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1984 Reviews

page two

August 1st, 1984

This is what I was dreading in the '84 shows. One show after surprising me with some rather inspired guitar playing, Frank turns out a show filled with absolutely nothing resembling a spark of inspiration. Faceless guitar solos, a painfully routine set list, nothing by the way of Secret Words- this first show of the new month does nothing more than waste 100 plus minutes of Maxell tape.

Since it is the guitar solos which thrilled me so much in the previous show, it is to these that I hoped to find redemption for these tired songs. While Frank's playing is consistently aggressive, he fails to produce anything that makes one solo stand apart from any other. In fact, as I sat listening to solo #8, I realized that Frank was demonstrating "live xenochrony"- playing solos that could be mixed and matched with other solos (i.e. switch the "More Trouble" solo with the "Hot Plate Heaven" solo, or the "Advance Romance" solo with the "Dumb All Over" solo) without making the slightest difference in the overall effect. Each solo sounded exactly like the one before it. A painfully numbing effect. The only solo which stood out in any way was Frank's "Evil Prince" effort, which, still suffering from the horrible segue out of the vocal section, managed to grab my attention for at least a minute or so.

(More complaining) This tape did, however, make me realize a couple things about Zappa and the '84 tour. One, the only performance of "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" from this band that I have ever enjoyed is the Volume IV version. Other than that, this song outright bores me. Two, "Advance Romance" is a one-tour song, and should have been quickly retired after the "Bongo Fury" tour. Three, ridding this band of Napoleon Murphy Brock was a brilliant move (sorry Nappy).

I will admit that this show is not a complete waste, though. Frank says something during "Bobby Brown" that brings the crowd to hysterics, but it is inaudible on this tape, so...Also, Frank reads a couple letters thrown on stage and rants non-sensibly during "Carol You Fool", and this is mildly amusing (and a great relief from the lifeless music being performed). Other than that, auuuugh!!

--JG

August 2nd, 1984 early

I'm not sure what the Mardi Gras meant, but I remember reading someone's recount of one of the 4 shows done over 2 nights at this venue. It seems that this was a very small dinner theater where tables up front were served. Also I'm not sure what they were serving tonight but Napolean wasn't on the menu. Exit Napolean, hello tight little FZ jukebox combo capable of doing about anything but with the same feeling. I really blame Chad's electric drums and Alan marimba patches. But I'm sure they had nothing to say about it.

But there are always highlites at a Frank Zappa show, Frank's guitar seems particluarly biting during the early show, perhaps a bit pissed. Gone were Oh No and Orange County - Evil Prince now needed to be reworked and proabably wasn't quite ready, so a basically safe show ensues with alot of good guitar work. Decent recording too, but not very close sounding for such a small theater.

P.S. FZ states where Carol You Fool comes from. during this show. You can barely hear him but it has something to do with Mark Pinske and a girl he met at a show in Pittsburgh in 81(?) that wanted to fly out to see him in another city but sent him a sweater instead. She didn't have enough money to fly out and was going to beat up some Mexican guy to get the money but opted for the sweater instead.

--BL

August 2nd, 1984 late

It's a shame that the sound quality on this tape is so poor, as this is truly one of the best shows of the first leg of the '84 tour. While the set list remains stuck in the '84 rut, the guitar solos nicely balanced throughout the set (11 of them), the Secret Words sprinkled randomly in several songs (donkey, porpoise) and the Frank lectures and pieces of trivia which open the show make this one of the most surprisingly enjoyable listens of this highly predictable tour.

Even before the music begins, things are getting slightly out-of-hand as Frank relates a tale of women and sex and Zippos and booze and donkeys in the infamous south of the border town, Tijuana. The sound is rather muddy, unfortunately, so all the details are not clear, but enough is heard to raise an eyebrow, but not enough to figure out why exactly Frank is telling this tale. Who cares, though, as this would lead to some Secret Word abuse later in the show, and a heavy-metal "Tequila" tease during Frank's "Truck Driver Divorce" solo.

