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1984 Reviews

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October 3rd, 1984  early

Well, the sound on this tape is pretty good.

OK, so much for the positive part of this review. I don't think I've ever been so bored listening to a Zappa show as I was with this one. All the guitar vehicles seem to be excuses for either pointless noodling or pointless fast guitar breaks. Secret words are scarce, and what few there are seem to be devoted to belittling Alan Zavod. Which might not be a bad idea, as both his solos are incredibly dull.

There are precisely three points in the entire 100-minute show that caught my interest - Hot Plate Heaven, Chana in De Bushwop, and Sharleena. Each features Frank desperately struggling to stay boring against a backing vamp that is quite interesting. He succeeds the first two times, but in Sharleena the vamp wins out and Frank is forced to perform a decent solo.

The show ends with Frank quoting Inca Roads in his Whipping Post solo. It doesn't help. Get other 84 shows before this one. Many others.


October 4th, 1984

Add this to the list of '84 shows that don't suck. Granted, that's not because there are any oddities on the setlist (except Baby Take Your Teeth Out), or that the band's sound is less tinny than usual, or that there are no mistakes. (It sounds like Chad loses a stick at one point in Tinseltown, and the meltdown part of Drowning Witch is very rough.)

What makes this tape good is that FZ is on, and so is everyone else in the band. They remind us that, at their best, '84 solos are genuine (and riveting) four-way improvisations between FZ, Alan, Scott and Chad, not just FZ running through his stock licks over a static rhythm section. Plus, with 9 solos in the first 11 songs, FZ gets many chances to step out. Alan deserves special recognition for consistently pushing FZ in unusual directions with his comping, although I believe FZ indicated in some interviews that he wasn't entirely comfortable with this.

There's a running musical joke about Owner Of A Lonely Heart, as well as some Secret Word references to game shows and a popcorn vendor who FZ notices during China And The Bourgeois (heh heh). Ultimately, though, this tape's strength is that it proves how well FZ and the '84 guys could jam when they were in the mood.



October 7th, 1984

This may be one of the best, all-around funniest, most thorough from start to finish, Secret Word parties that Frank and Company have ever thrown. Thanks to an apparently unpleasant meal the band had earlier in the day, the Secret Word of the night-"Lobster"- pops up three songs into the show, starts clamoring its jaws in a frenzy, and does not shut up until the final strains of "Illinois Enema Bandit" fade out 75 minutes later. Lobsters, crustaceans, waitresses, restaurants, credit cards, bills, and even more references gone unheard thanks to poor sound quality possess this early October show, making it one of the funniest and most enjoyable Secret Word feasts I have ever dined upon. Really.

The madness starts during "You Are What You Is" when Frank gives thanks for not having to be a "lobster" no more (has there ever been a lyric more ripe for Secret Word abuse?). This starts an avalanche of silliness that cannot be stopped. "Mudd Club" refers to a "sudsy yellow lobster". "The Meek" agonizes over the "sheik who bought your lobster last week". "Lucille" messed up "my check" while the "Truckdriver Divorcee" was "pooching my hometown lobster". The "Hot Plate Heaven" abandons the Green Hotel and takes refuge in the "Salty Tail" (hard to hear this- whatever they are singing, it is an obvious reference to the name of the restaurant they ate in). "Daddy Daddy Daddy" becomes "Lobster Lobster Lobster" while "In France", there lives a "mystery lobster that will turn your penis green". By the time "Joe's Garage" rolls around, none of the remaining songs' original lyrics are recognizable (possibly thanks to that lobster crammed in the corner by the Dodge), with the ultimate madness arriving during "Too Much Lobster", er, I mean, "No No Cherry". Almost every line of every song is somehow infected by this crustacean disease, leaving the listener- and at times the band- laughing aloud in complete enjoyment.

Musically speaking, the show is no slouch, but simply cannot compete with the lyrical madness. All of Frank's solos are particularly aggressive and at times inventive, but unfortunately, are almost all just way too short.

