When a show is this good, the only way a guy can hope to do even the slightest amount of justice to it and its' is to break it up into small, bite sized morsels, chew each one with utmost care, and hope that after the last morsel vanishes, the shit at the end will be nearly as pleasant as the morsels themselves.
So without further ado:
01 - Intro
Outside of the Fall 1971 tour, and occasionally the 75 Beefheart extravaganza, most Zappa tracks labelled "intro" tend to be relatively boring. So that's the baseline I'm going by when I queue this concert up, and perhaps it's due to the already-low expectations that I find myself already squirming with delight - we're treated to a little, delicious bit of guitar noodling. I'm relatively certain this is a Vai noodling, due to...
02 - Chungas Revenge
...our very first of many Audience Interjections, leading off the start of this timeless classic: "there he IS!". This is in all likelihood a reference to Zappa's stage entrance, which leaves Vai as the likely Intro culprit. Before I go off on the first of several tangents related to TAP DANCING CHRIST THAT GUITAR, allow me to briefly mention one of the reasons I find this particular tape so endearing - the taper and his friend, a pair who I have nicknamed "The Midwestern Statler and Waldorf".
While some have found their comments annoying, intrusive even, I can't help but enjoy them. Apparently, the taper worked at a record shop in the area, and was known to sell copies of this tape. I can forgive him his financial indulgence, given the times and the spirit of it all. For those who are compelled by a force stronger than Logic to sit calmly and sip tea whilst analyzing the squiggly lines, perhaps this isn't the tape of choice - Statler and Waldorf are all over this tape. Personally, to this listener, the commentary makes this tape feel even more like a real live show, and is the closest some of us will ever get to the truest Zappa experience - and the commentary gives us an invaluable slice of the times, in full drunken honesty.
Now, as for the first of several tangents involving HOLY MOLEY THAT STRINGED INSTRUMENT. It's clear from the start that Zappa is ON tonight. The jump in intensity, from the previously recorded show (10/17 Dallas), to this, is absolutely incredible. Even though the Chunga's Revenge solos from 80-onwards are no match for the 75/76 outings (which are themselves no match for the original 3/07/70 version), this one manages to be beautiful in its own right - a brief ascent, then a rapid descent into the firery pits of six-string hell. Like jumping off a high dive, if you will.
03 - You Are What You Is
And so provides me with a good excuse to expound upon the Statler and Waldorf aspect, and why I find them so welcome. Let's face it - this song sucks. It's interesting on the You Are What You Is album, if for no other reason than the intricate production. It's fun in 1984, with plenty of secret word abuse and some of the nicest post-Flo-and-Eddie vocals Zappa ever put together. But the early versions - and this is no exception - suck ass. Nothing more than a four-minute long period of feeling incredibly sorry for those who lived in the days before random-access. Yet Statler and Waldorf breathe some fresh air into this throughout - first by informing us that this song has never been played before (not true, it had been played during the previous 1980 tour, and the main riff can be heard as early as the Winter 1978 "Yo Mama" solos), and then, through the magic of laughter, letting this listener know that this song, at least in this era, was enlivened by a visual aspect of some sort (likely lost to all but human memory, but probably a silly dance along the lines of the MTV video). Finally, the knockout blow is delivered at around two minutes and forty-three seconds - "I can't believe [Zappa's then-freshly-shorn] short hair . . . he looks so *civilized*" - the sincerity of this never fails to milk a tiny giggle out of this well-versed listener.
04 - Mudd Club
And another excuse to listen to Statler and Waldorf (though it's true, Ray White has a great set of pipes). It's a crying injustice to the album that the most-often-played songs (the previous song, the current song, and the following "Meek Shall Inherit Nothing") are probably the worst of the lot. Anyway, Waldorf lets us know that this is another brand-new song (again, not-true if one is well-versed in obsessive technicalities), and eventually I find myself...
05 - The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
...appreciating the message, while admitting that I'm bored to tears by the performance. Really, this song should have been played as an encore, and by itself - it would have made a nice little message (practical and honest - probably the most fully formed, direct philosophical statement Zappa ever committed to lyric) to send the audience home with, and any excuse to get rid of YAWYI > MC is a good excuse for me. Statler and Waldorf don't even bother to lighten this one up, either.