The music eventually starts, but approximately 15 seconds into the "Black Page" opener, Frank pulls the plug and BAM!, silence. Frank can be heard indistinctively addressing the band- in a rather negative sounding voice- before loudly declaring that "These people deserve the best". Apparently, someone in the band (supposedly Zavod, according to other sources) was not holding his own, and thus Frank had to bring him to task. After addressing the problem, Frank then explains that after the previous night's show, one of the band members (who Frank would later admit was Napoleon) had to be taken to the hospital for medical reasons. Continuing, Frank explains that because of Nappy's absence, the band was having a hard time knowing how to pick up the slack caused by the necessary adjustment in instrumentation. Interesting, no?

Anyway, the show eventually continues, and it is a scorcher. Each Frank solo is inspired and aggressive, with the rhythm section- Thunes in particular- providing some thundering support. "The Black Page" and "City of Tiny Lites" receive the best six-string treatment I have heard on this tour. "Truck Driver Divorce" is all-over the map, but manages to build to a nice climax. Frank hits his peak in "More Trouble Every Day" and "Hot Plate Heaven", turning out two solos worthy of official release. And "Easy Meat", in a rare post-'80 encore appearance, produces another ominous "Sinister 3" based solo.

As I mentioned earlier, the sound on this tape leaves a lot to be desired, but if your ears can tolerate hiss and poorly recorded bass, and you are willing to put a little more effort into your listening enjoyment, then this is the tape to get.

--JG

August 4th, 1984 early

With a set list representing the '84 band's more repetitive side, this concert finds us once again turning to the Secret Words and guitar solos in order to find inspiration. Since the Secret Words are once again non-existent, the weight of our expectations falls squarely on Frank's guitar playing shoulders.

"Zoot Allures" opens the show promisingly enough, with a restrained and well-thought out solo. Frank does dip into his bucket of standard '84 riffs now and again, but for the most part, his first solo of the night is an interesting and original affair. The mere-shadow-of-its-former-self "City of Tiny Lites" seems to continue this guitar success, as Frank's solo dances nicely across Santana's Secret Chord Progression. Just as things are getting truly interesting, however, Frank pulls the plug on his solo. I feel cheated, as if I have paid eight dollars to see a movie and am only allowed to see the first half hour. Disappointment (and frustration) starts to creep in.

Unfortunately, as Frank's guitar playing continues to display some interesting and somewhat fresh ideas, Frank himself continues to stop each solo well short of any natural conclusion. The "More Trouble Every Day" solo is easily under a minute, possibly no more than thirty seconds. We are talking short solos here. The worst part about it is that what Frank plays for these short durations is really good.

Thankfully, with the arrival of "Easy Meat" and its "Variations on Sinister 3"-type solo, Frank steps up and begins to deliver a series of truly satisfying solos. Using the "Sinister 3" riff as a launching point, Frank, Scott, and Chad take the "Easy Meat" solo to some weird and slightly sinister places. "Sharleena" continues the lengthier and healthier soloing (does this song ever disappoint?), and sets the stage for the standard but inspired encores. Pulling out all the stops, Frank's "Muffin Man" solo may be the highlight of the night. Starting off in typical "Muffin Man" fashion, Frank's penultimate solo of the night eventually evolves into a series of brutal Belew-esque elephant noises. This celebration of the Noise of the Guitar elicits the strongest hoots and hollers from this continuously boisterous crowd.

This show is more frustrating than anything else. The sound is good (Scott and Chad are quite crisp), the set list is standard but not horrible, and several of Frank's closing solos are quite good. The dissatisfaction arises out of the extreme brevity of many of Frank's solos. While Frank seems as if he is in a good mood as he is interacting with the crowd (heck, he even plays "Black Napkins" after reading a sign in the crowd), the length of many of his solos sends the message that he would rather be elsewhere.

Overall, a good yet frustrating show.

--JG

August 4th, 1984 late

The last night at the dinner theater kicks off with Chunga's Revenge. It sort of sets the tone for the night, and I'm sure I'll surprise a few of the other reviewers by saying that Frank is aggressive, his tone shreaking throughout, a great guitar night. I should listen again, but I'll stick with my first reaction.

And now for the rest of the shortest review in history. Nothing abnormal setlist wise, see the setlist, just great solos in abundance. Get the tape!

