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1979 Reviews

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February 12th, 1979

Well, here we are again with a new tour, one that most people associate with repetitive setlists and excellent guitar playing and drumming. Personally, I find this to be one of Zappa's 3 best guitar tours ever, but this is almost overshadowed by the poorly composed setlist. The main problems: a) too many boring and/or overplayed songs; b) too few good guitar solo vehicles; and c) hardly any monster songs.

There's not very much to say about this show - it's your average set minus the One Size Fits All suite (leaving us with only 4 FZ solos!) but plus a rare Pound For A Brown. I'll just give you a quick run-through and give some general views on the songs.

One special thing about these shows is that they would sometimes (some would say often) reach their climax in the opening number. And well, I'm almost inclined to say that this is the case here. Vinnie and Artie provide a great Persona Non Grata backdrop to FZ's beautiful little air sculpture. Shortly thereafter comes the song that I find to be this band's finest achievement: Brown Shoes Don't Make It. Sometimes I wish that FZ would have chosen another band to do it, one with stronger vocal personalities that could spice it up with secret words and make it a little different from show to show. But they do a mighty impressive rendition, no doubt. Really tight at this early stage of the tour too.

But apart from these two fine numbers, the first 45 minutes of practically every show would be quite bland. The old songs sound tired and uninspired, and the new songs would grow much better during the following tours. City Of Tiny Lights sounds like it did in 1978, and would seldom spawn good solos. Easy Meat keeps evolving though, and would produce some really good guitar mangling. Tonight's version is a good example, with Vinnie managing to freak out and stay restrained at the same time.

The second segment of these shows, from the OSFA songs (sadly missing from this tape) and on, would generally be more interesting. We get two nice this-tour-only songs, Young Sophisticate and Wet T-shirt Night and the always welcome Peaches En Regalia. An audience participation section of varying length would make The Yellow Snow suite worthwhile.

Normally, the only chance for surprises during these shows is near the end. And tonight, we do get one of the few monster performances of the tour. It's Pound For A Brown, and it begins like your typical 1978 version, with solos by Mann, Wolf and Mars. Vinnie gets to beat his skins for a short while, before FZ bursts in. He kicks off the riff from the so-called Mystery Rehearsal Song (only known to be played in concert twice), and what seems to be a promising jam. Unfortunately, this is where the tape ends.

It might be worth getting the 50 min FM from this show, to get a good quality representation of how this band sounded, otherwise I don't recommend this concert.

--JN

February 13th, 1979

The second of three pre-London 79 tapes circulating opens with an odd version of Treacherous Cretins, in 11 and faster than usual. FZ gets in some good phrases, but it sounds like the band has trouble staying together behind him. The remainder of the tape offers the usual set, less tight and energetic than many later shows and with a few small details not yet in place. The other three FZ solos include no real duds (Tiny Lites is longer than usual for the first half of the tour, and Easy Meat has some Mystery Rehearsal references as well as a punk double-time passage), but no great successes either. Mediocre recording quality doesn't help -it seems rare that a good audience tape ever came out of England in this era.

FZ's remarks during Yellow Snow are the highlight of this tape, and while they are good (including a reference to "Eddie Jobson's sister" and a mention of when he was last here 10 or 11 years earlier, "when we had one-tenth of the equipment we do now"), that should tell collectors all they need to know. Not essential.

--PB

February 14th, 1979

Another very typical 1979 concert: awesome guitar playing, disposable everything else. The echoey quality of the recording conduces to this - it obscures the vocal parts, but is perfect for the guitar solos. The Scots seem to disagree though, as they laugh loudly during the sung parts, but seem apathetic during the solos.

Tonight's opening number is Treacherous Cretins, and what better way to start a show? One of Frank's finest solo vamps ever, if you ask me. This is one of the first performances ever, possibly the premiere, and the first 30 seconds or so might lead you to suspect that FZ isn't really familiar with the vamp yet. But soon enough he proves us wrong, delivering a mighty fine solo, where he utilizes the tension/release in the vamp to great effect.

