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1984 Reviews

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September 7th, 1984

If it's quantity you're after, this might be the show for you. The show starts with 6 straight guitar solo vehicles, and before it's over, we've been treated with another 7. Personally, I prefer quality, and well, this is not the show for me.

The opening sixpack consists of four very worn-out songs (Trouble/Penguin/Hotel/Tiny Lights) and two relatively fresh (Chunga's/I'm The Slime), and of these, only Chunga and Green Hotel manage to keep my attention. In Slime, FZ surprises everyone with a "Take it away Don Pardo" - the funniest moment of the show. You Are What You Is/Mudd Club has FZ trying to establish a secret word ("waffle" - a pretty common SW actually), but very little comes out of this. Another tired solo in Advance Romance, and a Gay/Brown/Grease/Honey suite without any deviation whatsoever, except for a few waffles in Honey.

After this stale bunch of songs, Ride My Face To Chicago feels really fresh. FZ is pretty funny during the Ooo-eee- ooo-oooh parts, and delivers a cool solo over the thank-God-not-yet-reggae vamp. Alan takes his usual Let's Move To Cleveland solo, while FZ's turns out to be the highlight of the show. A dark story, with Scott playing very high, gloomy notes in the background.

The first of the encores contains no surprises, but a really good Muffin Man. The second one brings a big surprise, though - Filthy Habits, a song that had been buried for the past 8,5 years (not counting the little Brest '79 version). Quite good, but it seems FZ wasn't really happy with it, as he would play it just once more and then bury it again for another 3,5 years. The show ends with Whipping Post.

One great solo, 3 good ones and 9 bland. Add to this a pretty bad sound and very little humour, and you have a tape you could really live without.

--JN

September 8th, 1984

Frank was obviously in a guitar playing mood when he arrived in Europe. 13 solos yesterday, and 11 today, inluding the first 7 songs of the show. And it seems to be the right decision, as Frank's playing tonight, while not mindblowingly fabulous, is quite fun and enjoyable.

We start off with Zoot Allures, a song I'd probably like more if I didn't hear it begin 80% of the shows from 1981-84. There follow the More Penguin Hotel trio, and for once the solos in the first two manage to be as good as the third. Hot stuff, especially MTED.

Then we get a really nice treat, with the second and final Filthy Habits of 1984. I wish Frank had let this stick around, as it's a fabulous song that's difficult to ruin in an 84 way. Frank's solo isn't up to 1976 standards, but still serviceable. Carolina doesn't really grab me, but Advance Romance is still quite enjoyable.

Then we finally get some vocals, and after 7 guitar vehicles The He's So though Man Like Me quad sounds perfectly acceptable. Bobby Brown is cut, but if you're going to have a tape cut, best to do it there rather than during a solo. Then Goblin Girl, which rather oddly doesn't lead into Black Page but rather Sharleena, which contains another nice energetic Frank effort.

There has been one thing missing from this concert, however, which is a good secret word theme. Luckily, starting with Sharleena, they emerge in abundance. 'Where the fuck are we anyway?', 'malamute', 'pony', 'G minor arpeggio', merchandise selling...it's a cavalcade of fun. Frank's solos continue to entertain during Muffin Man, Ride My Face to Chicago and IEB as well, and Bandit really goes to town on the secret words, bringing the show to an amusing conclusion.

Not a must-have show, but the above-average guitar and fun secret words make it an excellent 84 tape.

--SG

September 9th, 1984

This is half of a pretty good show. Mid-way through the proceedings- thanks to an ultra-rare (possibly the only one ever performed?) "Hot Plate Heaven" keyboard solo (yes, you read right!)- the energy level in this standard '84 show kicks up another notch or two. The first 45 minutes of this show are not bad, mind you, just typical 1984, with overplayed songs, energetic but unimaginative guitar solos, and way too much electronic percussion. Even the usually enjoyable "Truckdriver Divorce" and "Ride My Face To Chicago" are let down by fast and pointless guitar solos. Interestingly enough, it is in "Penguin in Bondage" where the first strains of inspiration start to seep through, with Frank turning his 16 bar solo into the first real interesting moment of the night. He fails to match this intensity during his "Hot Plate Heaven" solo, but thanks to an odd decision to allow one of the keyboardists to solo, Frank manages to save the show and reattract the listener's attention. (I am assuming that the keyboard solo is by Martin, as it sounds nothing like Zavod's "Cleveland" solos. Different sound, different style.) The solo in itself is not that exciting, but coming in an entirely new vehicle, and NOT being over a tired blues vamp, it is a welcome change of scenery.