06 - I'm A Beautiful Guy
Finally, the show starts picking up the pace - slowly, but steadily, like, I dunno, some sort of gargantuan beast of prey or something. Namely, by taking us from the You-Are-What-You-Is-medley-that-sucks to the You-Are-What-You-Is-medley-that-doesn't-suck-so-much. Interesting rhythm here, and (is it time for a Statler and Waldorf update? Yes, I do believe it is!) Statler and Waldorf start living again, with a few chuckles here and there.
07 - Beauty Knows No Pain
If you know Zappa, you know that this song, like most of the YAWYI numbers, doesn't really change from concert to concert. Plenty of giggles from Statler & Waldorf, and apparently (according to Statler & Waldorf) somebody on-stage was doing a Michael Jackson dance - was he already Mr. Beauty by 1980?
08 - Charlie's Enormous Mouth
One of my favorites from YAWYI (right up there with If Only She Woulda and Doreen).
09 - Pick Me I'm Clean
FINALLY! It took six fucking same-every-night songs, but I'm finally presented with a moment to establish my case for this show as a truly great show. While this is still the "upbeat" version (as opposed to the way-too-infrequently-played Beast Version of late 1980 and 1988), I'll forgive it. I may be way out to lunch here, but am I the only one who finds the placement of this annoying-groupie song clever? As if Frank's treating the setlist like a decent creative writer, and instead of TELLING us that we, the listener, wish to commit suicide, and that there's an annoying fat chick who needs to go away, namely by playing "Suicide Chump" and Jumbo Go Away" (the inevitable climax of the Enormous Mouth Saga), he's SHOWING us via this song? Whatever - guitar - holy shit - five minutes - sinister - ugly - angered - Frank's been holding something back and god damn if it's not going to free itself from pop imprisonment - chaotic little mystery riff, the sort of riff that metal bands would kill to have, and the sort of riff that Zappa comes up with and tosses aside after five seconds - some near-classical riff - forgive me my terse notes, my brain's still in remission from all the uninteresting numbers (or at least, that's the best excuse I can come up with).
Frank's ON tonight.
10 - Dead Girls Of London
Sure, it's a pop song, but this tour contains the best version of this pop song ever played, thanks to Steve Vai's little Bon Jour freakout. Waldorf is apparently a collector of bootlegs (since in 1980 this song had only seen release on a likely-obscure-even-at-that-point-in-time album by L. Shankar), and is incredibly giddy to hear this song. He even sings along in a bit of a drunken slur - "it's the dead girls of London, why do they act that way?? YEOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!".
11 - Shall We Take Ourselves Seriously?
Okay, no version compares to the Peter Eggers-enhanced version of 5/21/82, but this one at least comes close thanks to the Taper Commentary - "Frank Zappa llliiives!", and some moments of drunken hilarity whereupon Waldorf exclaims with astonishment that he didn't know this was a Frank *Sinatra* concert. While, like much drunken hilarity, it's poorly-edited and would benefit from a remaster, I do have to admit, it's still a pretty clever comparision.
12 - City Of Tiny Lights
Damn. Where to begin - in the words of Herr Waldorf, "he's got a god damn voice, doesn't he"? Yes, he does, and the guy next to him has a god damn guitar. Put the two together and you get a lovely little beast indeed.
Like all the Cities of this tour, there's an added bar of music between the final "it's over there" and the guitar solo, which results in a momentary interruption in the energy - but like all the Cities of this tour, the guitar solo leaves me in too much of a stupor to seriously bitch much about a measure of vamp. Speaking of vamps, that's one thing definitely forgotten about here - it's a race between Frankie and Vinnie, with Frankie as the clear leader, to see who can exhaust himself first, before dipping into the more experimental / lyrical portion of the solo. Unfortunately, despite Waldorf's confident statement that "we have plenty of tape", we never get to hear the end of this race, as the tape runs out in the midst of the furious final rave-up, depriving us of the weirdness that typically concluded these Cities. It's a forgiveable flaw, since we find ourselves dumped into...
