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1984 Reviews

page seven


November 13th, 1984

After a run of good/great shows, Frank was bound to have a clunker. Considering the other shows of the preceding (and following) weeks, this show must be it. Thankfully (and unthankfully), Frank does throw in a couple great solos (and thus damning many of us into "needing" this tape).

The opening "Apostrophe" sucks, and ranks right up there with "Black Napkins" as the complete disasters of this tour. ["Black Napkins" is probably the biggest failure, as it represents a desecration of a sacred vessel. "Apostrophe" just plain sucks.] Frank does not make any amends for this opening downer throughout the first half of the show, with disappointing solos in "City", "Baltimore?", and "Bamboozled". "Sharleena" injects a little life back into the dying body, but the "Cocaine Biz" combo follows and ruins our newfound hope. Even "King Kong" (great three nights earlier) is dull and predictable, leaving us with very little faith in the future.

But as Frank did in Philly three days earlier, he delivers a savior in "More Trouble Every Day" and blesses us with an exploratory and inventive solo. Frank plays "replace the vamp" and inserts an "underwater heartbeat" loop (a simple one note beat with effects). Instant inspiration, as Frank takes off for the stratosphere, while Thunes and Wackerman orbit the loop, remaining loyal to its purpose but throwing in enough rhythmic deviation to truly mess with our mind. Zavod contributes to the madness with some "Space Invader" effects.

This revitalizes the show, producing another inspired solo in "Hot Plate Heaven", and the climactic set ender in "Let's Move To Cleveland". Frank has bypassed the opening "Republican"-esque vamp he has been using in many of these November shows, and heads straight into the "Yo Mama"-esque build. The end result is not as satisfying as if Frank had taken a little more time, but the solo pleases nonetheless.

Sadly, that's about it for this show. The sound is great, which really only matters during the "More Penguin Hotel Cleveland" menage-a-trois. Overall, this is a pretty boring show that climaxes with four excellent solos. Get the four songs as filler and be happy with that.


November 14th, 1984

After a series of oddball shows, this tape delivers everything you would expect from a top-notch date from this tour's home stretch. In fact, like 10/4/84, this is one of those tapes that makes me wonder why people have a bad attitude about this tour (see 10/31/84 for a counterargument).

    This is one of the great humor nights of the tour. "Whale bar" comes up during the intros and quickly becomes a prominent Secret Word - it's not clear what this means (apparently a reference to bizarre road food), but the band seems to find it most amusing, and so do we. The audience is quite enthusiastic, with FZ accepting panties, asking people to hold off on autograph requests so as not to slow down the show and rebuffing requests for Titties & Beer and Yellow Snow.

    FZ has many solos tonight - none are throwaways, and most of them are truly inspired. Once again, Chad and Alan are especially agressive, with Scott a bit subdued in comparison. There's an intermission at the venue's behest (FZ always seems to be pissed, or at least humorously cynical, when this happens), and the next four songs (Advance/Trouble/Penguin/Hot Plate) feature solos that are completely "out," with lots of sick bends and effects.

    This is the night where Kreegah Bondolah became Let's Move To Cleveland in honor of the appreciative audience. Funnily enough, this might not even be the highlight tonight - Alan's solo is average, Chad's is energetic, and FZ's starts out very similar to Republicans but moves in some unique directions.

    The encore makes this show, though, due to a new Secret Word reference to Zavod cavorting with a rubber penis during his solo. Stinkfoot becomes Rubber Dick, with FZ abandoning the lyrical structure in favor of laugh-out-loud-funny extemporizations. The out chorus of the I.E. Bandit closer becomes "It must be just what Alan needs."

    Also, aside from some dislocations in the mix here and there, this is one of the best-sounding 84 tapes I've heard (including SBDs) - very clear and punchy. Get this one.    


November 16th, 1984

I have four minor complaints about this tape. Number One: The sound is poor at times, though not as bad as the C- rating reported to Naurin. The vocals, keys, and rhythm section sound fine (with some solid bass levels at times), but Frank's guitar is a mess. It is obvious during the intros that the venue itself has major echo problems, and this creates walls of noise during Frank's already noisy enough guitar solos. This definitely hinders how much of Frank's guitar playing can be heard, but thankfully, at least enough gets through to make us at least realize that he is ON! Numbers Two and Three: The "Drowning Witch" solos (both of them) and the "Let's Move to Cleveland" guitar solo are the weakest Frank's outings of the show. Disappointing, because considering Frank's energy level this night, these solos should have been monstrous. Number Four: "Cocaine Biz" happens, and it happens way too early. Other than these four things, I really like this show.