From here on out, Frank seems to have rediscovered his passion for the guitar, as the remaining solos all cover exciting territory. "I'm the Slime" is longer than expected, with Frank at one point straining to reach a high note to climax a middle-of-the-song run. "Sharleena" marches to its usual peak. "Muffin Man" recalls the glories of the '77 encore closers. Finally, "Whippin' Post" contains a waltz vamp during the solo section, and the transition from the vocals into this vamp works well. I am not a fan of Frank's "stop-the-song-and-insert-a-new-vamp-here" experimentation, but much to my surprise, the "Whippin' Post Waltz" works wonders. Frank's playing takes on a whole new feel, lending the solo an emotional impact not many "Post" solos have.

Despite all these guitar treats, the second half of this show is not all that great simply because the set list is standard '84. Yes, there are several solos that made me sit up and take notice, but I am not sure that they are enough to make me ever want to listen to this tape again. Is this another reason for more YCDTOSA volumes?

--JG

September 11th, 1984

FZ always seemed to enjoy playing in Berlin, and understandably so - the audience was great, and so were the halls they played in. This is one of the few shows that weren't played in the Deutschlandhalle, but the Eissporthalle seems to have equally great acoustics. Unfortunately, this is not one of the better shows that the Zappa band played here - too dull setlist, too little humour and too few highlights.

It's not a bad show, though. Two really hot moments, and a couple of fine solos. Trouble Every Day is far above average, and Truckdriver Divorce is good too. The Sharleena solos tend to sound similar, but are always enjoyable. The two outstanding jams, however, come in The Black Page and Let's Move To Cleveland. Frank's solo in BP is a really scary beast. A loop keeps going hypnotically throughout, and the rhythm playing is excellent - for once, it's Chad rather than Scott who's firing things up, with an energetic 3/4 groove. Surely one of the best solos FZ played this month.

Tonight's Cleveland is about as much of a monster song that it would get in 1984. After Alan's solo, FZ kicks off the same loop as in Black Page. His solo is similar in style, but this time Scott dictates things, by changing bass note, and thereby the harmonics. Really cool, but this part gets cut a bit too early as FZ starts another loop - a strange one consisting of just a slapped string and a feedback note, modulated by the whammy bar. This part turns out to be even better, with Chad going mad on his tuned syn-drums (really nice, infact) and Thunes just being his cool self. Scott also gets to take the next solo (very good!), first a capella, then the first loop re-enters along with Chad. Zappa ends the festivities with an intense solo.

For these two highlights, this show qualifies as one of the better shows from September '84, a month with relatively few peaks.

--JN

September 13th, 1984

Frank gets an 'A' for effort for this night's performance. The grade for Overall Quality is sadly only a B-, but as the above grade indicates, that is not due to lack of effort. Frank steps up and takes 12 guitar solos during this show's standard set list, and during the first 7-plus, his concentration is full bore but his accomplishment is almost nothing. Each of the 7 solos begins with a melodic, carefully played motif. Frank lays down the theme for each solo, spends the first minute or so toying with the theme, and tries to find a good spot from which to launch into deeper explorations. But each time, Frank's efforts are fruitless, as the theme turns out empty in potential, or the rhythm section fails to catch fire under Frank and Frank gives up his searching. In each case, Frank then just cuts loose a series of cliched and reliable riffs, brings the solo to a hurried peak, and returns to the structured song. This occurs from the opening "Chunga's Revenge" through the middle of "Let's Move to Cleveland", with each abandoned solo bringing more disappointment as Frank's opening motifs become more inspired and passionate as the show continues.

