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200 Motels Live at Disney Concert Hall October 23, 2013 (Review by Tom Brown)  
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robsam
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Post 2013-11-11 07:56   [Quote] 
I received an email the other day from my long time friend and fellow Zappa fanatic, Tom Brown. He asked me to post his review of the '200 Motels Live' concert he attended at Disney Concert Hall on October 23, 2013. I found a website with some pictures and other information about the concert here:

http://mixedmeters.com/2013/10/frank-zappas-200-motels-suites.html

I'm sure that folks on here will enjoy reading this so without further ado, take away Tom Brown!

Several weeks ago an old friend of mine who felt sorry for me or something, bought me a ticket to see 200 Motels performed at Disney Hall. Hot fucking damn. So I've been writing a review of the show since and finally finished. Have had many other things to attend to as you know. Anyway, hope you like it.
Woof!
TB


I haven’t been on Facebook much in the last few months because of personal issues (like not having anywhere to live or a job), but I have been checking the news feed for the Real Zappacratic Party and have been amazed that I’m evidently the only Zappa fan in L.A. who attended the premier of 200 Motels at the Disney Concert Hall on October 23. Is that possible?
Anyway, I promised someone I would write a review and here it finally is.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING NEWTS. 200 MOTELS AT THE DISNEY CONCERT HALL
OCTOBER 23, 2013

I’m going to preface this by telling you what a steadfast fan I’ve been of 200 motels since I first ran across the 200 Motels album in 1971 (several months before the film was released), and played the bejesus out of it. I loved it immediately and found it to be a groundbreaking experience rife with the usual and wonderful music I had grown to expect from my favorite composer. There were no other Pop groups (I use the term loosely) that I knew about that were capable of writing and performing rock n’ roll combined with orchestral music, along with the smutty and low-brow humor that we all know and love. But then they didn’t have anyone named Frank Zappa writing for them either. A month or so later it was announced that 200 Motels the movie was going to have it’s world premier at the Doheny Plaza Theatre (Beverly Hills no less), and my beautiful live-in girlfriend being a hardcore fan of Frank’s music herself managed to get us tickets. Upon our arrival we parked just across the street from the theatre to see Frank standing casually in front of the venue talking to several fans. We were both consumed with excitement of seeing our musical hero in person and proceeded to vacate the car as fast as we could so we might introduce ourselves to the maestro. Unfortunately by the time we crossed the street he was gone, but every freak in Los Angeles was there and decked out in their finest and freakiest costumes. Among them were 2 women with outrageous orange make-up denoting a pig’s face, which qualified as the most impressive costume of the evening. However there were many others who were waving their freak flag high as well. At least for this one night the Doheny Plaza Theatre had been turned into the proverbial Freak City. It was the finest display of pure, unmitigated freakiness I’ve seen before or since. If one was living in or around Los Angeles in the early 70’s you’ll know what I’m talking about. Upon entering the theatre we immediately spotted Don Preston walking across the lobby by himself and heading toward the exit. But time she was a-wastin’ and we quickly located our seats to insure that we weren’t going to miss anything. The strong smell of cannabis wafted throughout the theatre like a summer breeze. We had just taken our seats when the first joint of the evening was being passed down the aisle and into our grasps, which continued and didn’t stop until the movie came to its end. There were no ushers prowling the aisles telling people to extinguish them. Hard to imagine now, although when we returned the following evening to see it again it was a different day in more ways than one. Gone were the freaks and no one was smoking anything, legal or otherwise. Freak City had moved on. As we all know by now we each take something different away from a film and unfortunately a great many people including a number of Zappa fans will profess to this day that the movie is unwatchable. It is if one has no interest in FZ and is offended by the self-indulgent atmosphere and endless inside jokes that the film conveys up to the last frame. I have to take the position that I find the music brilliant for its time and beyond. In addition I found all of the characterizations to be spot on considering that the only professional actor in the film was Theodore Bikel (not sure if we can count Ringo or Moon as a professional actor). What can I tell ya? It works for me, no thanks to Tony Palmer. It was one of many memorable evenings I’ve had with my favorite contemporary composer. And now lets check out the 2013 version at the Disney Concert Hall…