13 - Easy Meat (incl. Hog Heaven)
...Hog Heaven, indeed. While Easy Meat hadn't yet acquired those extra two cymbal hits that truly defines the December version, I'm not allowed to feel too disappointed, as within 150 seconds we're in the midst of what feels like the tenth straight guitar solo - feels like it, at least, until I realize that it's just time standing still during the last solo, as usual. "God DAMN", Waldorf exclaims, as the classical section gives way to an ANGRY, MEAN, DISTORTED Frank guitar (which sounds incredibly Hog-like on the SU&PYG album - it's tracks like these that drive me mad with the desire to break into those goddamn vaults). Frank teases us with swamp blues, moves into typically manic Frank phrasing, and into psychedelic freak outs, and into another of those heavy metal riffs that comes and goes before we notice just how pants-shittingly awesome it was. This gives way into Frank's version of noodling - a complicated lick played twice in a row - which gives way to a little bit of descending note repetition, which gives way to a moment of reflective contemplation, which gives way into a brief bit of boogie-metal, which is broken up by the quite-appropriate "ohhhh-kaaaay..... SHIT!" by you-know-who, which gives way to the Easy Meat solos we're used to - no bass, sparse drums, that one lick and oh shit wait this isn't an Easy Meat solo we're used to, that was only a tease, now we're in some distorted acid-vision, a repeated riff which, if you'll pardon the stock phrase, buries itself deep into your consciousness and makes your soul shiver - and this melts into a high note frenzy, which ends up quoting a pre-composed phrase (that is to say, a little lick that Zappa had probably discovered during soundcheck, and wanted to try on for size), which gives way to a proto version of what I term the "Mystery Opera", heard on both this tape and the 11/08/80 tape, and that's just the first four minutes of this doozy. In text, it seems scattered and ill-focused, but in person, your jaw'll be too busy having intimate relations with the crumbs on your floor to form words of critical accusation. Finally - but FINALLY - the cheery Easy Meat post-solo theme enters, and (rare, even for Zappa) the segue is entirely smooth. A real tour-de-force, and yet another reason why THIS SHOW NEEDS IMMEDIATE, COMPLETE, SOUNDBOARD RELEASE RIGHT NOW (Joe Travers, you out there?).
14 - I Aint Got No Heart
"Oh, NO!!!! Look out, look out!" - no, it's not Arthur Brown, not a fire, not a giant mosquito or syringe or tear gas canister. What it actually is is best described as "harmonic prescience".
A) It occurs straight on the rising crescendo of I Ain't Got No Heart.
B) It involves the prediction of a cataclysmic event.
C) Not only is it prescient of the fact that I Ain't Got No Heart is going to kick ass, but it's unconsciously/subconsciously prescient of the upcoming Scary Monster Beast - thus, two forms of prescience at once that go well together, ergo a harmony, or harmonic -- or, if that's not good enough for you, how about...
D) I Ain't Got No Heart, especially as performed by the Bob Harris #2 Teenaged Combo, is all about harmonies.
The band is riding a manic wave of energy by now. If only there was some suitable climax...
15 - The Torture Never Stops
...now how's THAT for prescience? (ladies and [mostly] gentlemen, the secret word for tonight is in fact "prescience" - that is to say, the knowledge of things, pan-chromatically resonating or not, before they exist - that is to say, "happen")
We all know that Torture Never Stops was always a fun little song - be it the original swamp blues of Beefheart, or the laid-back-but-comfortable versions of 75 through 77 - the tango-enhanced versions of winter 78, or the amphetamine-enhanced 1988 version, or even the relatively inconsequential (perhaps just in comparision to the madness around it) 1981 version.
We also know that Zappa Penguin left a certain tour's version out of that list, and we probably know why - because this tour's version puts all the rest to shame. Night for night, any show that featured this song featured this song as a highlight as well - a claim no other tour can honestly say (well, maybe 1988...).
Putting the shit to rest for a moment - a brief moment - 'll just come out and say it: Tonight's version. Best ever. Including December. Even with an odd, inexplicable train-wreck after the "sinister, tiny little midget with a bucket and a mop" lyric.