--BL

August 7th, 1984

This tape plays quite a bit too fast - "Good", I thought, "then I will get over with it faster". But my attitude was about to change after just a few minutes. Not only is the sound quality of the recording extraordinary, but FZ is really on tonight, both in terms of mood and guitar playing. He starts using the secret word "corn" already before they've started playing, and does some more amusing rapping.

My expectations for the 1984 Zoot Allures is not very high, so I was very surprised to find myself enjoying tonight's version with closed eyes, like was it a 79-80 solo. Really smoking playing by FZ, but I must also mention Thunes here who plays some wonderful lines underneath. We get another sign of Frank being hot in City Of Tiny Lights, where he starts soloing two bars earlier than he normally would. Another really inspired solo.

The YAWYI/Mudd Club/Meek medley is saved by some funny secret word usage. The "corn" theme has now expanded into various rural jokes. Trouble/Penguin/Hotel also sound very inspired. The first two solos are above- average, but not that remarkable. FZ tries hard to be as bluesy as in 1973/74 in his Penguin solo, but it just won't work. The Green Hotel solo is much better - Frank goes more far out than the groovy-but-monotonous vamp really allows, but the outcome is quite nice. My guess is, after the two preceding straight rock/blues solo vehicles he felt like freaking out, and would soon change the Green Hotel vamp into far more unpredictable things.

By this time, I had built up high expectations for Dumb All Over, and yes, it did live up to it! Yow, this is really hot stuff - not only incredibly high-energy, but FZ also manages to get rhythmically and tonally interesting this time. Then he gives a short Panty Rap, before it's time for a long suite of pure-vocal songs. Again, the secret word usage manages to spice things up so much, that I really dig it. In Keep It Corny (So It'll Go Down Horny), at least 20% of the words are corn-related.

Cleveland time (or "Kreegah time" if you prefer). Alan's solo is very good, unusually long and varied. OK, it's bombastic and "pyramidal" in its form as always, but yes, I do like most of those volcanos, and this is one of the better. Frustratingly enough, my tapes leave out the guitar solo, a supposed highlight.

During the encores, Scott suddenly appears in the front of the mix - at some parts it's hard to hear what the other guys play! Quite cool actually, an opportunity to study his ingenious playing. FZ's two last solos, in Muffin Man and Enema Bandit, are pretty good.

Definitely one of the best shows of the first leg of the tour, possibly one of the best they played. I'm very curious to hear what that Cleveland solo sounded like, though.<

--JN

August 8th, 1984

Things are starting to gel a little after Napolean's abrupt departure, all harmonies and horn fills are re-assigned and the band seems much tighter than a week earlier.

Highlites include a great show opening Heavy Duty Judy (we the best), a whammy bar heavy solo during Outside Now, and a long Let's Move To Cleveland (monster) with Alan and a volcano solo, FZ with a very melodic then wailing feedback solo leading into Gyspy Queen and the outros.

They debut Dinah Mo Humm in it's snappy new arrangement and finish with three nice solo vehicles for FZ in Cosmik Debris, Sharleena and Whipping Post. The 84 Sharleena solos are among my favorites, this is no exception.

--BL

August 10th, 1984

On one of the better (if not best) sounding tapes from this tour, Frank and Company churn out a show that is in many ways typical of the '84 tour. We get a set list filled with oft-repeated songs, a batch of Frank solos that are best described as simply being "there", and (thankfully) a handful of Secret Words that manage to redeem the show and make the listening effort not a complete loss.

The tape (and all available set lists) starts off during the "City of Tiny Lites" solo, and thus we can only guess as to what opens the show (probably "Heavy Duty Judy", as Frank throws in a "We the Best" later in the show). The '84 YAWYI medley follows, which contains some liberal use of farm imagery and manages to make this reporter smile several times. Unfortunately, the "Dumb All Over" solo is cut, so the much-needed dose of early guitar aggression is lacking. "The Black Page #2" eventually delivers the guitar goods, but despite a couple slight "Inca Roads" teases, these goods just ain't that good. "He's Greasy Honey" finds Frank throwing in some "dancing wildly's" (and an odd "Go Navy!") in response to an overactive audience member, but none of these outbursts are that amusing. "More Penguin Hotel" is simply by the numbers, with the tail end of Frank's "Hotel" solo showing the only signs of intelligent life. Sadly, we have reached the encores by this point, and there is no way that "Camarillo Muffin Debris Post" can do anything to save this show (though the "Whipping Post" solo is quite good- reggae, yes, but Thunes' and Wackerman push Frank in some nice directions; and the "Prince" and "cheese" lyrical mutations are entertaining- just too little, too late).