NIGHT OF THE LIVING NEWTS. 200 MOTELS AT THE DISNEY CONCERT HALL
OCTOBER 23, 2013

200 Motels Lives! (Sort of) (For the most part)

I remain astounded that the score to 200 Motels was performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Wednesday night, but there we were. Along with the usual coterie of hardcore Zappa fans (hate to tell you this, but unlike the movie premier I did not see one freaky person), mixed in with the middle-aged, conservative Disney Hall subscribers, most of which had never heard anything by FZ. In fact in my absolutely perfect seat, dead center on the second level I was sitting next to one. A nicely dressed, matronly looking woman, early 50s, who told me that she heard that we could expect to hear something she referred to as “Raunchy”. After puffing out my chest so she might take note of the Dog Breath Saloon T-shirt I’d decided to don for the occasion my reply was quick and to the point, “That’s funny”, I told her, “I’ve been listening to “200 Motels” for over 40 years and it has always seemed relatively normal to me” (Frank would have been proud I’d like to think). A grimace formed on her face. She recovered quickly though and then inquired, “What’s his real name?” Every neuron in my brain was spastically twitching and urging me to blurt out “Rondo Hatton”, but I got a grip on myself and told her the truth. Why be cruel? She had no idea who Zappa was. But she had obviously seen the signs posted throughout the venue that read…This performance contains mature content and language, as well as strobe light lighting effects (which came from the chorale during the “Interview” segment.) She had no idea that there was a movie, and/or album and after hearing that we were in store for something “Raunchy” I informed her of such an item and advised her to avoid if at all possible. I don’t think she was really ready for what was to follow, and when the concert concluded she was out of her seat showing me her posterior as she rapidly scurried away. Didn’t even say goodbye. But I’m reasonably sure that she was not impressed with the musical content in the slightest. You either get it, or you don’t. Adding to the strangeness of it all was a man sitting to my right in his late 30s who admitted to being a Zappa fan, and then revealed he had never heard or seen 200 Motels. Fortunately the concert was just about to begin so I never got an explanation how he could have possibly missed it being a fan as he claimed. Makes me wonder. Mercy.

This magnificent event was in conjunction with the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s 10th Anniversary (10 years to the day!), while the great Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (115 pieces not counting the chorale, and 5 piece rock group), in addition to the masterful Los Angeles Master Chorale (32 voices strong and they appeared to be having more fun than anyone in the building. One of the highpoints of the night in my opinion, especially during the unparalleled, all-time grand finale, “Strictly Genteel”. Hot damn. Curled my fuckin’ toes). Although none of the rock n’ roll music included in the score, which plays an integral part in the extravaganza, was performed, they had Ian Underwood, Scott Thunes, Joe Travers, Randy Kerber and Jamie Kime providing the rock ensemble ambience, which was used sparsely at best. This was serious shit. The orchestra was wearing tuxedos. Get it? In spite of the stern dress code of the orchestra they all conveyed the idea that we were all here to have an unusually fun evening, which began the minute the Chorale took the stage. As they filed on stage claiming a riser above and in back of the orchestra it looked like the keystone cops had arrived. They seemed to be jostling one another and striking strange poses. Mucho animation. Some of the women would stand and hold their arms outstretched before blowing kisses and waving to the audience. Soon they all began waving and kissing, which prompted the audience to wave and kiss back, while the orchestra commenced to do the “wave”. Funny stuff. In addition there were players in the orchestra whose tuxedos were in disarray. One was wearing his bowtie on his head, which provided an milieu that combined with everything else we had seen thus far that this probably wasn’t going to be the usual staid and serious concert. There is no doubt in my mind that Frank would have approved of the pre-show levity on display.

