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1984 Reviews

page one

July 17th, 1984

The 84 tour kicks off with a week long stand at the Palace Theater in LA. The venue's stage is quite small and Frank apologizes for the "severe informality" about to ensue.

Since Frank hadn't picked up a guitar in a while, most of the solos early in this tour are Frank rebuilding his callouses and regaining his chops. So I'm not going to dwell too much on which solos are better than others.

The crowd is really jazzed that Napolean is back in the band and let's him know as much during the intros which follow a decent Zoot Allures. Harmonies are abundandt throughout all the tunes, the return of Oh No and the Orange County lumber Truck are very welcome. Hot Plate is under construction but sounds OK, FZ talks about how bad the classical world sucks and debuts The Evil Prince with Nappy really sounding very operatic. Nice solos in Advance Romance and Cleveland round out the show with Don't Be A Lawyer ending it. My tape cuts during the encore of Closer You Are.

Not a bad opening night, though the tape quality could be better.

--BL

July 18th, 1984

The beginning ain't to bad, with Chad whipping out a groovy rhythm to Heavy Duty Judy. FZ's solo is relaxed and pretty cool actually. Then it's band intro time, and Napoleon is welcomed back warmly by the audience. The heavily reworked Tinseltown Rebellion is a bit untight, but sounds great in comparision with the following Oh No/Son Of Orange County. Not only is the new arrangement sacrilegous, but the performance is hesitative and full of small flubs. Embarrasing to all parties, and pretty soon this song would dropped from the setlists.

The Penguin/Trouble/Green Hotel medley would be played to death during this tour, and only Green Hotel would produce anything worthwhile. OK solo here, while Trouble Every Day and Penguin In Bondage are quite bland. But things would get better with two of my 1984 faves: Dumb All Over and The Evil Prince. In DAO, FZ found a vamp that really fit his playing this year, and yes indeed, this is really a good solo. TEP is probably the best thing this band came up with, though it would get much better during the tour, especially when Ray took over the vocals. Nappy's fake-operatic voice is amusing for a short while, then it gets tiresome. The solo vamp is not the one we're used to. Actually, I'm not sure there is a vamp - the band, except for Chad, sounds insecure, and FZ seems to solo in another key. The drumming is quite good, though.

Next, the Dangerous Kitchen, which is pretty cool, and Cocaine Decisions/Nig Biz are among the things that this band handled really well. And Nig Biz turns out to be the big surprise of the evening - this is infact one of the very few real Monster performances of the tour! The improvisations begins as usual with Ray White's typical blues solo, but after his 12 bars, it's right into unknown territory. FZ starts conducting the band to play in different styles, mostly switching between fast jazz and reggae. The first solo is by Bobby, on the French horn! He begins with playing a little "John Brown's Body", then goes on for quite some time, mostly playing long notes. Not exactly great, but the crowd cheers loudly. Then Scott gets to play a short little solo, before it's Alan's turn. And this is really cool, a Mars-like workout where he goes through several of his piano and synth sounds. Sounds like nothing I've heard by this band. Then they manage to go back to the song, just as smoothly and surprisingly as they left it.

Be In My Video is a harmless little song, and Carol You Fool is one of my favourites from this tour - one of the best showcases for their vocal abilities. I actually like Chana In De Bushwop too. And - lo and behold, I'm going to keep praising the 1984 band some more. I think they played Let's Move To Cleveland (the theme) more beautiful and powerful than any other band. I even dig most of Zavod's piano solos to this song, and tonight be plays an excellent one - very dynamic, technically amazing and harmonically interesting. Unfortunately, Alan would start repeating himself more and more, and you can hear elements in this solo that would pop up in virtually every Cleveland this tour. I'm not that impressed by FZ's solo, though. Very aggressive all through, and some nice interplay with one of the keyboard players, but pretty uninteresting. No drum solo (hooray!), but right back to the last chorus and "Kreegah Bondola". Don't Be A Lawyer, the precursor to Why Don't You Like Me?, closes the set.