So boiling this review down to four words: Excellent sound, boring music.

--JG

August 11th, 1984

This show rocks! From the moment Frank plays his first note- carefully forging his way out of "Heavy Duty Judy"- until he rips off his final lick some 2 hours later, the music performed on this hot August night does nothing less than inspire. Yes, this is an '84 show we are talking about, and yes, we do have some '84 set list issues to deal with, but thanks to some top-notch Zappa soloing, and some downright funny Secret Word usage, this concert finds itself in the "must hear" pile of Frank performances.

Frank's guitar playing is the highlight of the show, no doubt. Many of Frank's best solos over the years have a "storyteller" quality about them. From their first note, they pull you into the action and engage you. Like the proverbial storyteller, these solos keep you at the edge of your seat, your attention fixed on every note, anticipating the action to come. As the solo evolves, so does the story, with your imagination scrambling to uncover the fantastic tale Frank is undoubtedly weaving. Frank's solos on this hot August night have that quality. Patient, deliberate, almost cautious, Frank takes his time crafting these solos. Forgetting the standard bag of lightning-fast riffs he employs so often on this tour, Frank seems to be rediscovering the joy of "instantaneous compositions", and almost each solo is imbued with this passion.

"Heavy Duty Judy" is, for me, the surprise of the show. Melodramatic in a way unusual for this song, this first solo of the night engages the listener immediately, drawing him into some tangled tale of lies and deceit (or joy and celebration, take your pick). Not going more than two songs without soloing, Frank plays each solo as if it were a natural continuation of the previous, with the beginning of each solo beckoning the listener to return with Frank to his tale. "More Trouble", "Hot Plate", and "Outside Now" are better than normal, but it is not until "Easy Meat" that Frank matches the intensity with which he began. Here, Frank delivers the classic "Variations on Sinister 3" solo (from "Guitar"), and interestingly enough, the song takes on a whole new meaning in the context of the larger show (though the segue back into "Easy Meat" was jarring- what, no "Orrin Hatch"?). Even the "Carolina Hard-core Ecstasy" solo is excellent, with Frank patiently delivering his message over the course of this surprisingly long outing.

It is the "Let's Move to Cleveland" solo, though, which finds Frank (and the hitherto unmentioned but damn-is-he-on-tonight Scott Thunes) at his best. Laying a twisted "My Sharona" riff as groundwork, Thunes inspires Frank to continue pushing the envelope. Finally reaching into his standard bag of tricks, Frank balances the deliberate with the frenzied- the calm with the chaotic- and plays a solo that slowly escalates into a controlled yet satisfying climax.

The Secret Words of the night are plentiful, keeping things funny and fresh during those occasional moments when Frank is not soloing. Prince, Purple Rain ("Easy Meat" becomes "Purple Rain"), farmers, cheese ("I asked her if she had any cheese in there"), Norwegians, and others are all used as themes for various points in the show, and the results are frequently laugh-out loud funny. This humor coupled with Frank's outstanding guitar playing makes for one unbeatable (even for '84) show.

--JG

August 12th, 1984

     One of several 84 boards to leak out, this tape finds FZ in a droll mood working at a shed out in the weeds, as well as dealing with some feedback problems that result in the most amusing Mudd Club I've heard (perhaps as much so as the 1980 King Biscuit "vood'n" version).     

Regarding the solos, tonight's setlist includes no Kreegah/Cleveland (ironic, considering that this was as near to Cleveland as they got in the summer) or other major opportunities for adventure, but FZ is obviously on, and so is Thunes (although you can hear several clams from the bassist in the vocal numbers).  Thus, most of the improvisational outings are strong and well-developed, with Green Hotel being the best of the bunch.  No rarities here, in fact no instrumentals at all except for Zoot Allures to open, but Scott and Chad are prominent in the decent (unspectacular) board mix and FZ rocks out with their support.