But finally, thanks to his overwhelming perseverance, Frank accomplishes musical greatness in the lengthy "Cleveland". Frank solos once- goes nowhere. Frank solos a second time- goes nowhere. Thunes solos- pretty cool. Frank steps up and tries to solo a third time in "Let's Move to Cleveland", and the fireworks warehouse explodes. As soon as Frank establishes his theme for this final attempt, Thunes and Wackerman lock down the groove and take off. Frank gets pulled along behind them, and in a matter of seconds, has taken the lead and is nothing but dust. Feedback, blues riffs, flurries of chords, lightning fast runs that numb the mind- Frank is all of a sudden on fire. When Chad and Scott eventually catch up, the three way interplay is astounding, with Thunes especially heightening the excitement with some Bombs.

Powerful stuff.

At this point, the show takes off, making the encores a consistent and surprisingly strong highlight. "Baby Take Your Teeth Out" is premiered and sounds horrible, except for Frank's guitar solo which is loong and Huge. Over this cheesy even-for-84 vamp, Frank whips out an uplifting, inspiring, classic rock type solo, which somehow manages to capture all the subtleties of classic "Frank" while at the same time establishing a "let's party" atmosphere. So far in my reviewing of this tour, this performance is the most surprising "damn that's good" track I have heard. "Ride My face To Chicago" continues the rowdy fun, as do the remaining overplayed numbers. "Cosmik Debris" comes out of nowhere with a straight-out hilarious guitar solo, in which Frank simply scrapes the guitar strings for over half the solo, and then stops playing about 12 bars too soon.  The band keeps forging ahead, so Frank scrapes the strings a couple times more, and then wraps things up with a nice, cliched blues lick.  The show closes with a fitting "Stevie's Spanking", in which Frank plays the heavy metal hero and lays waste with a wall of feedback and noise.  Some choice stuff.

There is also some interesting Secret Word sabotage occurring in the second half of the show ("spoo" ), and during the encores things get pretty out-of-control.   Frank and Ike and Bobby try to out do each other with ridiculousness, and the results are pretty funny. 

The last 40 minutes of this show are excellent. Unfortunately, the first 65 suck.  But from "Cleveland" on, this is one of the best- and most inspired- 1984 performances I have heard.

-JG

September 14th, 1984

This is one of those shows that's earned the '84 band its humour-over-music reputation. Musically, it doesn't have much to offer that can't be found elsewhere. But it's one hell of a funny concert.

As I recall, the spoo theme was invented in Drammen the night before, but the boyz have definitely not grown tired of it yet. The first occurence comes in You Are What You Is, and after that, every single song is drenched in spoo. Childish and immature, yes, but I must admit I had a great time trying to predict when the next "spoo" was going to come, and laughed out loud many times as they surprised me. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn't even smile at "laugh 'til you spoo on Billy Graham". And all the "oooh" backing vocals become "spooo" of course, which also cracked me up many times.

The most interesting solo comes in City Of Tiny Lights. Early in the solo, Frank plays a quirky little figure, then he noodles around uninspiredly for a few minutes, before throwing in the same little figure again, and ending the solo in unusually experimental territories. Not a great solo, but pretty notable compared to the rest of them. Ride My Face To Chicago is the most enjoyable, a dirty blues workout.

If it's the '84 humour you're after, this is a great tape. If it's great playing you want, find another one.

--JN

September 16th, 1984

Despite a somewhat interesting '84 set list, the first half of the show is strictly by the numbers playing, without anything resembling inspiration or deviation. Frank's solos are merely exercises in speed, and short ones at that. Thunes and Wackerman sound mechanical. The Secret Words are popping up everywhere, though none are followed up upon or near interesting enough to want to follow up upon. By the time the usually uplifting "Sharleena" runs its course, all hope is lost as we gaze upon the "He's Brown Greasy Honey" that looms over the horizon.