Why? Everything, from start to finish - from Waldorf's jaw-dropped "oh NO!!!!!!!" after the first riff makes itself felt, to the rare segue into Flakes at the end. From Waldorf's screams of - and I mean this in the most respectful way possible - dumbstruck-retarded joy, to the little reggae tease in the final verse. From Waldorf's singing, to the admittedly-slightly-botched-but-fuck-it's-still-good segue from the solos back to the song - this is pure jaw-dropping befuddlement to listen to.
Tonight's solos start off with a guitar - I'm tempted to say it's Frank's, just from the phrasing of the high notes and the use of wah-wah, but it may well be a Zappa / Vai duel of some sort, or even Vai just sounding like Zappa for the fuck of it - playing some notes, which turn into metal, which suddenly explode into a beautiful, shimmering shower of notes and echo, dancing like the Northern Lights as they fall towards Earth beneath, splashing into an explosion of heavy metal, then slowly dribbling off to a babbling brook full of nature, which ends up plummeting off a waterfall and - I believe - shooting off into space on a white-knuckled, hair-metal rocketship of Vai. I'm pretty sure Vai takes over for a bit, as this lick seems pretty similar to what was being played during the "intro", but it's really hard to analyze these things when I'm drifting through the Milky Way, trying desperately - or not so desperately - to orient myself, then finally - to the sound of another heavy metal riff - setting eye on that Pale Blue Dot in the sky. It's around now that Tommy gets his chance to solo, and I don't know what it is with Tommy's solos, but for some reason audience members are always talking over his efforts (c.f. 10/13/78 (L) Passiac). For some reason I don't particularly mind this tonight - Tommy's solo is nice, with a Hallelujah Vocoder chorus, then some classical bits, a volcano rave-up, and a second (and much more actualized) version of the "Mystery Opera", or "My Face is Sideways (My Fate is My Fate)" - these being a close approximation of the words he scats tonight. As mentioned earlier, this would later be heard on at least one more tape from this tour (and possibly more). Is it a quote? Just Tommy being Tommy? Who knows! During this brief flashback to Earth, we also are brought up to date on the status of some guy named David, and a lady who "used to hate [Frank Zappa]" and thusly (?) Statler has "no, zero, zero goddamn respect for her", and as a result of this (?) she is "living with her coach". Lifestyles of the young and Midwestern, I suppose. It's now that Vinnie takes his drum solo, and I guess the space mission is somehow concluded, because all of a sudden holy shit it's a heavy metal disco rave up with someone (Vai? Zappa? It seems incredibly good-natured for Zappa) firing off a cheesy psychedelic "play that high note and wave your guitar like a giant phallus" solo - and then all of a sudden we find ourselves at a Ramones concert, listening to the kick-ass riff from "Just Wanna Have Something to Do", and a swirling crescendo and the keys enter and it's still "Just Wanna Have Something to Do", then freeze-frame, blank slate, a few drumbeats, a guitar rave-up, and yet more heavy metal to drive our little teenaged-minds straight into the gutters, from whence we hope they never again escape. And yet they do, as a two-note riff turns into an angelic, ethereal passage, which delicately, oh-so-very-delicately, finally, oh-so-very-finally, lays our feet back upon the ground, where we can spend another minute ruminating upon the Torture, which Never - at least in the land of song - Stops.
Frank, wherever the fuck you are - if you'll pardon my Turning Again moment, I really do wish you never stopped, and were still around to entertain us as only you and the music you created could.
16 - Flakes
Frank gives us a modest "thank you" - both spoken, and by giving us this segue. It's only at this point that I find myself realizing that this tour is still barely a week old - instead of the standardized Torture > Broken > Cute > Andy foursome, we get the slightly-extended version, with Flakes and Magic Fingers thrown in. Hey, having four insane songs in a row would be great later on, but after a Torture like this one, Flakes works perfectly - just beautiful enough, just rocking enough, just familiar enough to give our minds a little breather after the awe-inspiring performance we just heard.
Of note is the complete silence of Flo and Eddie - no, wait, Laurel and-- no, I mean, Statler and Waldorf. Stupified after the Torture? This lister sorta likes to think so, although it seems that Statler left for a bit.
