote] 
1980 10 17 Dallas TX 62.15 SBD (erroneous) ZTLS #234 part 1

So, anyone who subscribes to the reviews & comments forum will have no doubt noticed that, way back in March, the Zappa "1980" Penguin reviews were flowing at a fast and furious pace, much like George Bush jokes and 1978 Culver City rehearsal torrents.

Then, suddenly and without warning, they hit a brick wall.

So - what happened to the review project?

This show.

It's not really a "bad" show by any means. Heck, it's one of the three substantial soundboards of the Fall 1980 tour that are currently in circulation, not counting the "upcoming" (or "ancient", depending on when one reads this) Buffalo show. You'd expect a Fall 1980 fanatic like myself would be all over it.

And yet.



To take Jerfo's words on the subject: "Somebody ran it through a limiter with all of the knobs cranked to 11. All of the peaks are completely clipped, making it look like one big square wave".

The result, to put it bluntly, sounds really fucking aggravating. The left channel has a problem with reoccuring distortion and drop-outs. The vocals sound shrill. The guitar alternates between sounding crisp and clear, and boxy and ugly in all the wrong ways. And the drums - the drums sound positively fucked - sharp, and tinny, and shrill, and metallic, and a whole smorgasboard of synonyms.

On the bright side, the bass and keyboards tend to sound nice. And after the tape flip, the sound gets much better.

It's somehow less frustrating to listen to a tape that sounds like outright shit in every way than it is to listen to a tape that tells your ears it should be clear, yet isn't. In terms of agony, comparing this tape with other bad sounding tapes is like comparing Chinese Water Torture with a shotgun blast to the face. At least the shotgun leaves no doubt as to its intentions.

All this, and it has a Q&C seal - as if to directly mock my pained brain! Crying or Very sad

So, for the past year or so, my life as a Zappateers reviewer has been a process of realizing that I haven't written a review in a while, queuing this show up in WinAMP, getting a headache, finding myself lost for words, and quickly finding something else to do. Or at least at first this was the process. I would be a bald-headed liar were I to say this is how I spent the entire past year as a Zappateers reviewer. A lie which you, the reader, would surely no doubt see straight through. In fact, by the end of the Spring, I had already made a significant, lasting alteration to this basic, embryonic process: after realizing that I hadn't written a review in a while, I would then proceed to queue this show up in foobar, then get a headache and find something else to do. I lingered on this version for quite some time. Months, in fact. Sometimes I even omitted the step of listening to the show, or realizing that I hadn't written a review in a while. Once or twice I even recall getting a headache and finding something else to do without even doing anything in the first place, bringing The Process to a whole new level of efficiency.

The penultimate, and overall most Holistic, incarnation of The Process came when I realized that I hadn't written a review in a while, and really wanted to write a review of the 10/18 Tulsa show. I, of course, realized that before I could review that or any other show, it'd only be proper to review this one first - protocol nearly demanded I do so, in fact! Then I queued this show up in foobar and got a headache.

I ended up just reviewing Tulsa anyway, when I finally got around to torrenting it (a process actually delayed by, among other things, my wanting to complete this very review before I reviewed that show - such is the extent of my compulsive organizational madness).

Finally, about a month ago, and armed with Advil and the comforting delusions of sleep-deprivation, I wrote the above text as a draft. After a two hour break to basically purge myself of the demons of this show, I picked up and put a fair amount of polish on the above. And that's when the sleep deprivation kicked in, or maybe it was a computer hang, or a power outage, or possibly even just sheer psychotic rage - but somehow, my more polished revision disappeared, leaving nothing but the smokey and comparitively shitty trails of this draft in its wake. At this point, I became wholly and thoroughly disinterested with this bitch of a show and the headache of even trying to describe it fairly.

But, you know what they say. Turnabout is fair play, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and better a penny saved in sheep's clothing than a sow purse in a pig's ear by sea - and hence, I finally plunged head first, once again, into the quite possibly unsurmountable task of reviewing this show.