--PB

August 13th, 1984

Without a doubt, the highlight of this show- and possibly the ONLY highlight of this show- is "Let's Move to Cleveland". Even through the muddy audience sound and layers of noise which hide Frank's solo, this set ending performance is a definite crowd pleaser. (Note: the sound is so muffled on my tape that I thought the band was playing "Pick Me I'm Clean" when the song first started….I was confused, yes, but that's what it sounded like). Zavod's solo contains many of his standard volcano antics, until roughly half way through the solo when Thunes' bass jumps out of the speakers for the first time all show. At this point, when Scott at least makes his presence known to us at home listeners, Zavod starts taking off on some interesting tangents, and the solo becomes a true group effort, with Chad also throwing in his two cents. Zavod eventually returns to Mt. St. Helens for his thrilling climax, but for awhile, true inspiration is thrown our way.

Frank's solo also starts off rather predictably, with lightning fast riffs played over a static "My Sharona"-esque vamp. Thunes, however, once again jumping to the fore, quicklys tires of this vamp and starts his bass a-wandering. This causes Frank to abandon his bag of tricks and reach out for something new, producing squeals and screeches and flurries of notes more reminiscent of '82 than '84. The climax of the song reaches eerie levels, with Frank whipping out a series of ascending runs while Thunes follows with a series of descending runs. This is chill inducing music that should be looped and played over the sound system of those Halloween Haunted House Tours- this is scary stuff. I can only imagine how interesting this would be if I could actually hear all the notes- and instruments- being played. A damn good solo.

Apart from "Cleveland", the show is standard '84 fare. A couple of Frank's solos sound as if they may be interesting- "City" and "The Black Page"- but the poor sound prevents any true enjoyment of these outings. The set list is same old-same old, and the Secret Words are non-existent. "Let's Move to Cleveland" is inspiration from out of nowhere, and is surprisingly enjoyable considering how poor the sound is. This tape may not be worth getting just for the "Cleveland", but if you are trading with some one who has this tape, ask them to throw it on as filler. It is worth hearing.

--JG

August 15th, 1984

This is a great show! FZ, Scott and Chad would all have their extra-inspired nights now and then, but tonight all three hit a collective peak, resulting in some really good jamming. Really nice-sounding tape too, with very clear bass, which is great - I can't remember ever hearing Scott so crazy! He's all over the place, and sometimes he plays wrong, but that's easily excusable when the right notes are *so* right.

Even songs that usually bore me turn out really good, for example City Of Tiny Lights. Thunes is truly great throughout the solo, while FZ needs about a minute to find inspiration and soon, Chad comes up with some really great playing. Possibly the best Tiny Lights of the tour so far. Trouble Every Day follows a similar pattern, with the same three guys making it a far-above-average affair. Penguin In Bondage is short and pretty tasty, while Green Hotel turns out to be another slow starter. This time they wake up a little too late, but the last minute is excellent. Goblin Girl -> Black Page has always been one of my favourite segues, though it worked better with the slow BP in 81/82. Once again, Frank, Scott and Chad produce some really memorable minutes during the solo.

Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me? cuts right into Joe's Garage, so probably we miss a Let's Move To Cleveland. If so, very unfortunate - I have a feeling it might have been awesome. The finishing songs are all very familiar, but great versions. Frank's solo in Muffin Man echoes his workouts from the 70s, very high-energy with lots of cool wailing. Even Illinois Enema Bandit, a song that didn't spawn many remarkable solos after 1980, is excellent tonight.

Throughout the show, the secret word "waffle" has grown stronger and stronger, but this a show that can recommended for the playing rather than the humour. I know this might do serious damage to my anti-84 image, but it must be said: get this tape! And if anyone has a copy with Cleveland on it - contact me for a trade!