City Of Tiny Lights brings the same Denny solo as always, and a surprisingly good one from Frank. Ike tries to spice up the vocals in Easy Meat by adding a soulful touch, with the result that he messes up the second verse totally. The solo part is great though, showcasing Vinnie's telepathic abilities. Some really great interplay between him and FZ, who throws in some "Mystery Rehearsal Song" lines for good measure.

I always have high expectations for the OSFA trio, though I must say FZ doesn't really use its full potential. He usually keeps his Andy solo very short (so he does tonight), and he never pulled a solo in Florentine Pogen this year (did he?). Inca Roads does live up to the expectations though. Long, magnificient solo that would qualify for SUNPYG. You can recognize many ideas here that he would refine for the next few shows, to create some of his most beautiful air sculpures ever (the title tracks of SUNPYG + Gee I Like Your Pants).

The show continues for another 45 minutes, with stable versions of good songs. But why on earth doesn't FZ grace us with one single guitar solo during this part of the show?! He must have felt that he played the guitar better than ever, yet he only gives us 4 solos a night - Frank you teaser you! Oh well, the Yellow Snow suite is good as always, even though we don't get a chance to pounce on the fur trapper today. Dirty Love is one of the songs that these guys did better than any other band, mostly thanks to Vinnie's excellent drum abuse. Montana leaves a sour taste in my mouth, since FZ refuses to take a solo in it. Strictly Genteel closes the set.

Get this show only if you're really desperate for '79 solos. You'll get 15 minutes of really great playing, but 2 hours that's mostly waste of chrome dioxide.

--JN

February 17th, 1979

Because of the recent (to my knowledge) surfacing of this tape, we now have almost all of the London 79 run in circulation. This show in particular, though, is a case where historical interest exceeds musical value.

The tape immediately hits you with the best it has to offer with the album version of Treacherous Cretins, followed an hour or so later by the Inca Roads solo released as SUAPYG Some More. This is one of those fortunate incidences of improvisation at the peak of its intensity, captured for posterity by a 16-track machine. Although FZ hit many other peaks as a guitarist before and after these shows, none of them were higher, in this reviewer's opinion. The accompaniment is inspired and more disciplined than the fall '78 solos, and FZ's musical storytelling abilities were never more finely honed.

Alas, the rest of the show not only fails to match this level but is forgettable even by the standards of this tour. FZ delivers another frenzied Easy Meat solo which is hard to enjoy fully due to the cacophonous sound of this AUD tape, and he follows this with the story of Jumbo, told for the first and only time onstage. There are short Cuccurollo-fueled codas after both Hurt When I Pee and Peaches, and a couple of amusing FZ remarks during the Nanook audience participation bit, but that's it for the main set.

The encore helps a bit - Pound For A Brown ("from an album that was banned in this country"). It starts with the usual percussion and keyboard solos, followed by a drum solo featuring Tommy's poodle recitation, described in Ben Watson's book. Then, just as Vinnie delivers a seal bark to finish his solo, FZ enters with the guitar phrase that SUAPYG fans will recognized as the start of Why Johnny Can't Read. This track turns out to be a heavily edited version of the ensuing guitar jam, which also includes tradeoffs with Warren and elements of Mystery Rehearsal Song and Thirteen. Here again, the tape quality robs it of much of its interest.

So what we have here is a tape that's mostly either boring or frustrating. Completists only.

--PB

February 18th, 1979 early

The recording of this show is more clear and enjoyable than the previous night, in spite of the distortion that appears at all loud points. Similarly, the performance is largely the same story as the last show, but it has some more points of interest.

London #2 kicks off with another Treacherous Cretins (4/4 but non-reggae), in which FZ's solo has much of the London magic but peters out at the end, perhaps because Vinnie's trickery is too much for the other musicians. The Easy Meat solo, on the other hand, is simply outrageous. FZ pulls out his most pointed phrases and Vinnie is right with him, ending up by playing in 10/8 against the rest of the band's 4/4. It seems on the edge of falling apart, but doesn't. This has to be heard to be believed - should have been released. The Inca solo from this show is the title track of SUAPYG.