Then, suddenly…Smurfs! Those cute but annoying cartoon freaks that entered our living rooms every Saturday morning at nine- they- out of the blue- start invading our territory. "He's So Gay" poots forth the first little blue creature, but it is quite casual, almost accidental, and does not forebode the madness to come. "Bobby Brown" quickly escalates the madness, however, with the tiny gnomes hiding around every corner, bringing forth a climatic "spindle up my butt till it makes me smurf!" From this point on, the songs are all smurfed with a cheery blue, thanks to the encompassing smurfness of smurfs in smurfy other smurf. The Secret Word madness eventually reaches one of the most ridiculous points of verbal substitution when the smooth sounding "Carol You Fool" gets overrun by Smurfs. This reporter found himself laughing heartily at the positively stupid Smurf-filled lines emanating from White and Willis.

As is usually the case, this infiltration of lyrical madness positively influences the musical portion of the show. The songs seem to bounce along a little stronger, and the vocals gain a little more ooomph! The big payoff arrives during "Let's Move to Cleveland", which finds Frank leading Chad and Scott on a lengthy and adventurous guitar journey.

When all was said and done, this once horrible show had evolved into a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The first half may have been uninspired to the point of boredom, but the laughs coupled with the "Cleveland" experimentation of the second half more than make up for it. Not a great show, but something likely to make it the tape player every so often.

--JG

September 17th, 1984

This tape has two things going for it. One, the sound is excellent. This is a remarkably clean audience tape, with FZ’s guitar clear throughout. Two, “Let’s Move To Cleveland” is, dare I say, beautiful. Inspirational. Uplifting. A perfect example of the majestic heights Frank was able to reach, but so seldomly did, on this tour.

“Cleveland” proceeds as usual through Zavod’s and Wackerman’s solos, with both efforts somewhat short but entertaining affairs. Nothing special, though. Entering Frank’s domain, things immediately take a turn for the better with the introduction of a four-note arpeggio vamp played on a heavily effected guitar. The result is a spacey, futuristic groove over which Thunes plays a bass solo. After a minute or so of this, Frank introduces a second loop- a more typical machine gun style chord loop- which sets up a nice contrast with the previous loop. Frank begins soloing, riffing off the second loop, while the band continues to ride along with the slower first loop. An interesting effect, but it doesn’t really work UNTIL Wackerman abruptly shifts gears, fires off several volleys of snare, and brings the entire band together surging along with the second loop. At this point, the groove simply takes off, and Frank sounds more confident than he has all night. Just when it seems as if things may settle down and turn predictable, Thunes steps forward and completely changes the harmonic “complexion” of the solo, heightening the emotional intensity of Frank’s playing with some of the most perfectly played bass notes I have heard. This goes on for roughly half a minute before Thunes resolves the tension, but by this time Frank is flying, and the song rides an emotional wave into the shore. Memories of “King Kong” 3/26/79 and “Yo Mama” 10/29/78 come to mind. Powerful stuff.

The rest of the show is good, but seriously undermined by the brevity of all of Frank’s solos. “City of Tiny Lites” and “Hot Plate Heaven” are particularly aggressive and nasty, but Frank calls it quits so soon in each that satisfaction isn’t achieved. It’s like good sex without the orgasm- enjoyable, but still. “Carolina” is tasty but short, “Advance” gets points for being noisy (and that’s about it), “Slime” contains some nice rhythmic twists and turns, and “More Trouble” finds Zavod contributing some nice support. All the solos have something in their favor, undermined by the fact that they are all just too damn short!

I love the “Cleveland”, and the sound on the tape is great. Otherwise, the show proved to be more frustrating than anything because of Frank’s short guitar playing attention span.

--JG

September 19th, 1984

My tape is from a radio broadcast, and there are two things about it that interfere with the enjoyment. One, the commentators, who must have gotten paid per word, as they interrupt practically every song, talking at length. Two, the weird mix - the vocals, the bass and one of Zavod's keyboards are way up front, while the guitars, some keyboard sounds and the drums, are really quiet. The most noticable effect of that is that most of the guitar solos are almost inaudible. A few solos come through OK, when the keyboards are relatively sparse, but none of these are remarkable.