--JN

July 19th, 1984

Frank had read an review of one of the first two nights and the reporter felt that FZ was not in top form and denegrating his black musicians.[Note: If anyone out there can find this review and send it to me, I will post it here- Foggy] So the secret word for the night becomes the reporter and Jungle Boogie. And they are used often during a rather blase musically speaking show but a fun show none the less.

Not really too much to report on this show other than the humor throughout and an excellent Oh No-> Trouble medley. Frank burns a nice solo in Penguin too.

Better quality tape than the first night, and another tape worth getting for the humor aspects and Napolean.

--BL

July 20th, 1984

This is a tough one to review, simply because it nearly impossible to tell what's going on onstage. It sounds as if the taper was out in the parking lot or in the mens' room (at one point I even thought I heard a toilet flushing, then I realized it was one of Chad's drum fills). This show might be full of great vocals and secret words, but I wouldn't know. Yes folks, this is one bad sounding tape.

Here's a run-through of what's audible: Zoot Allures and City Of Tiny Lights seem to have OK solos. Bobby Brown is followed by Honey, without Keep It Greasey in between. FZ sings Happy Birthday and does a Panty Rap after Carol You Fool. It's probably funny, 'cause the crowd laughs. Cleveland seems rather tame. The solos in Trouble/Penguin seem to be above average, The Green Hotel solo seems really good, with FZ quoting the entire Big Swifty ending

I won't say that this show sucks, but my tape definitely does.

--JN

I have the encores of this show, in apparently better (but not much better) quality than Jon's tape. During "Sharleena", Dweezil gets a chance to solo, and from what I can tell, the entire solo is his. It contains a lot of the same metallic riffs that Dweezil dislays in the Stage version, with the highlight being a late-in-the-solo stop-and-start jam, in which the band would stop for several bars at a time and allow Dweezil to solo all by his lonesome. This reminds me of Dimeola's 11/17/81 "Clownz on Velvet" solo, and for a brief while, Dweezil sounds just as good. The only other noteworthy event is "Watermelon in Easter Hay", which is nice to hear but not all that special.

--JG

July 21st, 1984

I have a certain reputation among this group as being a supporter of the 1984 band.  It is true that I think its reputation is not as deserved as some would have it.  It has fabulous vocals (which get even better once Napolean leaves), some interesting Frank guitar solos (though the early ones are far too short), some great secret wordplay (though the early shows seem to lack this), and a variety of song choices (though the LA shows seem to follow the same pattern of setlists).

And now I get to review a July 84 show.  Since you've read the above, you know what that means:  I get to do my Foggy G impression and get medieval on this show's ass.

Not that it doesn't have a few good points.  Frank gives us the first Treacherous Cretins of 1984, and it's excellent, with the 11/8 rhythm and a nice solo.  Then we have some initial amusement as an audience member praises Frank's hair, and he riffs on this for a few minutes.  If this were December, 'hair' would probably be the secret word.  But it's not, and that's all we hear of it.  Sigh...

Instead we get the short, sololess Montana, and then into Easy Meat.    Now, some of the others may criticize Oh No, or Muffin Man, or Willie the Pimp.  But none of those annoy me as much as the 84 Easy Meat.  A classic case of TOO mant vocals.  They're in the intro, they're all OVER the bridge, the chorus uses 'weaselly meat' with annoying scritches, Alan Zavod's attempts at the keyboard bridge leave much to be desired, Frank's solo is short, and...look, it just *sucks*, OK?  Moving on...^_^;;

Carolina is also in early stages, and isn't the peppy vehicle it would later become.  Luckily, Advance Romance is, and despite an annoyingly loud Napolean sax during Frank's solo, works well.  So does He's So Gay, on its debut tour (and final tour), which has the best vocal work of the group I call the 'offensive quartet'.  The other three have been played so often, sadly, that I no longer have any opinion on them at all.

Carol You Fool is one of the 84 highlights, and even lacking the acapella bridge, it's still great, being the only time in the entire show Napolean's vocals ADD something.  Chana is OK, but the 84 Let's Move to Cleveland is lacking something - it may be tighter than the 82 versions, but the power of the song isn't quite there.

