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1980 10 21 Houston, TX  
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Post 2010-09-01 04:06   [Quote] 
1980 10 21 Houston TX 94.02 Aud 3rd (rsterrapin-Drew51-flambay)

The next (recorded) show after the absolutely jaw-dropping late show in Tulsa is, as can be expected, a comedown. But what can't be expected is just how much of a comedown this is.

Chunga's Revenge leads us off, and after a couple minutes of solid, but hardly spectacular Fall 1980-style guitar mangling, Frank goes straight to the introductions. The tape quality here is hardly great, but certainly listenable - just more than a bit muffled and echoey. After the very by-the-numbers band introductions, Frank comments on the rather sparse turnout, and though he promises the small audience that "the ones who are gonna lose out are the ones who stayed home", this may be a clue why the show never really reaches any epic high points to speak of.

You Are Mudd Account is the same damn trio that we've heard before and will hear again, and again, and again through the early 1980s, the less said about tonight's renditions, the better. Keep It Greasy and Tinseltown are about what one would expect (the latter still being played in the "rock n' roll" style heard on Buffalo), and the Dangerous Kitchen... is probably more enjoyable to those in the audience than it is those listening at home.

Honey Don't You is at least a little bit interesting, as Frank accidentally skips the entire "he took her home . . ." portion (the "best part of the song", in the Maestro's own words). The gaffe is quickly corrected, and the band launches into the first guitar solo number of this particular setlist, Pick Me I'm Clean. Maybe Frank had somewhere to be, because the solo here is over and done with in the figurative blink of an eye. It's short enough (by Frank standards) that I had to go back and re-listen just to make sure there wasn't a tape cut or I hadn't completely zoned out - nope, none of that, it's just a comparatively brief, comparatively run-of-the-mill, very, very forgettable solo.

Dead Girls and Shall We are always nice to hear, though tonight's versions are - all together now - nothing special. Dead Girls contains a subtle gaffe - it sounds like Tommy's to blame, resting his fingers on the chord for the Shall We segue a couple bars too early, lending further credence to the "the band had a really important late-dinner date somewhere" theory currently sweeping the world by storm. Ah, well.

City of Tiny Lights features a tapecut that obliterates most of the vocal section, and dumps us nicely at the beginning of the solo. It's always great hearing Frank use the "hog tone", though aside from that this solo doesn't really have much to offer, at least not by Frank's lofty standards - it's a walk around the block for Frank, he just happens to live in a pretty interesting neighborhood.

The Easy Meat solo is a step up - some interesting riffs here and there from Mr. Zappa, the overall impression is that Frank wants to do something quiet and explorative a la Yo Mama, yet his fingers just can't stop playing jaunty little riffs. It's a compromise, but this is compromise of the delicious peanut butter and chocolate variety.

The best part of a Fall 1980 Ain't Got No Heart is knowing Torture will come next - no change here. And what may well be the best part of a Fall 1980 Torture is that moment, usually after the drum solo, where everything gets very, vewwwwwyyyy quiet, only for Frank to launch into a second solo, starting from scratch to create a solo which occasionally would go on for as long as the rest of the improvisations combined, a solo which would occasionally spur further full-band shenanigans, a solo which would often be the highlight of the night, a solo section that, night in and night out, would frequently result in the best music of the tour. It's the closest one can get to a Fall 77 Wild Love without actually listening to a Fall 77 tape!

So how does tonight's Torture fare? Frank starts things off on the right foot, with some droning, feedback-drenched noiseplay, creating a motif he'll return to several times in his brief introductory exploration. Then over to Tommy, who teases some Mystery Opera before launching off into some very, very Peter Wolfian fusion noodling. Then it's "Vinnie Plays Drums For A Bit", which would occasionally be great, but tonight is basically a brief lead-in to the aforementioned Second Frank Solo. Our collective hearts are in our collective throats as the drums make a very smooth segue into Frank's First Note, and then...

...a few riffs, a flurry of notes or two, and barely two minutes later we find ourselves in the Torture outro. Imagine, if you will, the sound of an albatross having a sudden heart attack at twenty meters up and landing on grassy ground. No tapecut, no damaged .FLAC file, just a very short second solo (albiet with some very nice bass accompaniment by young Arthur Barrow). Talk about disappointments. Just like the City solo, Frank's tone is great, but the solo itself is more along the lines of "Frank tosses all his usual guitar tricks up in the air in a bid for inspiration, and when none really end up kicking things into the next level, he tosses out a few 'Metal God' riffs and exits to the outro at the first possible opportunity". The bass is nice, from what little we can hear of it in this muffled and boomy recording, and Frank's tone _is_ great, with some very nice two or three second isolated bits, but if the highlights of a "Frank's Second Solo In Torture" are "a few spot-on bass fills and Frank makes some good noises", then it's a very disappointing Frank's Second Solo In Torture.

There's no way the rest of the show can recover from this, and perhaps fortunately, the tape doesn't even bother to try, running out just after the first few notes of Andy. What's left are some no-frills, no-slop, by-the-numbers renditions of the Flakes > Magic > Broken > Cute suite and the terrible, awkward full-body flush of the completely blue-balled listener. During "Flakes", Ike says something that sounds like either "thread" or "shred" instead of "head" during the "that'll get you so crazy, til your ____ goes through the ceiling" line (the latter option being rather poignantly ironic, considering that Frank's own "shred" most certainly did not "go through the ceiling" a few short minutes ago), and Frank actually makes an attempt at the psychedelic / sexual rant Howard Kaylan delivered at the conclusion of the original, 200 Motels-album version of Magic Fingers (to my knowledge, the only time this portion was attempted in a live setting) - but it's a, like virtually everything else tonight, very brief attempt indeed, not even making it to the plastic hotel room bit before bailing out to the "standard" live outro.

Would this show be enjoyable to a fresh-faced audience member, innocent-eyed and with ears that knew not what to expect from this particular lineup? Most likely, yes. But is it enjoyable to a 21st Century Zappoid Man who, thanks to a legion of dedicated stealth tapers and soundboard operators and well-connected tape traders from Asia across Europe to America, has a wide selection of shows from this tour and others available at his fingertips? Mais non - and the indistinct sound on the circulating tape sure doesn't make matters better. One decent City solo and a good first Torture solo does not a 90 minute listening experience make.
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