I know Gail was adamant that the orchestra be surrounded (as it is in the film) by a concentration camp enclosure, but it was not that obvious as far as what the minimal set conveyed unless you were very familiar with the film. There was a large, bright red neon chair to the left of the stage where Larry the Dwarf sat, who was clothed in the same purple sweater and pants exhibited in the movie, as was the actor playing Frank. The distinguishing factor between them was the harness that Larry wore throughout the performance although no wires were attached. Michael Des Barres represented the character Rance, and of course appeared right after the glorious “Semi-Fraudulent/Direct-From Hollywood Overture” was rendered, to recite the opening lines from the film and he almost got it right, but misspoke a line, as did other characters though-out the performance. No biggie, but Jesus. However Esa-Pekka’s meticulously and magisterial conducting was on fire and the orchestra reciprocated by giving us a thoroughly spirited performance. Now the down side of all of this…the actors/vocalists were indeed competent, but not for something like 200 Motels. They were on key, but the “eyebrows” as FZ always referred to were missing in action. Ironically enough they sounded like they were performing in a Broadway extravaganza, which is not my cup of tea. Not for this project. It was far too slick and not enough commitment to the actual material in my humble opinion. Although they did do justice to “This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich”. Not bad. I have no idea if Mark or Howard were even contacted and asked to participate (which would have been a major victory for the production), but if they were I imagine that money would have been a factor. As always. And what the fuck was the guy playing Lonesome Cowboy Burt doing on stage? He came out of a side door at one point (unannounced) and commenced to intimidate Mark, Howard and Jeff by hovering over them and actually slapping them several times. He then wandered though the orchestra with his intimidation face on reciting some lines from the film “Are you a boy or a girl”, and so on. The strange thing being is there was an abundance of dialog he was spewing that was not in the original score, and it wasn’t the slightest bit amusing. I read that Gail wanted to do a tribute of sorts to Jimmy Carl Black by having his big “cowboy” number performed, and perhaps this was a compromise, but I can guarantee that anyone not knowledgeable of the film or soundtrack had to be totally confused why this guy was out there doing his terrorization tactics routine that I found to be totally devoid of humor. It went on far too long and I was glad to see him go when the segment ended. And who was responsible for putting that extraneous dialogue in his mouth?

Blurry images were projected on the wall in back of the stage that were for the most part unrecognizable, although I was able to discern the smiling duck face from the ending of “Dental Hygiene Dilemma”. Pretty much a waste of time and effort, although having the lyrics to some of the pieces projected intermittingly was a nice touch.

The very attractive and alluring Hila Plitmann was the soprano soloist, and she was never better when she was stripped of her outer clothing to reveal a bight yellow teddy, which may have been a first for the Disney Concert Hall. Makes me hot and horny indeed, including every male in the audience. Yet again there was a vast amount of mysterious, extraneous dialogue coming from her that made me wonder where the hell it came from. If any of it came from Frank, I had never heard it. And how could the guy playing Zappa wind up in the nun-suit painted on old boxes? Am I the only who was bothered by this? Once again there was additional spoken parts coming from the lovely Hila along with the basso profundo who added his vocal to the mix. I was so thankful that Esa and the orchestra was doing such an incredible job, which saved the evening in my estimation, because once we got to “I’m Stealing The Room” the eyebrows had disappeared again as far as the vocals are concerned. It was the same with Penis Dimension during Mark and Howard’s dialogue, “Manual the gardener” and so on, and I felt slighted that the performers obviously didn’t take the time to listen to their cadence and vocal inflections to actually grasp the schoolyard humor aspect of it all. However having the entire chorale waving glowing wavering dildos (standing in for the torches used in the film), along with Diva (Janet) and Sheila Vand (Lucy) made up for it. Another first for The Disney Concert Hall I suspect. When the opening notes to “Strictly Genteel” came forth and the basso profundo guy (Morris Robinson) began to sing the long-ignored lyrics of this classic piece I felt luckier than ever to be there to see the first performance in 40-some years of this being performed with the lyrics. Although Frank closed a great many of his concerts with this up until 1988, it was always without the lyrics. To my knowledge this was never performed live with the libretto, only in the film. And it was goddamn magnificent. So much so that I actually experienced one of those rare bolts of energy coursing through my body during this close to perfection rendition, which immediately made me forget some of the mysterious and nonsensical additions to the script that I had endured up to this point. Can you say “uncanny”? It was breathtakingly superb. With the orchestra and chorale hitting all the right notes, I began to wonder how anyone could hear this and not be convinced that they were hearing one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Then again maybe I’m a bit biased as you can probably tell by my relentless rant, but I’m betting that no Zappa aficionado on the planet would take that argument on. After the song and the joyous and rousing ovation concluded I headed for the stairs to hopefully find my car and several guys in front of me were mulling over what they had just seen and heard. “If there was a story in there I couldn’t follow it” said one. His buddy replied “Hey, it’s Frank Zappa. He was always hard to follow”. Their voices faded into the crowd as I moved toward the exit to locate my transportation so I can’t be sure if they enjoyed themselves or not. I certainly did in spite of my complaints re the actors and mystery dialogue in conjunction with a few left turns into a brick wall, none of which the orchestra or the chorale was guilty of.