"Truckdriver Divorce" is one of the more enjoyable of the lot, sounding like the soundtrack to the "Invasion of the Lobsters". The first minute or so is spacey and disconnected, with images of lobsters slowly crawling out of the sea implied through the sinewy passages. About a minute into the solo, Frank digs in and the whole band jumps into overdrive, right as the lobsters raise their claws and start attacking the innocent townfolk. This battle goes on for awhile, with the lobsters clearing winning, until the townspeople give up and calmness (a bloody calmness) resumes.

Easily the best solo of the night, and easily one of the best versions of this song from this tour, is "The Black Page". The first half of the solo sounds like the soundtrack of a pinball game. Frank is the ball- zigging and zagging all over the place- while Chad and Scott and Alan are the bumpers and flippers and lights and cartoonish-sound effects triggered by Frank's random meanderings. This goes on for quite awhile, before Chad and Scott join forces and slowly coalesce into a subtle yet powerful rendition of the "Them or Us" vamp. Frank seems to okay this development, as he turns his playing up a level, while the rhythm section further grinds the infamous "Black Page" vamp into the ground. This has to be one of the guitar solo/group improv highlights of the 1984 tour.

Overall, this is a pretty good show. The sound is not that good, with the vocals suffering the most from the muddy sound. Still, enough of the lyrical madness comes through to make one laugh a loud- often- and despite some foreshortened efforts on guitar, Frank does manage to play some wicked six-string throughout the show. This is one I recommend.



October 10th, 1984

This is another early October '84 tape to add to the list of surprisingly strong and entertaining late Europe shows. This concerts main strength is its Secret Word mayhem. There is no single theme running through the show, but almost every song has some sort of lyrical sabotage. The opening introductions find Frank amusing himself with Viareggio (the location of their next show), and from there its off to pasta, playing in tents, Wang Chung, Dance Hall Days, lobsters, checks, bowel movements, squirts, and the sweatpants of Alan Zavod. There is no apparent rhyme or reason to the Secret Words that pop up, other then the fact that band simply wants to amuse themselves and will do whatever it takes to do so.

Musically speaking, the set list is standard, a bit on the dull side, but Frank raises the interest level with some lengthy and aggressive guitar playing. None of his solos are all that inventive, but the vigor with which he attacks each one, and the surprising length at which he plays them all, more than compensate for any predictability in his playing. A couple solos- Hot Plate Heaven in particular- are nothing more than a parade of '84 solo cliches, but since they are infused with so much spirit, and again with spectacular support from Chad and Scott, it is hard to feel good about complaining. Frank may not be stretching any boundaries tonight, but he sure is entertaining.

The best part about the whole show, however, occurs during "Penguin in Bondage", one of the two songs caught in the Wang Chung Secret Word attack. During Frank's solo, Bobby and Scott start playing one of the main themes to "Dance Hall Days", and this becomes the vamp for the second half of Frank's solo. It only lasts for roughly twenty seconds, but simply hearing Frank solo over Wang Chung for any length of time is cool.

Finally, the sound is excellent. I recommend this one.



October 15th, 1984

Frank's second to last European '84 show starts off like gangbusters, hits a comfortable stride early, and then barely manages to limp its way home.

The highlight of the show is the opening "Zoot Allures-> City of Tiny Lites" combo, which finds the band confident and sounding better than ever, with Frank pulling out two carefully constructed and purposeful solos. The early YAWYI medley manages to maintain interest thanks to the solid performance of the band, but by the time the early "Drowning Witch" arrives, the slate is clean and ready for guitar madness. Frank jokes around a bit with his vocals, and Zavod and Co. successfully navigate the musical twists and turns. The air is ripe with anticipation, as Frank steps up and delivers two of the sorriest, most uninspired solos of the tour. Two very short outings that kill all momentum so far acquired. Two bummers. Two duds. Two show killers.

The show must go one, however, and thanks to some inspired set list choices ("Drowning-> Black Page-> Alien Orifice" is a sweet trio!), the show begins to pick up speed once again. But then the "Cocaine Biz" hits, Frank is unable to do anything with his "More Penguin Hotel" solos, and despite another interesting "Baby Teeth Your Take Out" solo, the rest of the show leaves no impression.

The opening couple songs are good, and are enjoyed best as the possible beginning of a long, crazy road trip. By themselves, the do not rival other performances from this tour. The "Drowning Black Alien" combo is GREAT!!, and should have been employed more often. That's about it.