After the opening threesome (Chunga's, Teenage Wind and Truckdriver's Divorce), the setlist is dull, consisting of songs we've heard too many times before, with the possible exception of Goblin Girl/Black Page. Not much secret word abuse either, just a couple of "lumumba", whatever that means. As you might understand, this is a tape you can live without, but there is in fact one thing that's cool about it - the mix really allows you to study Scott's bass playing, which is great all the way through.

--JN

September 20th, 1984

This is truly one of the most unmemorable Frank Zappa shows that I have listened to for a long time. After the first 45 minutes, I was tempted to give up the show for lost and write my review solely based on the first half of the show. There was no way the energy lacking in the first half would somehow appear and save the day in the second half. But cooler heads prevailed, and remembering that at any time a peanut, some broccoli, or even a Smurf could appear and save the day, I grit my teeth and persisted onward. Boy, was I stupid.

Simply put- nothing at all special about this show. The "Carol You Fool" vocals soar immaculately, and Zavod's solo in "Cleveland" is different enough from his usual fare to at least make me mention AZ for the first time in my '84 reviews, but other than those minor things, it is simply a snooze fest. Even the usually reliable "Evil Prince" and "Ride My Face" fail to set off any bells.

And that's all I have to say about this show. Skip it.

--JG

September 21st, 1984

Probably the most interesting thing about this tape is the unusual mix found on this audience recording. While my tape sounds much better than the B- grade received on Naurin's set list page, it is still, at best, only a B+ tape. Frank's guitar is buried deep into the mix, and the vocals are at times muffled to the point of incomprehension (as if that really matters with this tour- we all know the words, right?). But what is interesting is that Zavod's keyboards and Wackerman's drums are both front and center- clear and prominent and almost soundboard clean. During Zavod's "Let's Move to Cleveland" solo, I thought I was listening to the master tapes- the drums and keys were coming through so nicely. What's even better is that on this night, Alan and Chad are both having one of THOSE nights, and even though they sonically overshadow the rest of the band, there are no complaints whatsoever.

The set list and performances themselves are not that special, though the interesting mix makes those oft-repeated songs a little more tolerable. It is in Frank's solos where things are truly interesting. Frank himself (for the most part) does not sound too inspired, but Chad's nearly out-of-control support and Zavod's interesting and at times unusual comping more than make up for any predictability on Frank's part. In fact, with the drums and keyboards so prominent, one notices that most of Frank's inspired moments come as a direct response to some flurry by Chad or some unusual chord by Zavod. I have never been a big fan of Alan, but after this tape, I will definitely listen more closely to him.

The highlight of the tape musically has to be "Truckdriver's Divorce", which appears in one of those versions that all TDD's should aspire to. While it is not the longest of solos, it is weird and exploratory and is a true group creation, with FZ, AZ, and CW all playing important roles in the direction of the jam. "The Black Page" and "Let's Move to Cleveland" are also quite noteworthy solos, though they are not as inspirational as TDD. Just damn solid performances.

While this may not be one of the best shows of the 1984 tour, it is an interesting and worthwhile listen. I would love to have more '84 shows mixed like this, and may find myself returning to this tape often, even if it is just to hear that "Truckdriver Divorce" again. I give it two thumbs up.

--JG

September 22nd, 1984

This is a pretty strong though not spectacular slice of '84 Zappa. The set list is standard but not too dull, with a couple somewhat rare treats throw in ("Lucille", "Nite Owl" and "Baby Take Your Teeth Out"). The guitar solos are consistently energetic and aggressive, although at times too short. The Secret Word usage is continuous though completely random, with no single theme dominating the proceedings. And most importantly to these ears, Wackerman and Thunes are once again in top form, providing a funky edge to many of the solos, and flirting with rhythmic chaos in others.

