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1980 10 12 Johnson Gymnasium, Albuquerque, NM  
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Zappa Penguin
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Post 2006-01-21 20:21   [Quote] 
So here we go, kicking off another of what hopefully will be many reviews encompassing every single show of the underrated and criminally underdocumented (less than half the shows represented with complete tapes? America, what GIVES?) 1980 Fall tour. Not that I hereby promise to stick to this narrow focus or anything, of course.

This tour holds a special spot in my heart for many reasons - from the hard to describe yet absolutely unique "feel" of the band (no doubt aided by Bob Harris) and the acapella nature of most solos (either acapella or "fuck that rhythm section, I've got some RIFFS to display" - you be the judge) to the setlists, which manage to give us the definitive versions of most of Zappa's 1980s favorites and offer several rarities. No other tour is this consistantly easy on my ears.

But enough subjective gallymandering - onto the show (and the, uh, subjective gerrymandering). The first documented (sigh) show from this tour is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city fabled for its near-impossibility to spell and possibly its pueblo architecture (though I'm just guessing on that). The fans seem to be out in full force, as Zappa's noticibly pleased upon taking the mic to announce, "well, we're happy to FINALLY make it to Albuquerque". This comes after a decent but relatively unremarkable Chunga's Revenge as our show opener - unremarkable only in that this reporter finds it somewhat hard to wrack his brain for superlatives, which rest assured will be flowing by the wayside. The best description I can offer is, "the vamp is played, Zappa makes a lot (/the standard amount for a 1980 solo) of feedback and ascending scales, nobody tremendously fucks anything up, and everyone goes on happy. Oh, and there's one of those cheesy synth noises randomly inserted for no reason at all". Anyway, soon after this, Zappa counts a 4 and we get Tell Me You Love Me. Slower here (or perhaps my tape could use some pitch correction) and, as I forsee saying a lot for this review, slightly anemic and under-rehearsed in its final presentation. It ends with no egregarious offenses committed, and we get a pretty standard next couple songs. Cosmik Debris is nice to hear for the high harmonies provided by Bob Harris, and Keep it Greasy exists. The first circulating version of Tinseltown Rebellion follows - at this point, it sounds woefully underinstrumentated, sounding more like a Crush All Boxes demo with a drum machine than a full-fledged performance. Thankfully (?) this would be the most played number of the tour, and by the time the first "official" version was played two months later, it had picked up a LOT of steam. But for now it's played slower and more cautiously, without most of the little flourishes that would be added along the way. The most interesting thing about this version is hearing Zappa actually sounding energized and enthusiastic, in that snide nose-picking way of his. The chorus is entirely different - "Tinseltown Rebellion, Tinseltown Rebellion band". The only quote that remains is the Sunshine of Your Love lick, here played in a much more straight-ahead rock and roll fashion and without the pompous swagger of later takes. All in all, an interesting listen, but, Jesus, was this band underrehearsed or what?

Straight out of Tinseltown Rebellion, we get a minute-long "tuneup meltdown", where Zappa improvises (and I use the word lightly) some sprechgesang to the effect of "ladies and gentlemen, it's time to tune up so we can continue making music". While most of Zappa's tours had their flakey bits at the beginning (c.f. 1982, 1984 (or is that just Napolean? Very Happy), 1988), I'd say this one tops them all. Between this and the vaguely audience-participized (possibly the least enthusiastic audience participation I've heard yet) Drowning Witch, there's almost four minutes of dead air here. Documentationally speaking, it's interesting, but in context of a live show, it provides for a bathroom break and little more. (sidenote: Audience Asinity #01 - Zappa: "...for a little ritual sacrifice". Audience member: "YEEEEEAAH!!!!!!!!")

Things pick up - relatively - with Honey Don't You Want a Man Like Me (never thought you'd see THAT written by a Zappa aficionado, didja?). Still, after so many vocal songs in a row, this show could really use a highlight of some sort. And on cue: Ladies and gentlemen, Pick Him, He's Clean. While no version, recorded or imagined, could come close to topping the November / December highlights, any version, re-recorded or conceptualized, is still welcome. The first few bars of his solo are acapella, before Vinnie finally starts doing things on the drums. Really, I think most solos from this tour with be better off without Vinnie. During his drum solos in Torture he's okay, and while I don't deny that his playing during the solo vamps is impressive, it tends to distract more than augment. But three minutes into the solo he takes another break and for a moment it's nothing more than the majesty of Zappa's guitar again. Overall, while there would be better solos, this is hardly bad - just a little non-descript.