The set is the same once again, and since I dwelled on the negative aspects in yesterday's review, it's worth noting that listening to these tapes reminded me how riveting an onstage event Brown Shoes Don't Make It was, and that Wet T-Shirt Nite is a cool song. There are traces of secret word themes that also appear in the next two shows ("gimme them cakes," Buttzis).

The Yellow Snow suite includes the celebrated poetry session - listening to it here reveals how much creative editing went into the YCDTOSA 1 version. (It's a shame Warren's Lefrock City story ended up on the cutting room floor.) Encores are Montana (with FZ critiquing the band's performance of the bridge as they go) and the YCDTOSA 6 take of Dirty Love.

--PB

February 18th, 1979 late

Since it has already been pointed out several times already, I will not go into a whole spiel about how void this tour is of any real surprises or highlights. We shall, therefore, cut straight to the chase: Three highlights as always- Opening solo, "Easy Meat" solo, "Inca Roads" solo. How, you may ask, do these outings fare on this February eve?

The Opening Solo is an enjoyable but not-quite great "Deathless Horsie". Frank never sounds too sure of himself during the approximately five minute solo, running through a couple rhythmic changes in what sounds like an attempt to get things heated up. Some of his phrasing is great, and the Artie/Vinnie support is as inspired as ever, but nothing truly magical occurs to kick off this show.

The "Easy Meat" solo is also disappointing, either because a large portion of it is cut, or because it is simply ridiculously short. Either way, what we do have is interesting- about two minutes of "Wooly Bully" based riffing, with heavy quotes of the melody followed by deranged mutations of it. Nothing essential, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The "Inca Roads" solo is a Monster, however. Possibly showing up its officially released tour cousins (the SUNPYG title tracks), this "Inca" outing redeems the preceding 60 minutes and numbs your mind enough to not care about the remaining 20. Building on a simple but inspired theme, Frank and his comrades-in-arms journey to the outer limits of guitar madness, slowly building to a chord drenched climax that puts the heaviest of metal bands to shame. (While I feel that it is the entire journey which makes the climax as satisfying as it is, Frank apparently disgreed, as he released only the last two minutes of this solo as "Gee I Like Your Pants." Maybe I am just tired of the others, but this solo seemed to top the other "Inca Roads" solos found on SUNPYG.) Boy, could this tour have used more of these.

Apart from these Usual Suspects, the only other truly interesting portion of this tape is the remaining five minutes, labeled "instrumental" on most tapes and set lists. After an abrupt edit at the beginning of "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", the tape enters the middle of a Vinnie drum solo. When the solo ends, Frank begins soloing, taking off on a careful yet slowly accelerating solo similar to the YCDTOSA III "King Kong" solo. Based on knowledge of "King Kongs" and "Pound for a Browns" from this tour, it is a safe guess that this is a portion of an encore performance of one of these. Sadly, though, the tape finally ends as Frank starts to really heat things up. It may be nice to know that some more madness ensued in this show, but this little tease is more frustrating than anything else.

As far as the Big Three goes, this show bats .333, with the "Inca Roads" hitting one out of the ballpark. "The Deathless Horsie" may have got a walk, and "Easy Meat" may have reached base by a hit pitch, but neither really does all that much to improve this shows slugging percentage. The sound is excellent though, and the "Tryin’ To Grow A Chin" is the same as the Stage I version, so if that counts for anything....It’s your call.

--JG

February 19th, 1979

Maybe the best show of this UK run starts with a terrific Deathless Horise. Franks intros the band with the famous diseases of the band and also announces that he is recording tonight and wants to do a few special things before performing the usual part of the show. They start with a typical Bamboozled By Love and then do Conehead including a very long five-Five-FIVE with bits of Thirteen. It sounds like Warren also does some solo trade-offs with Frank at one point, Vinnie takes a nice solo too. Definitely an unusal moment, sort of a one-off jam.