Tinseltown is the 84 version, with all the band references.  Then comes Oh No.  Bleah.  Sometimes Frank's rewrites can work - witness the peppy 'Don't Be a Lawyer'.  But since the only lyrical change is to turn 'love into 'glove', the whole song seems really pointless.  Trouble Every Day and Penguin in Bondage follow with energetic but nondescript solos.

Luckily, Hot-Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel is more interesting.  This, to me, is one of Frank's most underrated guitar vehicles.  I rarely hear it produce a disappointing effort from Frank, either in 84 or 88.

The encore is rather odd.  Someone requests Frank conduct his 'sessionmen' in a round of improv, and Frank agrees.  The only problem is that the improv is really dull.  Lots of odd piano squirts, drum fills, and cries of 'Jungle Boogie', but little actual inspiration.  Perhaps we should be thankful the 84 band didn't really do monster songs.  Luckily, the 50s songs end the show on a vocally melodic note.

So, what to say about this show?  Um...I liked Treacherous Cretins.  And Carol You Fool.  And Hot-Plate Heaven.  The rest can be fast-forwarded with no troubles.

Oh, and can we PLEASE ditch Napolean Murphy Brock?!?!

--SG

July 22nd, 1984

The major attraction of this show is that George, Johnny Guitar, Aynsley, Denny & Bruce stop by for a little "Sunday Evening Jam Session" with the band. The major disappointment is that it doesn't add up to more.

The show starts with the tour premiere of The Black Page, in a lively ska-flavored arrangement which meets its untimely end with a tape cut. Maybe it's better that way -- we skip over what one can only guess was *yet another* Penguin/Trouble and are dropped into the climax of a really rockin' Green Hotel solo. (At the show's beginning, Frank notes that he's playing on his backup guitar because the one he wanted to play bit the dust. If anything, he's drawn some inspiration from this, because he's got a lot of interesting solos tonight.)

Dumb All Over solo -- short, really fast, one or two harmonic curveballs. The band really has control of the solo section of TEP by now, and Frank's solo wanders through all kind of styles, with a random blues vamp thrown in for good measure.

The "Honey Don't You Want Hardcore Greasy Brown Gay Romance?" medley (okay, okay, that's not really the order it's played in) is notable mainly for a screaming, metallic Advance solo. Short, but it does feel complete.

Someone's mike breaks down when the band launches into Chana, providing the first really funny moment of the night as Frank plaintively asks "Did Science fail us?" As the roadie changes things out, Frank starts singing The Dangerous Kitchen over the Chana vamp. I really hoped they would do the whole song this way, but alas! the boys miss a HUGE opportunity and switch to meltdown after the opening line.

Cleveland is... well, it _is_, and then we get a Why Don't You Like Me that reminds me -- I finally figured it out today -- of "Beatown" off of XTC's Go 2.

Our encore starts out promising, with some underwear offerings and an unusually welcome Stick it Out. "Unusually welcome" because the Devo-flavored Truck Driver Divorce that follows suffers some serious lyrical mutation at its hands -- "Go fuck the pig...." Frank's Divorce solo is okay, and then the guest stars drop in....

Is that really George soloing on Truck Driver Divorce? If so, he's either a mere shell of the player he once was, or he's been taken over by the evil presence of Alan Zavod. It's such a boring solo that Frank takes over after a few arpeggios to conclude the song.

It's a relief to hear Johnny Guitar singing In France, but he can't remember the damn words -- after Frank's short, chunky solo he somehow manages to chop a line off the last verse, which the band quickly corrects for.

The "second shift" -- Aynsley, Denny and Bruce -- get to tackle Chunga's Revenge, and at first things don't look much more promising. Aynsley's presence is hardly noticed. Denny's aimless solo goes on far too long. But then Bruce steps up to the stand....