Once I was on the freeway heading back to my plastic motel room (Astro motel, Culver City. Room 4. Will someone drop by and bring me some pot?), all I could think about was that I must be the luckiest homeless person in L.A. to be able to attend the event, thanks to a long-time friend (who is not even a Zappa fan) who generously purchased a ticket for me (but not for himself) because he knew how important it was for me. And then the memory of the interview I conducted with my good friend Arthur Barrow several years ago came to mind. Arthur was at Frank’s house one evening working on something and Arthur told him he thought 200 Motels was fantastic! A masterpiece even, and Frank replied that he hated it because of all the mistakes that the orchestra made. (You can read it in my book, “Confessions Of A Zappa Fanatic” available at Amazon) It made me wonder what Frank would have thought of this performance and came to the conclusion that he would have been extraordinarily pleased that his score was finally being heard after so many years and played with the spirit and exactness that the orchestra and chorale had displayed. I certainly was, and yet again I was in attendance at another major one-time Zappa event taking place in L.A., without the funds to buy myself a ticket. Best thing to happen to me in months. Serendipity abounds, and I am truly thankful.
Thanks to Frank, Esa, the L.A. Philharmonic and the astounding L.A. Master Chorale.

I have one last person to thank and that would be the one who decided not to make one mention of Gail, or invite her onto the stage. You made my night! Newt me!

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Last edited by robsam on 2013-11-12 02:03; edited 2 times in total
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doublebassy
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Post 2013-11-11 11:09   [Quote] 
Very interesting to read, especially after hearing the broadcast from the Festival Hall. I would like to know what the additional lyrics in the Disney Hall performance that Tom mentions were about. At the Festival Hall the interviewer asked questions relating to the 1968 performance. In Los Angeles did she talk about the 1970 Zubin Mehta concert? If so, that would seem to indicate that these were 2013 additions to the libretto rather than bits that never got recorded for the flm.
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wildfisherman
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Post 2013-11-11 12:34   [Quote] 
Thanks, Robsam.

It's always a delight to read something Tom's written and this is no exception.
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Al Fresco
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Post 2013-11-11 16:13   [Quote] 
Many thanks Robsam for Tom Brown´s review Exclamation

For those who don´t know it, his book:

http://spbpublishing.webs.com/apps/webstore/products/show/3569180

It would be fine if an AUD recording could surface from Disney Concert Hall to compare it with the performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
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Pepe Nusbaum
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Post 2013-11-11 18:08   [Quote] 
Thanks for the review. Sounds like a real mess. I'm sure Strictly Genteel made it all worth it tho.

If anyone has pics of Hila Pittmann in her teddy please share...

_________________
If you just been lowered down here on tv by a wire connected to a brown leather harness, forced by a crazy person to insert a mysterious imported lamp into the reproductive orifice of a lady harpist, and you were a dwarf.....would you do it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVafHLqjRmc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEr7ym4-r5I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdx7M5ufDfQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ip7U-aAMTc
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yetanother
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Post 2013-11-11 18:12   [Quote] 
robsam wrote:

I found a website with some pictures and other information about the concert here:

http://mixedmeters.com/2013/10/frank-zappas-200-motels-suites.html

Which happens to be the one and only David Ocker's blog...