The regular set is tight and includes a terrific solo by Warren in Cosmik Debris, a killer Inca Roads solo (we know FZ liked it too - see SUNPYG) and some levity when Frank screws up a lyrical timing (reviewers note: can't find that darned "one" again) and says "Well I fucked that one up".

Yellow Snow is good too, Frank had noticed a baby in the audience and he sort of becomes the secret word.

Great show, bad recording, too bad because it's perfect during the quiet moments. Still worth getting for the great solos and rare moments.

--BL

February 21st, 1979

This is the first show after Frank's amazing London run- well documented on several Zappa releases, most notably SUNPYG- and apparently, the madness of the previous four shows had its affect on the guitar maestro. While Frank does step-up and produce a couple interesting solos, nothing played on this winter night truly needs to be heard, and coming hot-on-the-heels of the guitar-lover's paradise which was the London run, this show disappoints.

Checking in on the three standard '79 highlights, we find that the "Inca Roads" is the only one that approaches greatness. The opening "Treacherous Cretins" is nice to hear simply because the vamp cannot be beat, but Frank does not do anything or go anywhere he has not been before. The "Easy Meat" solo is loud and aggressive, but also short and dull. "Inca Roads" finally finds Frank playing in top form, with another aggressive solo that eventually evolves into a rapid, speed-metalesque jam. Unfortunately, Frank pulls the plug on the solo way too soon, and the result is less than satisfying.

Apart from this, the only other interesting moment is yet another Walley vocal slip-up in "Tryin to Grow A Chin" (he practically forgets the entire second verse), and the always nice to hear "Wet T-Shirt Nite". But both of these things can also be found on other, much more interesting tapes. So skip this one.

--JG

February 24th, 1979

Well, this is the double-album bootleg that Rhino released as Anyway the Wind Blows. A lot of people have heard this as their example of the 79 concert experience.

Shame it's really not all that good. We start out in the middle of a rather lackadasical Watermelon in Easter Hay. I love the vamp, but it seems to go nowhere tonight. Then we go through the opening numbers, with Brown Shoes being a highlight (it really is the 79 band's best number). City of Tiny Lites features the next big solo moment, and...Denny doesn't get a solo. :-P Since it's usually Denny's great slide work that drives Frank's solo afterwards to greatness, this is not a good thing.

Easy Meat features probably the best FZ solo of the night, but that doesn't say much. It's nice and aggressive, but again it seems to go nowhere. Frank's best 79 solos build slowly to a frenzy...this just stops.

Jumbo Go Away has a nasty tape cut that gets rid of my favorite part of the song. Luckily, Andy is one of my favorite songs with any band. Warren's guitar sounds fine here (he really is better playing stunt guitar than his own solos), and Ike still sounds great, hitting the high Andys.

Then, Inca Roads. Geh. When the 79 Inca Roads solo is less than 2 minutes long...it's time to move on.

The rest of the show is fairly normal for a 79 concert. The Meek has a laugh-out-loud tape cut ( HEY! ). I always enjoy the Sophisticate/T-Shirt/Pee trilogy for this tour, mostly for the novelty of it.

However, I generally listen to a 79 tape for Frank's guitar. And tonight was just not his night. Not a concert to remember 79 by.

--SG

February 27th, 1979

The opening solos for this tour always seem to have something to offer and Rotterdam gets an always cool Treacherous Cretins. During intros Frank welcomes everyone to "our little Dutch festival" and for the only time I know of intros Warren as Warren and not Sophia Warren. It sounds weird!

And as much as I love the opening songs from this tour, the setlists seldom vary and this is a typcial night, great, tight performances of all the usuals. Highlites include another nice Warren C solo during Cosmik Debris, and just as things get cooking in Easy meat, my tape cuts and resumes in the middle of Jumbo Go Away. A terrific Andy is followed by a very exlporatative solo by FZ during Inca with a samba backbeat courtesy of Vinnie and Arthur. My tape cuts during Peaches.