The tape starts off with Frank lecturing the audience. Frank speaks, the audience goes crazy, the audience quiets down, Frank speaks again. The sound of the tape prevents us from hearing most of what Frank says, but the audience's reaction shows a mix of attentiveness, enthusiasm, and respect- a trio of values not found in most Zappa audiences. When Frank announces the opener- "Teenage Wind"- the audiences enthusiastic reaction gives what should be a weak opening number a much needed push. The "Truckdriver Divorce" solo is surprisingly aggressive, sounding more like a show ending "Muffin Man" workout than the exploratory TDD solo we are accustomed to. Anywhere else in the show, this probably would have disappointed me as far as TDD's go, but coming in what is essentially the opening solo spot, this attitude works well. It also serves as a sign of what would follow. Aggression!

Frank's modus operanum as far as solos go tonight is straight out Attack! Whether it be "King Kong" or "The Evil Prince" or "Hot Plate Heaven", Frank chooses not to waste a second of his allotted solo time, and fills every inch of space with a flurry of notes or a tidal wave of feedback. Thankfully, the rhythm section is more than up for this challenge tonight, managing to keep up with Zappa's pace and, at times, take the reins and direct the jam.

The one solo which stands out above the rest is "The Black Page #2". Frank starts out as aggressive as usual, but with a touch more evil thrown in the low notes he is playing. After establishing the basic feel of the jam, he toys with the feedback and goes from evil to just plain creepy, as in "I'm alone on Halloween and what the hell is that noise?" creepy. This inspires a burst of more evil playing, before Zavod steps forward and starts playing these positive…upbeat…happy?…chords. Completely opposed to the tone Frank has set, these out-of-place chords hold their own, and before long, Frank has found redemption and is steeped in evil no more. The solo ends in a positive, celebratory, purely happy fashion. Weird.

I really like the third song "Daddy Daddy Daddy". "King Kong-> Bamboozled-> Drowning" ("King Bamboozled by Witch"- story at 11!) is a great mid-set trio. The segue from "Witch" into "Black Page" is perfect. "The Black Page" seems ridiculously fast tonight, but is as tight as ever. "The Evil Prince" shows that this band has confidence. The set list is truly interesting, with a near perfect first half and a nice cutting and pasting of medleys in the second half. Zavod delivers another great "Cleveland" solo, as he has been doing for all of this leg of the tour. And the Secret Word "Whale Bar" finally elicits some outright laughs, especially during "Bobby Brown".

Like I said, I really like this tape.


November 17th, 1984

Frank delivers another clunker, and narrowly misses having the most pathetic Second Set in the history of live music. Story at 11!

"Apostrophe" opens a show for the penultimate time ever, and this is one of the few things to cheer about in this tape. The song sounds a little bit tougher thanks to a more aggressive Thunes, but still, it just outright sucks. "In France" cannot provide instant relief, and the "More Penguin Hotel" medley arrives too early and is unable to deliver a concentrated wallop. Frank's solos are at times interesting, but he is unable to find THE groove in any of them, and ends up calling each one quits far too soon. The "Drowning Witch-> Black Page" combo is still intact, delivering a perfect segue and eventually producing a satisfying solo in Frank's BP effort. This is almost too little too late as the band mangles several parts of "Drowning Witch", though somehow manages to escape a deadly train wreck. None of this matters though once "Cocaine Biz" enters the scene and the life is sucked out of the room. Thankfully, the first set ends here.

Is there hope for the second set? Well, with only eight songs being played, and five of them being "Teenage Wind", "He's So Gay", "Bobby Brown", "Joe's Garage" and "WDIHWIP?", how can there be? Plus, to perform "Chana" and "Carol" but no "Cleveland?" How bad can it get?