Oh, Bruce! It's an epiphany -- all of the sudden you understand why Frank _had_ to have him on the '88 tour. His homely little trombone pipes up. All of the sudden Aynsely's popping out all over the place. The vamp stops. We get some composed madness, a little meltdown, another concise statement from Frank, a bit of reggae, and the Bruce Fowler / Alan Zavod Interpretive Dance-off. It (almost) redeemed the whole show for me.

Sound quality is really quite passable.

-- the duke.

July 24th, 1984

This is your all around standard '84 show. A set list that represents EVERYTHING that is overplayed during the course of the tour, guitar solos that entertain but are nowhere near great, Secret Words that slightly amuse but go no further- this show is so typical that it is almost a caricature of what this tour represents.

Regarding the guitar solos, Frank takes a while to warm up, with the first couple solos not really doing much of anything. By the time "Hot Plate Heaven" arrives, Frank sounds a little more comfortable and his solos reflect this. "Hot Plate" contains some "Five-Five-Five" flavored aggression, "Dumb All Over" continues to kick, "The Evil Prince" manages to soar despite a horrible segue into the solo section, and "Let's Move to Cleveland" is one of the better early-in-the-tour "Cleveland" efforts. None of these solos need to be heard, but they did keep this listener entertained.

The Secret Word of the night is matches, referring to Frank's comment about the need to light a match when using the bathroom after Ray White. They get quite a bit of mileage out of this, which redeems some of the more vocal oriented numbers.

If you are an '84 completist, then obviously you will get this tape and will probably enjoy it. If not, I suggest seeking out other more interesting concerts.

--JG    

July 25th, 1984

 This show features a somewhat jumbled setlist, with the He's So Gay to Cleveland sequence near the front and the Tinseltown to Evil Prince sequence after it.  Otherwise, there are few deviations from the rapidly-solidifying norm tonight.     

After some opening FZ remarks, the show starts with Black Page.  As Foggy points out on the Touring site, this arrangement doesn't make much sense as a show opener, but the solo is much more exciting than most from '88, with some nice interplay among the members.  FZ also turns in a strong Cleveland solo after Zavod's turn - it starts like a higher-energy variant of the usual solo from the later '82 shows, but then Scott changes keys and FZ kicks in some loops, and we get a hint of what was coming later in this tour.  Both of these solos are also of interest because FZ touches on one of the motives from the 79/80 Mystery Rehearsal instrumentals.     

Otherwise, this is a heavily pop-oriented set.  There are a few bugs, and the much-maligned 84 Oh No appears, leaving me with no choice but to malign it again (although the "And in your dreams" coda, with harmonized vocals, is actually rather impressive).  Otherwise, it's energetic, FZ sounds like he's in a good mood, and the group performs a few of these songs better than any other band.  (My pick is Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me, although, at this point in the tour, Betty's favorite group is inexplicably "Echo and the Bunnymen" rather than the ace "Twisted Sister.")     

But, all that being said, there's not much here aside from the two aformentioned solos that you'd want to hear more than once.     

(My tape lacks the encores - was there another monster Nig Biz at this show?)

--PB  

July 27th, 1984

   Main gripe about this tape : from the gratuitous dual saxophones on Zoot Allures to the scream at the end of Evil Prince, it's clear from listening that Napoleon is a fish out of water on this tour.  It's a shame, since the audience evidently likes the idea of having him back, but the Roxy/Helsinki Napoleon we know and love simply isn't here.     

That aside, this is another fun, predictable early '84 outing.  As usual, the band is tight and FZ sounds like he's in a good mood.  He also turns in some energetic, though brief, solos, with some superb Thunes moves behind him.  (Advice to those struggling to enjoy FZ's solos from this tour : when all else fails, listen to Scott and Chad.) There's a hint of a secret word theme towards the end (something about the caterer) and an amusing bit where FZ has each member of the band say hello to his friends in the audience (the best part is hearing Zavod talk), but otherwise this is nothing more or less than a high-powered display of the most mainstream side of FZ's music.    

I suspect that most '84 tape reviews (especially from the first leg) will be more negative than positive, but, though this is hardly a desert island tape, it was enjoyable to hear again.