The first half of the show is standard '84 Zappa, with a suite of overplayed songs sounding fresh thanks to the rhythm section. "Zoot Allures" finds Chad flailing away on the drums as if he were soloing, "More Trouble" hits a cheesy but effective psuedo-funk groove, and "Hot Plate Heaven" is just flat out aggressive, though way too short. "Lucille" provides some excellent contrast and relief, before "City of Tiny Lites" meanders off in a lifeless, "what happened to the CS Secret Chord Progression?" solo. Frank attempts to build a solo from scratch this time out, but fails to get any real heat going. By the time the band finds a groove to work with, Frank whips out a series of guitar strangulations and manglings before abruptly ending the song.

From here on out, the vocal numbers dominate the proceedings, with some consistent but purposeless Secret Word abuse keeping things engaging. Unfortunately, the remaining solos (in "The Evil Prince" and "I'm the Slime") are too short to matter, with the closing "Baby Take Your Teeth Out" bringing the only real excitement to the second half of the show.

This is not a great show, but thanks to a good sounding tape and the occasional highlight, I found myself enjoying the majority of the show. You can do much better with the '84 tour, but you can also do much worse.

--JG

September 24th, 1984  early

The first show of this mini-London run fails to hold a candle to the many London extravaganzas of past Zappa tours. That’s to be expected on this tour, so no real disappointment there, but it would have been nice to see Zappa throw us at least one screw ball on the somewhat predictable tour. But he does not, and thus the first night in London brings us a standard, but at times inspired, 1984 performance.

The show sails along quite predictably for the first 45 minutes or so. Frank solos competently through “Zoot”, “COTL”, “Carolina”, and “Advanced”, not really sucking, but not taking any interesting chances, either. Chad steps up occasionally (most notably in “COTL”) and injects a little variation in the jam, but Frank fails to explore any of these spurts for more than a few bars. It is not until “I’m the Slime” rolls around that Frank begins to have a sense of adventure. In spite of himself, Frank finally injects a little excitement into the show with an “abandoned the groove, insert a loop” guitar solo in “I’m the Slime”. At first, this idea is disastrous, as the funky Slime groove is replaced with a stale guitar loop. But almost immediately, Frank finds something of interest in this somewhat blank canvas, and takes off on what is easiest his most adventurous solo of the night. The end result is not great, but considering what had come previously in the show, it is very welcome.

This leads to a high-energy “In France” solo that proves that Frank can do as much damage in a :30 second solo as he can in a 3:00 minute one. “The Black Page” delivers what is easily the strongest solo of the night, a typically aggressive BP-effort that finds Frank toying more with that noisier side that he so favored in ‘82. “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” adds another argument to its “a live version of me NEEDS to be officially released” claim, also delivering a strong FZ solo over a vamp that even the ‘84 band itself would call cheesy. And as can be expected, the “Muffin Enema Bandit” closes the night with a couple typical blues scorchers.

Not a great show by any stretch of the imagination, but not bad. Get it for the last 45 minutes.

--JG

September 25th, 1984

This is what you could call a "straight" show - flawlessly played, tight and very little lyrical or instrumental mutations. The kind of show that FZ liked to use when he put together his CDs, but also the kind of show that bores this reporter. I'm sure many fragments of this show have ended up on various releases, most notably the solos in Trouble Every Day and The Evil Prince. The former is mostly interesting for the accompaniment, while the latter is one of the better of the show. There are two really good solos, in Truck Driver Divorce and Cleveland, but most of the rest are downright dull.

Apart from the few good solos, there are two things that saves this show from utter disaster: a couple of songs that haven't yet become overplayed (especially Baby, Take Your Teeth Out is nice to hear), and Scott Thunes. Yes, once again it's Scott who steals the attention. While the rest of the band are running on empty, he keeps delivering bass lines that are creative, beautiful, funny, funky and simply great. The mix on this FM tape brings him up front, for which I'm thankful. Otherwise, this is a pretty bad sounding, low-fi FM tape.

--JN

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