The revved-up metal version of Dead Girls of London follows, complete with the Bon Jour soloette. An odd, abrupt edit joins this with Shall We Take Ourselves Seriously - possibly the taper flipped the tape in between these songs. Shall We Take Ourselves is pretty much the same now as it would be two years later in Europe (although Bob Harris was meant to sing the "Dawn, go away, I'm no good for you" bit). Another edit takes us from the ending of this to the beginning of City of Tiny Lites. Every time I'm about to declare a specific tour's version of this song as the best, another one rises to take its place. Let's see - the demented never-ending 1982 version? The 76/77 clavenet-enhanced version? The 1979 "Outside Now"-enhanced version? What about these - the "guitar sickness never stops" versions? Though Zappa would usually take a while to build up, thus limiting the momentum built up with "tiny is as tiny DO!", the solos were usually absolutely diseased. Tonight's version is hampered by (yet another) edit which clips off the first few seconds of the solo proper, but no matter - soon we're in feedback wahwah land. And... we stay in feedback wahwah land for several minutes, and then we are in it no longer. Much like Pick Me I'm Clean and Chunga's Revenge, there's nothing wrong or even depressingly mediocre about this solo - you can put it on to a friend who thinks Zappa is all about yellow snow and poo-poo jokes and they'll agree that the man was also a mighty talented guitarist - but it's not going to win any converts or web forum awards. Hardly bad - just a little non-descript.

And now it's yet another laggy bit - we get The Dangerous Kitchen, which at this point is almost a cold reading. I imagine this being a very frustrating concert for the New Mexican fans, eager to find out what all the latest fuss has been about and being given this instead. No G.I.s ripping baby dolls apart, no endless middle eastern trance jams, and guitar solos that manage to merely entertain without really filling a listener. Not to mention that every time the show seems about to build to a head, we get one of these sprechgesang breaks. However, finally Zappa wraps up, and with a majestic swell we find ourselves reaching the climax of the show - You Didn't Try To Call Me?

Yes indeed. Ever since reading about this arrangement on Foggy G's "touring" page I was intrigued, and I daresay it was worth the wait. Under-rehearsed, ragged, and absolutely bizarre patchwork - that's how I'd describe this. For some reason - possibly because it's such an insepidly angsty little number - Zappa loved tinkering with this one, bringing it into the very stratosphere of self-parody. First the Bianca melodrama, now... this. Almost a live "razor blade compilation", we get everything from Bob Harris's "AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE-YIE-YIE-YIE"s to Packard Goose-esque monotone chants, and all of a sudden things go back to normal for the bridge, with little Emperor of Ohio flourishes thrown in here and there. It's a shame this didn't stick around. After this insanity, we get the rev-up of Ain't Got No Heart - performed as always - and are deposited in the next highlight, this tour's monster, The Torture Never Stops.

Now, by the end of this tour, The Torture would stretch for nearly half an hour, bringing mini operas, Emperors of Ohio, mystery songs, disgustingly pyrotechnic, intense guitar solos, and even Heavy Duty Judy. But this is the beginning of the tour, and I'll get to the point - tonight's Torture is shorter than many "standard" versions from 78 and beyond. Instead of drums and keys, we just get one long guitar solo. But it's hard to complain when a solo is this good. We get those vaguely Eastern runs, we get those typical Zappa passages, we even get a little guitar / drum duel, sprinkled with a motif that these ears have heard elsewhere - possibly in other Tortures from this tour. Not the best Torture, nor a guitar solo you'd put in your top ten, but geez. Echoes of a "lite" Black Napkins from Passaic in 1978, as Zappa refuses to end the solo, instead developing motif after motif. And on coming back to the main theme, we get some of that spontanious humor - "Where's the one now", Zappa asks, and in the next beat, Ike comes back with a loud, out of place "three" - c.f. Dancing Fool on 5/24/80.

From here on out the show hits a healthy coast. By the end of the tour, Torture would lead into Broken Hearts are for Assholes, but at this point we get the Flakey Fingers duo inserted in between. I'm so Cute leads into Blue Light instead of Andy, and bizarrely enough this seems to be the end of the regular set. Thankfully, quicker than you can say "obligatory encore", Frank Zappa and co. are back on stage introducing Jimmy Carl Black, singing the "world premier of Jimmy Carl Black singing Harder Than Your Husband". It actually sounds well rehearsed and pretty similar to the album version. Bamboozled by Love features a short but sweet solo, and, after a string of by-the-numbers vocal songs, Illinois Enema Bandit closes the show with an intense solo, the best of the night. The Fall 80 Illinois solos tended to deviate quite far from the standard vamp, and this is no exception - we get completely unrelated riffs and a Ship Ahoy like passage, as well as a botched transition to the outro that actually works well - Ray White and drums, acapella, for about thirty seconds.

So, what to make of this show? Well, when a reviewer minces this many words and basically describes every song as it comes, it usually means one of two things - either the reviewer is distracted, disinterested, and beset upon by life, or the show manages to be musical without offering much in the way of standout set-pieces. And as I'm never too distracted to drool over Frank Zappa, this is evidently a case of the latter. It's not BAD, per se, and the early version of Tinseltown, as well as the rarities, give this show flashes of uniqueness - but the lack of guitar solos (six over a two hour show, with no other solos to speak of) and slightly distant sound make this a show for Fall 80 fanatics and completists only - although it must be said that everybody should seek out a version of You Didn't Try to Call Me from this tour, and this is the better sounding of the two recordings circulating. So get that and maybe Illinois as filler, and set your sights elsewhere.

The tour gets better.

Last edited by Zappa Penguin on 2010-01-02 21:31; edited 3 times in total
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Post 2006-02-23 17:19   [Quote] 
music for the eyes - thank you Zappa Penguin!
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Post 2006-03-06 20:19   [Quote] 
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