--BL

February 28th, 1979

This is one of those '79 shows that it is a good idea to track down and own. It is an orgy of extended Frank guitar solos, with a bonus Monster song thrown in at the end, complete with a little Rock Lobster for dessert

From the get go, things are sounding good with my nomination for one of Frank's best opening selections ever, "Treacherous Cretins". Once the ominous arpeggio quickly silences the ready-for-action crowd, Frank steps forward with a restrained yet forceful solo. With both Vinnie and Artie playing relatively reserved roles, Frank cautiously explores the Treacherous vamp, slowly escalating his solo to a controlled yet exhilarating peak. We get none of the "where the hell are we now" frenzy of many of Frank's other '79 solos (see SUNPYG), but instead are treated to a reserved yet thorough exploration of one of Frank's darker themes. As the solo slowly builds in intensity, Frank and company flirt with the wilder regions of improv, but pull themselves back out of respect for the boundaries of the Treacherous theme. Truly, this is one of Frank's more accomplished solos.

From here on out, things manage to stay interesting. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" finds Frank ad-libbing the line- "The answer is the same in every language"- in response to the "What would you do, Frankie?" query- a short little addition which brought a smile to my face. Denny almost makes it through "Tryin to Grow A Chin" without a flubbed lyric, but trips up on the final verse. "City of Tiny Lites" surprises us all with a lengthy and surprisingly good for this tour Frank solo.

"Easy Meat"- the second of the expected '79 highlights- finds Frank's solo starting off rather weakly. Attempting to build his solo on an improvised theme, Frank toys with this theme for approximately a minute, failing to get anything interesting going. Fortunately, he realizes that he is going nowhere, takes a short breather, and then starts up again with a frenzy of metallic notes. Ugliness prevails, and the solo is redeemed.

The third of the three expected highlights more than meets expectations, as Frank's "Inca Roads" solo is an eight minute tour-de-force. Forsaking any thought of slowly building a solo upon an improvised theme, Frank simply starts soloing the instant we enter solo territory, attacking the guitar with an abandon that is in complete contrast with the deliberateness of his opening solo. Vinnie and Artie manage to stay around for the ride, but it is obvious that they are playing catch-up through most of this. Frank has his blinders on, and amazingly enough, manages to keep focused for the duration of the ride. This is another amazing "Inca Roads" endeavor.

The show proceeds as normal from this point on, with an always enjoyable "Wet T-Shirt Nite" popping up, and some typical "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" audience participation helping to vary the landscape. Frank has one last surprise in store for us, however, with an encore "Pound for a Brown" helping to end the night. Like it's Halloween '78 cousins, this "Pound" is a veritable solo fest, with Eddie, Petey, Vinnie, Tommy, Artie, and Frankie all getting a chance to solo. Ed's percussion display is rather short, Pete's solo is reminiscent of his YCDTOSA Volume IV display (though nowhere near as satisfying), and Vinnie's solo is, well, a drum solo. It is only after Vinnie's solo, however, that things get truly interesting. The "Five-five-five" vamp starts up once Vinnie finishes, and over this, Mars' gets to take his somewhat short solo. Frank eventually steps forth, though by this time the vamp is much calmer and more percussion oriented. Frank solos for awhile, before Arthur gets his chance to shine, throwing in some nice "Rock Lobster" quotes for good measure. This eventually leads back into a Frank solo, which concludes this Monster with a heavier dose of "Five-five-five" action. As the ultimate teaser, and perfect show closer, Frank segues into "Watermelon in Easter Hay", which is used as the closing vamp for this must hear '79 show.

Track this one down and enjoy.

--JG

March 5th, 1979

This tour refuses to be categorized. One moment Frank can put out a boring, totally uninspired show, such as the 2/24 concert I reviewed previously. Then he turns around and gives us a show like this, filled with energy, flair, and loooong guitar solos that easily match the ones at the Odeon.