Well, not that bad since "Truckdriver Divorce" is fucking magnificent. The solo section finds Frank inserting a six-note loop that sets up a childlike, calypso type-groove. Simple, bouncy, fun. Of course, Frank does not want to play simple, bouncy, and fun, so he subverts the theme for his own purposes, the band plays along, and everyone holds on tightly for the ride. Mind you, this is not one of those full-bore, six string attacks. Frank displays his more patient side here, using the vamp for all its worth and hitting a geyser of inspiration that leaves the listener drenched with guitar bliss.

110 minutes of bland performances and then Frank throws in a brilliant guitar solo/jam. Once again, I am stuck with a tape simply so I can relive one little five minute span of music. Sheesh!


November 18th, 1984

Yet another show with (') as opener, and while I don't have as strong feelings about it as Gossard, I agree that 1984 can not be mistaken for a good year for Apostrophes. The antiseptic sound of Zavod, Chad and the rest makes it a mere shadow of it's dirty 1973-75 self.

We get a routine Tinseltown Rebellion, but the following songs leads us to believe that the band is back in great mid-November shape again. Trouble Every Day once again surprises us with an intriguing solo, and both Penguin and Green Hotel keep sounding fresher than ever. Much of the unexpected recent
success for this worn-out threesome can be explained by the totally new approach to the solo vamps, which are much less static than they've been for most of the tour. But FZ's approach has changed even more - the three November versions I've reviewed so far have been amazingly different.

The next expected highlight, Truck Driver Divorce, is an up 'n down affair, though. Frank's solo starts out promising, with some nice melodic craftmanship. But suddenly he loses focus and just noodles around for a
while. In despair, he kicks off a loop, which at first makes things even worse, but eventually leads to some interesting interplay between him and Chad. King Kong shows a similar pattern - FZ hits some cool notes at the beginning, but runs out of ideas fast. Again, the rhythm guys helps him out as good as they can, but too late to save this solo.

By this time, FZ seems much more interested in lyric abuse in than playing the guitar. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy and the Greasey->Chana suite contains loads of jokes, most of which I can't make out because of the muddy sound, but it's obvious that they haven't grown tired of the Whalebar, whatever it is, yet.

Zavod keeps being much less predictable in his Cleveland solos than he was at the beginning of the tour, but tonight's solo is pretty uninteresting. FZ's guitar loop is really cool, a nice little 4-note melody in 5/8. Unfortunately, the solo does not live up to it - the least exciting November Cleveland I've heard so far. Well, they sing "Ave Maria" in the out-chorus, bringing some nice nostalgia to us Feb '78 fans.

Encores: the worn-out Joe's/Pee and a very rare Stinkfoot, topped off with Whippin' Post. His solos in the last two are surprisingly good - Frank was no good at playing the blues this year in this reporter's opinion, but whips out some pretty mean notes here. Stinkfoot is full of whalebars and something that sounds like "sup-face" ["suck face"- ref. to "On Golden Pond"????- fogz], a word that has kept cracking FZ up during the whole show, but I don't get it.

A clearer sounding copy of this show could have helped making it worthwhile, because the band seems to have a good time with the secret words. But with the sound on my tape, this is a pretty dispensable concert.

November 21st, 1984  early

When I was assigned this show, I remember it was a show I enjoyed, but I couldn't remember why. It was one of the first 84 shows I got, and I was looking forward to finding out what it was that pleased me when I first heard it.

After Zoot, Tiny Lites, and the YAWYI trilogy, I decided I must have been insane. Dull, boring predictable. Yeah, there are a lot of underpants coming onstage without Frank even asking, but c'mon: they're STILL using Whale Bar. I sighed in disappointment.

Then I get Cocksucker's Ball and WPLJ, rare enough so that they sound fresh to me. I perk up a bit.

Then comes Drowning Witch. "Ah yes," I cry, "THAT'S why I liked this show!" One of the best DWs of the tour for guitar, FZ is simply ON. Loud and fast, but actually going somewhere, with a very middle eastern feel. The 1st vamp goes for longer than usual, and manages to outshine the 2nd vamp for once. I'm
right back in the concert.

Luckily, Frank realizes he's got some energy going, so we swing into Ride My Face, another good 84 guitar song. He's starting to do the 'stop the song and start a new vamp' thing, but we still manage to get something nice out of it. Not even Cocaine Biz can drain it, and Nig Biz even has some nice blues solos
from Da Guyz.