Bob Stone-- er, "Chunga"'s Revenge is our opener. The first 1.5 seconds aren't really that bad, but after this high point the flaws crop up, with some buzzing in the left channel. Then, realizing that this by itself is not quite enough to spoil my already-strained listening experience, the guitar decides it would be best to abandon the aforementioned left channel, turning the first five seconds of the solo into a rather unbalanced affair. The rest of the solo alternates between two-channel and one-channel guitar. Oh, and I figure the notes are okay in places, but for me, the Fall 1980 guitar sound tends to sound better on audience recordings, where the venue acoustics add an extra dynamic layer to the already out-of-control blizzard of little imaginary guitar notes. The way it comes through on the available soundboards, on the other hand, has a tendacy to sound a little bit too sterile. Maybe Zappa felt the same way, as very few solos from this tour ever saw any form of official release. Certainly not half as boring as I'm making it out to be - certainly! - but, likewise, not a solo so fabulous as to cause one to forgive the flaws of the tape it's presented on. (like, oh, I don't know - Black Page #2 from Rennes 1982?)

Zappa asks us, the audience, how we're doing tonight, and then asks the band if they're tuned up - pity he didn't ask the recording the same thing - and then we're into the next number...

Drafted Again? Another of those little surprises that tapes from early in the tour offer - here we have the favorite set-closer or encore number played as a post-solo opener. Will wonders never cease!? Aside from the odd positioning, there isn't much I can say about this song that I don't plan on saving for some other review for some other show on some other tape where I won't be able to rely on bitchy rants about tape quality for filler. Great segue into "Audio" Debris. The tinny, treble-licious tape does at least make this timeless classic a little bit different - never before have the keyboards been quite so "on top" - at least, never before that this reviewer recalls. Of course, who knows, maybe there's a 79 soundboard with even heavier keyboards. And of course, from here we go into GOD NO GET IT OFF GET IT OFF MY HEAD MY HEAD OH MY EARS OH MEIN POOR EARS. Keep it Greasy. Absolutely unlistenable, in a subtle, conniving, "makes you think it should be listenable, so you, the reviewer, go back to listen to it for the god knows how manyeth time and no, it really isn't listenable, not even with liberal amounts of EQ" sorta way.

Tinseltown Rebellion is definitely more listenable than Keep it Greasy, but still hardly "pleasant" to these ears. It's still the early, "rock n' roll Tinseltown" incarnation, which is interesting to hear - when the tape isn't cursed. Outside Now features a fairly fair guitar solo - I remember having something quite profound to say about it in the Legendary Lost Draft, but at this point I'll be blunt and state that, for once, I am just rushing through my words in the hopes of finding the final Full Stop at the end of the tunnel. Guitar nice, but doesn't really "go" anywhere. Ears cringing. Brain... frying... ...can't take... much... more... arrrrrggghh--

Thankfully, there's Pick Me I'm Clean, which always seem to be an event. In this case, however, the event isn't the song itself - it exists, the guitar solo is fun, but lacking in a central "spark" and very, very brief - but in the innocent jostling of a wire, somewhere off there in the tape-trader cosmos. Yes, at precisely 3:27, an event happens that is so exciting that I shall boldface it for prosterity: the sound gets better. Whatever the exact reason, the result is a much more gratifying listen, wholly deserving of an A-level grade. After this, the band sings the outro, and the tape promptly flips.

We're dumped straight at the end of the "tiny is as tiny do" City of Tiny Lights solo-intro. And while I find myself quite tempted to mention, as always, that the extra measure of "silence" before the guitar solo begins subtracts from the energy of the song, I find the urge quelled by the improved sound quality (still perhaps a little dry, but thank god there's low end). The solo is great - very hyperactive, if a little ill-focused. Easy Meat features another solo that's ill-focused, but less hyperactive. The solo nearly disintegrates into a boogie-metal jam towards the end, but by the time the rhythm section figures out a riff of their own, Frank has left them completely in the dust, only to find the entire band magically coming together for an incredibly powerful metal crescendo. Definitely not as jaw-dropping amazing as the "Hog Heaven" shenanigans that would occur tomorrow night - but hey. This is also the first time I recall hearing Bob Harris #2's little trumpet bit right before the final verse - very sweet.