To start off with, we get The Deathless Horsie, an excellent guitar vehicle for Frank. He gives us a long, drawn-out solo, experimenting with several styles while getting his guitar in gear. The set that follows is pretty much what you expect from this tour, but Brown Shoes is always a pleasure to hear. City of Tiny Lites has two very serviceable solos from Denny and Frank, both of which are good but suffer compared to the other solos.

Easy Meat is the second biggie of the night, and boy is it tasty, with Frank for once using the top half of his guitar as well. Andy always sounds good with this band, and then...Inca Roads. As has been mentioned, there was no in between for this song in 1979. It was either short and pointless, or long, beautiful and majestic. This is one of the latter, with Frank content to play around the vamp for almost 10 minutes.

After that we get a typical latter third of the show, with a few minor tape cuts in Meek and Sophisticate. Listening to Wet T-Shirt Nite, I realised I'd much rather have heard it paired up with Pee rather than Joe's Garage. Oh, and the intro to Peaches is *totally* screwed up, with half the band thinking they would go into Yellow Snow.

Speaking of Yellow Snow, we get a serviceable version here, with no funny business but swiftly played and you can dance to it. Then comes a great treat: Pound for a Brown, a full-blown monster version. Ed goes first, with a solo that admittedly sounded a bit rusty (after all, he wasn't doing them every night). Then we get full-on keyboard frenzy, with Tommy and Petie taking turns, using all the keyboard toys, playing with Vinnie and Artie, playing acapella, and just amazing everyone. Keyboard heaven. And then as an added bonus, Vinnie gives us a short little drum solo.

Then we get the final song of the night, Treacherous Cretins. After Black Napkins, this is my favorite FZ guitar vehicle, always sounding very dark and creepy. Tonight is no exception, with Frank using all the low notes he never got to in Easy Meat. And you gotta love that 11/4 vamp!

It frustrates me sometimes that 79 was so inconsistent, that all the shows couldn't be as good as this. Still, we can be grateful for the shows we have. Definitely a keeper, one of the top 5 79 tapes (IMHO, others may disagree. ^_^)

--SG

March 6th, 1979

Heading into this tour, I was not expecting to be writing too many positive reviews. Highly repetitive set lists, practically no Monster songs, an incredibly talented band being horribly underused- the '79 tour relies almost solely on three regular guitar solos for its magic, and sadly, these three solos are not that consistent. Imagine my surprise then when, after listening to my second '79 show in a week, I find myself sitting down to turn out another glowing review.

While this may not be one of the best of the '79 shows, it easily ranks as one of those worth getting. To begin with, the mix on the tape highlights the keyboards, and this lends a new flavor to several of the songs. "Tryin' to Grow A Chin" sounds even sillier with Wolf's keys so prominent, and "City of Tiny Lites" sounds more like a video game than a song. Frank makes several somewhat funny comments throughout, including an "in the great Swedish tradition" right after the "what would you do Frankie?" query (tell us about this, Naurin), and a comment about the lack of thrown panties during "For the Young Sophisticate" (is this the genesis of the '80's Panty Obsession?) .

But as always, it is the solos which carry the brunt of the burden, and once again, the real highlights are found here. The opening "Deathless Horsie" is not one of this tour's better ones, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. "Easy Meat" is slinky, slithery, sleazy- heck, downright nasty. Frank's guitar sounds as if it is gasping for air for most of the solo. It is stuff like this that I would be concerned about if I were in the PMRC. "Inca Roads" is the only real disappointment of the night, which while good, is way too short.

The Highlight of the night though- Surprise!- is Frank's "City of Tiny Lites" solo. Reaching a length hitherto unreached by this song, this six-string endeavor is Frank at his rawest. Echoing the fury unleashed by Clapton during his "White Room" solo, Frank gets some of the funkiest wah-wah sounds out of his guitar, without using a wah-wah. That guitar is talking to us here, and what it is saying is funky as hell.

This is not one of the best shows of the tour. It lacks any Monster songs and any surprise set list inclusions. But the sound is interesting, and for the "City of Tiny Lites" and "Easy Meat" solos alone, it is worth hearing.

--JG

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