--JN

August 16th, 1984

This show sucks! Take away everything you may possibly like about the '84 band- the sometimes inspired Frank guitar solos, the frequently hilarious Secret Words, the soaring vocal harmonies- and you end up with Frank Zappa live at Jones Beach, August 16th, 1984. Well, to be honest, some of those soaring vocal harmonies are still there, but nevertheless, this show sucks.

Things start off promising enough with a surprisingly aggressive "Zoot Allures" solo (a solo spot which is not one of my favorites on this tour- but this one, I enjoy). Unfortunately, it is all downhill from here on out. The set list is completely standard (with one exception- see below), the Secret Words are practically non-existent, and Frank's solos are all bland and short. His "Dumb All Over" solo does contain about thirty seconds of real cool screeching feedback, but the solo is so short that nothing can redeem it.

"Let's Move to Cleveland"- the one beacon of hope in any show- is weird and somewhat interesting, but it fails to truly satisfy. Over a frantic Wackerman beat (he sounds as if he is soloing most of the time), Frank tosses off a series of rapid-fire runs and painfully sustained notes that, taken as individual moments, are quite entertaining. But sadly there is no forest for these trees, and when all is said and done, the solo leaves an empty feeling in one's stomach.

As alluded to above, a rare "Watermelon in Easter Hay" (as heard on "Guitar") provides another bright light in this darkness, but as is the case with any "Watermelon" post-1978, Frank's solos are not what these performances are about. Hearing the song is great- one of Frank's nearest-to-perfection creations- but I have yet to hear a solo post-Halloween '78 that did not leave me wanting more. And unfortunately, this show needed more.

Save your money- don't go to this show.

--JG

August 18th, 1984

The first hour of this show is probably the most boring I've heard so far from this tour. The playing is tight and accurate, but sounds very much routine - especially FZ's guitar solos. Apart from a few inspired moments in Green Hotel and an energetic-as-always Dumb All Over, it's all just a huge plate of noodles. "What about the legendary 1984 band humour, then?", you might ask. Well folks, no luck there either - the only signs of secret words or chatting with the audience during the first hour are four Abbondanzas and FZ telling the names of the new albums.

The only thing that saves this hour from utter disaster is Scott's playing, which is overall awesome. The soft, high-pitched chord playing in Zoot Allures, the sudden outburst into the Light My Fire riff in Penguin In Bondage and his telepathic ability to suddenly play in unison with Frank in Hot Plate Heaven...what a guy.

But then, halfway through the show, things begin to happen. FZ throws in a couple of "He's gay!" in Keep It Greasey, and the rest of the band wakes up, making Honey/Carol/Chana an amusing listening experience. In Let's Move To Cleveland, Alan Zavod stretches out in a really long solo (not too bad if you ask me). At one point, FZ bursts in with a few notes, which made me picture a scenario like "Your time's up, Alan - now's my turn" - "Hey, I haven't done *The Volcano* yet". And Alan does his volcano, before it's time for the undisputable highlight of the show: The Cleveland Guitar Solo From Hell.

The band has now binned the old Cleveland vamp, instead utilizing the spontaneous-vamp-principle. And tonight they come up with a really spooky one. I was listening to this in my Walkman, while taking a walk in the dark 'n cold Swedish winter night, and did actually get scared. Scott's baseline is based on the minor 5th interval, which together with some gloomy chords on the keyboards provides a powerful backdrop for FZ's solo. And the solo is just as sinister as the rest of the music - terrific!

When the band enters the stage for the encores, they're noticably more inspired than the last time. We are presented with a real rarity: FZ just triggers a loop and starts soloing over it while the band catches up, a la the 1988 band. An amusing Cosmik Debris follows, with a new secret word - something about a detelligent-spray-something, that I didn't get. Pretty good solo, and we get an even better one in Sharleena.

The second encore consists of two songs with regional connection. First, FZ announces the world premiere of Ride My Face To Chicago (sorry Frank - it was premiered in June 1982 already), still under development and different from the version we know. In the guitar solo, FZ shows that he did have more than one guitar sound to choose from. It doesn't lead anywhere though, almost as if he can't find the key. Lastly, we get an Illinois Enema Bandit, full of detelligent, whatever that is. The solo is almost inaudible due to the loud vamp.

--JN

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