Torture features another one of those statistically dense Fall 1980 guitar solos, giving way to a rare bass solo - very jazzy, something I'd expect to hear in the background of a stock "Beatnik Club" in a 1950s period movie. Eventually (no doubt prompted by a FZ hand cue), the rhythm section makes a nearly seamless transition into - I don't even know how to describe it. The Ventures playing Southern Surf Metal? It's at this time, for the first point in the recording, where I find myself excited and attentive and completely dismissing of the frustrating rigors of the first thirty minutes - but it's a very brief moment of excited, attentive bliss. Tommy soon takes over, with a very "Tommy" solo (though sans scat), which suddenly ends with what sounds to be one of those "conducted" full-band whole notes (see: King Kong from 10/30/77). When listening to this, I always assume it's about to give way to a bit of audience participation - "band plays note, crowd cheers on command, band plays note, repeat, lather, rinse" - but at this point we either get a very long audience applause section, or a relatively short set-ending Torture, or (most likely, considering how muted the audience has been up until this point of the tape) a "thoughtful" "patch" from another tape, because after about thirty seconds of crowd, the recording fades out.

So, this is a tale of two tape sides sides. Side B - basically, everything after the tape flip in Pick Me I'm Clean - features some typically exciting and always interesting 1980 guitar and Torture madness, in quite pleasant sound. Side A, on the other hand, is mostly unlistenable. Does the second half manage to outshadow the flaws in the first half? As the focus in my above review may hint - no, it doesn't, not for me at least. But, to be fair, part of my strong aversion may be the result of my listening enviornment - specifically, headphones. I suspect that with the added ambiance of a good set of speakers, Side A could sound better - or at least not grate on my nerves like it does.

I'm a Fall 1980 fanatic, and (with maybe one exception that I'll save for later) cannot see myself recommending against downloading a Fall 1980 show. And it helps that the "good" side contains not one, not two, but three guitar workouts.

I would heartily advocate the digging into tapeboxes across the planet in the possible hopes of figuring out if there might possibly, hopefully, be an answer to the mystery of the first side - is the problem on the original master, or was the problem introduced in dubbing?


Last edited by Zappa Penguin on 2010-09-01 03:54; edited 1 time in total
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Empire Hancock
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Post 2009-07-10 02:49   [Quote] 
The sound of this show is a little harsh on headphones. I don't know if I quite agree all the way with ZP's description and reaction to it, but maybe my copy of the show is from a gen or two down the line, with the sound having been softened a bit. I dunno. I ended up listening to this show on cd in the car and at work a whole bunch of times. The sound quality was clear enough for it to be listenable in a work environment. Mind you, I assemble auto parts in a factory. The fact that the recording is fucking LOUD doesn't hurt it's listenability there.

It's really because of one thing that I have such a soft spot for this show: the guitar solo in "City of Tiny Lights". This particular Santana Variation kinda blows my mind. Before I heard this show, I had never heard Frank quote "She's Not There" in a guitar solo before. And in this instance, he doesn't merely quote it, and he certainly doesn't sneak it in there. It just bursts forth and the whole band jumps on it with teeth bared. I laaaaughed the first time I heard it, and it still makes me smile, sometimes perhaps with a slightly insane glint in my eye. I trimmed the guitar solo out of the song a long time ago and made an mp3 out of it. There's no telling how many times I've listened to that and it totally gets my rocks off in the trunk of a Gremlin every fucking time. Totally official-release-worthy, As Far As This Reporter is Concerned (personally, I named and refer to the solo as "Carlos Goes to Dallas" or the more elabore "Carlos Goes to Dallas to Find She's Not There". Aren't I clever.)

I also love how stupidly fast "Keep It Greasy" is, though the pronounced high end and overall loudness of this recording makes Vinnie's ride cymbal work into this really fucking loud ping ping ping ping ping ping ping ping that wears on your ears after a little while. I forgot about just how fast this band played "Greasy", esp. when I hadn't listened to this show in a long time. Then the first time I listened to Buffalo, when the band tears into that wicked fast "Greasy", I literally and honestly said "wooooah!" out loud. It messed my shit all up.

I downloaded this show a couple weeks ago and I'm looking forward to revisiting it. I'm kind of hoping "Torture" runs a little longer on the seeded version. Some of the stuff ZP describes here doesn't ring a bell to me at all. My copy of the show cuts off cold early in a Tommy synth solo. I might just be forgetting the things described above, or maybe there's more to the recording I haven't heard before. Guess I'll find out (in about four years, since I'm listening to almost all the shows I've downloaded in chronological order.)
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