17 - Magic Fingers
What a cute little song - one of the many underrated gems of the Flo and Eddie era. This finally wakes our commentators up - they discuss Statler's momentary departure, and giggle a little, as any post-coital guy might.
18 - Broken Hearts Are For Assholes
"Hey, Broken Hears Are For Assholes! ... ...well, it *was*!", exclaims Waldorf as we hit the Devo-cized retake on a popular classic from days gone by.
19 - I'm So Cute
One of those songs that was really *missing* in the 1970s finally gets its brief, single tour-in-the-spotlight. An excellent way to fire the audience up for--
20 - Andy
Kee-rist, it's over already? What a way to end a set - THIS band, doing THIS song. For once, Zappa abandons the typical "Andy solo intro", and gives us a solo that mixes the typical Andy phrasings with sinister metal footwear and a bit of Morse Code riffs. A tape-flip occurs - but thankfully, doesn't deprive us of solo. Thank you, we're going to do that thing where we go off stage, then come back on stage to surprise you all!
21 - Drafted Again
"Save the excitement for Ted Nugent", Zappa remarks, to a chorus of good-natured boos from the crowd. After a brief Tuning Interlude, we get our Special Delivery. As far as You Are What You Is songs go, this one isn't so bad.
22 - Bobby Brown
As far as Sheik Yerbouti songs go, this one is. Bad, that is. Oh, but I kid the Bobby Brown fans - so long as it's not destroying the energy in a 77/78 show, it's tolerable. Wait, scratch that - this is bona-fide good, thanks to Our Heroes. Waldorf (I think) is in a singing mood, and his Wild Man Fischerian attempts definitely lend a new coloring to this timeless classic. "I tell you bagels I was not ready WHEN I MET THIS DYKE BY THE NAME OF FREDDY!" "She had my balls in a vice but she left MY DICK!!!!!!!!" - if this doesn't bring even a slight impulse to smile to your weary face... you must be really all growned up.
23 - Ms Pinky
A rocking little number - give it a try.
24 - Love Of My Life
What could make this beautiful Bob Harris harmony even better? REALLY EXCITING AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION! "Let's face it, it's really late, and I know you're tired. But just out of mere curiosity, if I were to ask you to do a little audience participation right here, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, do you think you would coorporate?" The audience thinks so, and we get a full-venue doo-wop outro.
25 - Illinois Enema Bandit
More guitar? Thank you, Frank. Only seven solos tonight, but every one of them counts. This one starts off as more hog-tone metal, this time tinged with blues, before continuing the schizophrenic pattern of tonight, and veering off into lyrical high notes, driving riffs, and scales. However, Frank must be tired - one can only guess at the insane heights the early show must have hit - and cuts the solo off after a mere two minutes, thus making the last solo of the night also the least jaw-dropping. In fact, I very nearly didn't get any drool on my shirt whilst listening to it.
Sure, a little bit too much YAWYI, and a relatively brief Pick Me I'm Clean - but break this down: seven guitar solos, three of which are absolutely knock-you-out stupendous even by Zappa standards, and three more that may not literally knock you out with their splendor, but will certainly have your ears warm and fuzzy, leaving only the final solo as a slight - and relative - disappointment. Torture and Easy Meat are both candidates for "best ever" versions, and, as I mentioned previously, the taper commentary lends a unique, fun-time feel to parts of this tape which might otherwise be lacking. In case it isn't perfectly clear - this tape is very near and dear to my young heart, and every time I listen to it I end up with a goofy grin. Like a school-boy in love. Even with the echo (a boomy hall, a taper several rows back, something, anything), this is a surprisingly-pleasing listen - a solid "B" seems fair for the most part. For now I can only imagine what most of these songs sound like on the soundboard tapes - but the brief snippet of Hog Heaven released on SUAPYG has me practically HOPEFUL for more. Please, Joe, Gail, Dweez, Spence, Pat, Jon, Bengo, walk, someone, anyone - make this happen?
Last edited by Zappa Penguin on 2010-01-02 21:31; edited 7 times in total