Outside Now was too short, but Bamboozled is better, a real barnburner. We can now say that Bamboozled is a highlight without fear of repurcussion, as the Yes vamp really clicks for Frank. The show closes out with some standard doo-wop, a very good (for 84) Black Napkins, finally regaining some power as an encore, and a non-secret word but still fun Enema Bandit.

All in all, not an amazing show, but a good representation of November 84. You won't be bored (at least once the first 20 minutes have gone by).


November 21st, late

The month of November rolls on and Frank continues to surprise this reviewer with another strong '84 performance. Apart from the stale "He's Bobby Greasy Honey Girl" suite midway through the show, this tape captures an inspired concert with Frank in top guitar playing form. The solo theme of the night appears to be "Happy Reggae" as the majority of the vamps used tonite sound exactly like that. "Truckdriver Divorce" is happy slowly turning weird. "Hot Plate Heaven" is happy slowly getting happier. "The Black Page" is happy going on a long exploration and slowly bringing us back home; and "Let's Move to Cleveland" is fuck happy, it's the end of the show and I am just going to get weird. The "Cleveland" solo contains the usual Zavod keybaord noises and guitar loops, but the interesting manner in which Frank attacks the solo paints it an entirely different shade of "Cleveland". Frank actually starts his solo before Zavod can return to the main theme to conclude his solo, and this results in a tension-building, drawn out segue into the theme. As the theme dies down, Frank toys around with some chords while the rest of the band musically just "hangs around", not playing any particular vamp or heading any direction. Frank eventually hits a loop and sends the solo off proper, but keeps returning to the opening chords to create texture or provide a segue into his next "train of thought". The end result is a casual but still very gripping solo. Despite the similarities of the vamps throughout most solos, Frank manages to take each one in a different direction, allowing the rhythm section to continuously experiment and inspiring Zavod to contribute some of his funkiest support.

Apart from the guitar solos, there is not much to talk about in this show. There is no Secret Word, though Ike and Frank do joke around quite a bit (just not on any particular theme). The set list is pretty standard, and is responsible for the only real let down of the show. The sound is B+/A- quality on my tape, and very listenable. Overall, it’s a good show with some excellent guitar playing.


November 23rd, 1984  early

This show is still often listed as a soundboard, and the confusion is understandable. This is one of the most well-balanced, in-your-face-sounding audience recordings on the FZ tape scene, made by the same guy
who's granted us with so many good Chicago tapes from the 80s. And well-balanced is what the concert itself is too - while many shows from this tour has offered either good humour _or_ good playing, this is one of the concerts gives us some of both (with emphasis on the former). FZ must have been happy too, since he chose to release no fewer than 10 performances from this show (and 4 from the late show).

Teenage Wind may seem as an odd choice for a show opener, but it works quite nicely. Frank introduces Alan Zavod as "Dickhead" and "Ron of Ronco Industries", the birth of a theme that would follow us for the rest of the evening. The first item of real interest is Truck Driver Divorce. Frank plays it good, without excelling, and I found myself paying more attention to the other musicians here - the comp sounds like it's on the verge of falling apart for much of the time, but they wrap it up nicely. In France is the Stage 3
version, minus FZ's funky, should-have-been-included guitar solo. Gay/Brown/Greasey are unusually amusing, with a seemingly never- ending flood of secret words popping up. And I must admit that the thought of a broccoli shower is intriguing.

Black Page it played well, with only Bobby blowing a couple of notes.  Another good solo, but not at all as adventurous as many of the versions we've heard before. The segue into Cocksuckers Ball is ingenious, though. Sharleena is funny, with Frank inserting the first "The diamond is the hardest substance known to man, but you can't brown broccoli on it", and playing a good solo. Then comes the wow-this-sounds-familiar part of the show, with 8 songs in a row that have been more or less completely released. And even though you've heard most of it many times before, it's very interesting to study how heavily edited the Stage versions are. I prefer Frank's Chana volcano on this tape, as the piano is louder in the mix than on Stage 3.

Kiss My Volcano is the name for Cleveland tonight, and it contains the undisputable musical highlight of the show. No, it's neither Alan's nor Chad's solos - though both are above-par - it's the little piece we know as
GOA (a title I love because of it's very special meaning in Gothenburgish). I don't view this as a mere guitar solo, it's more of a Zappa/Thunes composition. The notes and chords Scott plays underneath are just as important as Frank's outbursts, and together they form an almost hypnotic unity.