--PB

July 29th, 1984

This show was played at an outdoor venue, and I guess I should be thankful that the taper stood close to the PA. Hadn't the tape sounded as good as it does, this could have been a painful ride. The start of the show is not good: an uninteresting Zoot Allures, followed by a slow Joe's Garage, Why Does It Hurt? and You Are What You Is. Strong vocal delivery of course, but we've heard these songs too many times.

Then comes the good part of the show; three of the '84 band's specialities. Dumb All Over with its typically great, heavy metal-tinged solo, The Evil Prince with it's undeveloped, Cleveland-ish solo vamp and Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy. OK solo in TEP, and quite good in CHE. Advance Romance is another number that gained a lot from the strong vocals this year. The vamp is played loud, and steals much of the attention from FZ's solo, but this probably has to do with the fact that the solo is quite uninteresting.

A long suite of vocal numbers follow, with Carol You Fool being the highlight. The Let's Move To Cleveland theme is loud and powerful. Alan's solo is not too remarkable, but far better than Frank's. FZ finds no inspiration whatsoever, and gives it up quickly. The set is closed with a nice Tinseltown Rebellion. The encores consist of songs I've grown too tired of to fully enjoy, but the final solo in Hot Plate Heaven is quite a nice one.

--JN

July 31st, 1984 early

Frank had been the guest DJ at the very hip and now defunct radio station KSTM in Phoenix the day before and played selections from the unreleased albums Them Or Us and ThingFish and promised selections would be played from both, and of course they would be. The early show was a sellout at the revolving stage Celebrity Theater in Phoenix and they were pushing great seats still being available for the late show.

I really enjoyed listening to this show, fortunately it was from another source than my chopped up late show from the same day, The band really seemed to be coming together, harmonies were getting really tight and Frank's solos are starting to stretch and compose on the fly. Low points are few, Napolean really over does it in my estimation on the Evil Prince, and the music hadn't really jelled yet for the live show. A very typcial setlist with a very pumped audience, decent recording and lots of laughs. Get this one!

--BL

July 31st, 1984 late

While doling out the reviews for this tour (I am lucky enough to have that responsibility), I avoided giving myself anything too early in the tour so as to prevent any more (than necessary) harsh words from grazing this web site.  To be fair to the others, however, I did take one July show- the last of the month- and prepared to exercise my worst criticisms for what I have generally found to be the worst part of this- the worst Frank Zappa tour.  But then what happens?  Surprise!  I really enjoy the show.   

This show is not great- I will go nowhere near that sentiment- but coming in with less-than-zero expectations, I found myself entertained and at times thrilled by the proceedings.  Without a doubt, it is Frank's guitar playing which is responsible for the success of the show, as tonight HE IS ON!  From the opening "Heavy Duty Judy" all the way through the otherwise stale "Illinois Enema Bandit" (which still contains the two-part vamp), Frank's guitar rocks!  "Truckdriver Divorce" goes out there. "Outside Now" remains low and heavy for most of its duration. "Sharleena" is its typically huge self.  "Easy Meat" retains most of its '82 unpredictability.  And even "Cosmik Debris" and "Muffin Man" hold the listener's attention throughout their by now routine motions.     

Unfortunately, apart from the solos themselves, the show does not have much to offer.  The set list is nothing special, and even those songs that are typically enjoyable manage to be ruined by this band.  "Heavy Duty Judy" is too clunky.  "Cocaine Decisions" is anemic and painfully slow. "Sharleena" finds Wackerman playing some odd and extremely out-of-place drum fills. Echoing the sentiments of Mr. Gaffney, I must agree that "Easy Meat" has WAY TOO MANY vocals.  Completely ruined, IMO.  In fact, anything that Napoleon sings on (especially his backing vocals on "Outside Now") is butchered to these ears.  Most of the tunes seem to either lack or now include some element which alters the success of the song.  The only welcome addition is the "too-little-too-late" Secret Words found in IEB.

I expected this to be a painful listen, and must admit that it was not. Frank's guitar solos are what I looked forward to, but apart from those, the show really did not exceed my non-existent expectations.  But those solos….damn good. 

--JG

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