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Pepe Nusbaum
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Post 2013-11-11 20:41   [Quote] 
robsam wrote:
I found a website with some pictures and other information about the concert here:
http://mixedmeters.com/2013/10/frank-zappas-200-motels-suites.html


That's David Ocker's blog. He seems like a good guy and believe he cares about Frank and his music which I respect. This is a very positive review of the event. But he is clueless about 200 Motels and what it's about. I don't expect him to understand but he could of avoided certain comments that embarrass himself and piss people off that actually do. He was deeply moved and says a lot of nice things about the event and the quality of musicianship and is really happy Frank is getting such credit and respect which is cool. Me too.

_________________
If you just been lowered down here on tv by a wire connected to a brown leather harness, forced by a crazy person to insert a mysterious imported lamp into the reproductive orifice of a lady harpist, and you were a dwarf.....would you do it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVafHLqjRmc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEr7ym4-r5I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdx7M5ufDfQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ip7U-aAMTc
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yetanother
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Post 2013-11-11 21:16   [Quote] 
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
But he is clueless about 200 Motels and what it's about. I don't expect him to understand but he could of avoided certain comments that embarrass himself and piss people off that actually do.

I totally disagree. Which comments are you specifically referring to?

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Pepe Nusbaum
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Post 2013-11-11 22:32   [Quote] 
yetanother wrote:
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
But he is clueless about 200 Motels and what it's about. I don't expect him to understand but he could of avoided certain comments that embarrass himself and piss people off that actually do.

I totally disagree. Which comments are you specifically referring to?


You don't know what I'm talking about how can you totally disagree? Please revise your post to this:

"I don't understand. Which comments are you specifically referring to"?

_________________
If you just been lowered down here on tv by a wire connected to a brown leather harness, forced by a crazy person to insert a mysterious imported lamp into the reproductive orifice of a lady harpist, and you were a dwarf.....would you do it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVafHLqjRmc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEr7ym4-r5I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdx7M5ufDfQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ip7U-aAMTc
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franktomatozappa
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Post 2013-11-12 00:27   [Quote] 
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
yetanother wrote:
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
But he is clueless about 200 Motels and what it's about. I don't expect him to understand but he could of avoided certain comments that embarrass himself and piss people off that actually do.

I totally disagree. Which comments are you specifically referring to?


You don't know what I'm talking about how can you totally disagree? Please revise your post to this:

"I don't understand. Which comments are you specifically referring to"?


Thank you, gents!
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yetanother
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Post 2013-11-12 01:00   [Quote] 
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
yetanother wrote:
Pepe Nusbaum wrote:
But he is clueless about 200 Motels and what it's about. I don't expect him to understand but he could of avoided certain comments that embarrass himself and piss people off that actually do.

I totally disagree. Which comments are you specifically referring to?


You don't know what I'm talking about how can you totally disagree? Please revise your post to this:

"I don't understand. Which comments are you specifically referring to"?

I totally disagree that he's clueless about it and that there are any comments in his post that could "embarass himself" (as for pissing people off, people will get pissed off anyway if that's what they're looking for). Do you need me to draw that down for you?

Of course, by not replying to my question, you make any attempt to initiate a discussion pointless. headhammer

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Post 2013-11-12 02:02   [Quote] 
Al Fresco wrote:
Many thanks Robsam for Tom Brown´s review Exclamation

For those who don´t know it, his book:

http://spbpublishing.webs.com/apps/webstore/products/show/3569180



You're welcome AL Fresco & wilderfisherman for my part in posting this here. But all thanks muat go to the one and only Tom Brown who truly deserves all the credit. Please buy Tom's book if you haven't done so already!

Pepe Nusbaum wrote:

If anyone has pics of Hila Pittmann in her teddy please share...


Here's a picture of Hila Plitmann (not Pittmann... apparently) from the 200 Motels Live concert.


Soprano-Hila-Plitmann-as-a-rock-journalist-in-Frank-Zappas-200-Motels-for-the-LA-Philharmonic_-Craig-Mathew-Mathew-Imaging.jpg
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Soprano-Hila-Plitmann-as-a-rock-journalist-in-Frank-Zappas-200-Motels-for-the-LA-Philharmonic_-Craig-Mathew-Mathew-Imaging.jpg


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Post 2013-11-12 02:08   [Quote] 

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