Encore time, and most of it we've heard before. Strangely enough, FZ left the best part - the very funny second half of Dinah-Moe Humm off Stage 6. Whipping Post closes the show, with a dull solo. The great sound, GOA, and the extended secret word abuse (mostly "Isn't that amazing?" and various Ronco products) are the obvious reasons for owning this tape. The rest of the show is a stable '84 band performance.


November 24th, 1984

My tape begins in the middle of Zoot Allures, a song which seems to have gained a lot from not being the only show opener any more. It sounds unusually fresh, with inspired, heavily oriental-flavoured melodies from Frank and some interesting chords from Alan. And it's mr Zavod who turns out to be the main
character for the first part of the show - not so much musically, but as secret word. The first couple of songs are brimful of dickheads and volcanos, and even though it's not always laugh-out-funny, it's just that '84 band high-spirit that always puts a smile on my face.

And musically, the first part has quite a bit to offer too. FZ follows up his Zoot success with a good solo in In France. Trouble Every Day keeps surprising like it's done for most of November, and this may be the weirdest of them all. FZ starts a loop which doesn't interact much with the music, but serves as a scary background sound. His playing is totally freaked out, switching betweenpure noises and sick any-note-will-do melodies. A non-mode solo, maybe an attempt at spontaneous 12-tone composition? In his Dickhead In Bondage solo, Frank starts his solo with a really cool melody, but the rest of it doesn't hold much of interest. Hot Plate Heaven comes with a reggae vamp - a poor decision, leading to a disappointing solo. And at this point of the show, the guys seem to have lost some of the momentum. The
secret word usage decreases drastically, and the playing sounds less inspired. The solos in Advance Romance, What's New In Baltimore?, The Evil Prince and Bamboozled By Love all have their moments, but are mostly typical 1984 versions. The long suite of vocal songs starts out worrying, with no joking at
all. But then, out of the blue, FZ comes up with a new secret word: gravy train. No No Cherry becomes Lots Of Gravy, and this leads the band back on the right, humorous track again.

The encores begin with what could be the world premiere of Brown Moses. In Bobby Brown, Frank comes up with a third and last secret word theme of the show. I have no idea what he's talking about, but it sounds like "jumpin' Jimanny", and Cosmik Debris is full of references to this mysterious character. (could someone enlighten me?) The show ends with Whippin' Post, with one of the better solos I've heard over this dull vamp.

A pretty funny show with some pretty good solos in pretty good sound. Put this one pretty high on your 1984 priority list.


November 25th, 1984

One of the highlights of this show can be found on "Guitar", namely the "Hotel Atlanta Incidentals"- tonight's "Hot Plate Heaven" solo in its entirety. One of the weaker solos on the aforementioned album (it is only the last minute when the solo really becomes interesting), it is nonetheless enjoyable in the context of tonight's show, and is Number Two of Frank's Three Good Solos for this show. "More Trouble Every Day" is Number Three, with "Let's Move To Cleveland" once again claiming the Number One spot. This is also not a great solo, with only the latter half of it exploring any interesting territory. The solo begins with the "In-A-Gadda-Stravinski" vamp, one of the dullest backgrounds Frank has ever soloed over. Fortunately, after a minute plus of this, Thunes abandons the vamp and leads Frank into darker waters. Zavod gets into the act with some appropriate sci-fi noises, Wackerman pulls off some rapid fire fills, Thunes eventually returns to the opening vamp but at a much…slower….tempo, and Frank lays all sorts of six-string madness over this. A satisfying conclusion to a slow starting solo.

Other than these three solos, this show is somewhat of a snoozer. Frank fails to do anything special with this rather jumbled set list, and manages to disappoint quite a bit with two lackluster solos in "Baby Take Your Teeth Out" and "Marqueson's Chicken". The closing "Whippin Post" contains the solo that would later become "For Duane", but this vamp has so long ago bored me to tears that I found myself completely unmoved by it.

One truly random and funny moment which I made a note of: At the end of "Tinseltown Rebellion" right on the downbeat into "More Trouble", Frank yells- for no apparent reason- "A new car!" A completely random outburst that bears no relation to anything else in the show. Funny.