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Fall '73 Reviews

page one

October 26th, 1973

And we're off, with the first show of the Fall 1973 tour...following hot on the heels of the Spring and Summer 73 tours. 73 was a busy year for Frank. We start off here in Austin, lacking Ian Underwood and Jean-Luc Ponty, but picking up Chester Thompson and Napolean Murphy Brock.

We start off in Austin, with one of the best-sounding tapes in circulation. Clear, Soundboard...nice. Cosmik Debris is our opener, and the two drummers really make it sound interesting (well, as interesting as Cosmik Debris can be for anyone who's heard it about 300 times). Duke and Frank solos, which are both pretty good. Frank's Fall 73 guitar sound is different than his other guitar years, though it doesn't affect my enjoyment as much as, say, our Mr. Gossard.

Inca Roads is the lounge singer version. George is whistling a tune that's damn familiar, I wish I could recognise it. Gotta love that intro - "If George Duke ever gets into the monitor system, it's all over, folks." Great explanation of the song. Still has mike problems at the beginning. No Sal Marquez, but still sweet. The percussion is very up front on this tape - lots of Ruth. Short piano solo from Duke - more jazz this time. Really snazzy. Then we get a Bruce solo on trombone, which is rather mellow for the wild one. Did I mention Ruth is amazing? Especially in this song. George seems unsure of the lyrics at the end of the song. He mumbles them more than anything else. Let me know when I start to ramble...

Someone requests Dinah-Moe Humm, but Frank says no, and gives us the Pygmy Trilogy instead. Napolean's vocals are smoother here than they'd get by Fall 74. Cheepnis is the short version, and the monster is named Frunabulox instead of Frunobulax.

Then we get Big Swifty...which is OK, but not great. For one, Napolean's sax sounds very unsure, detracting from the opening melody - he hadn't gotten it down yet. Luckily we move on to the solos, Duke *again*, with a synth solo that reminds me of the Summer 73 Dupree's solos - very choppy and staccato. A short Ruth solo follows, before we get to Frank. His solo is pretty good, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere - he just plays until the theme comes back.

Dickie's is the World Premiere, and is still called San Clemente Magnetic Deviation at this stage. George's solo is all high notes, right at the top third of the keyboard, and Frank's is quick and dirty, similar to the Stage 3 version. This Dickie's has an extended bridge, where Napolean and George ramble back and forth and try and involve the audience (who aren't really getting into it). There seem to be different lyrics in the last verse, but the tape flip loses most of them. Frank has the band do the ending twice to try and make the audience do a wheee-ooo.

Farther O'Blivion is probably the highlight of this show. This is the shorter version, with no flurry of notes. We do get a Nappy sax solo in Part 1, though he seems confined by the rather tired vamp (more on that later). The Tango section is where the action is, however, and it's a lot more extended on this tour, eventually becoming a song of its own. Ruth and Bruce are predominant here, of course. Bruce makes up for his mellow Inca solo with a truly insane, Fowler-special here. "A real jazz trombone solo!" Then we get the dance, with Bruce showing us the Armadillo's answer to the Mudshark. Frank introduces Ruth as "Ruth Under...Ruth K for Komanoff Underwood!", implying I think that the breakup with Ian was fairly recent. Despite that, she gives a lovely solo, though again it seems too short. Lots of scat here, with full band chaos. Frank introduces a Battle of the Drummers between Ralph and Chester, but sadly it's only about 30 seconds, before we head into Cucamongaland. George and Nappy sing along with the melody, amking it sound very sweet.

Encores are fairly routine. Nappy gets a much better vamp to work with in Green Genes. King Kong has another Bruce solo, but he's defeated by the vamp again. The biggest problem I have with this band is the vamps behind the solos - often they're just dull. Luckily, George can defy any vamp and play a cool solo, which he does. Chunga's sounds odd with this mellow band - I kept waiting for the LOUD GUITARS. Frank's solo also starts off being truly dull. Luckily, after a minute or two he picks up the pace, and things begin to happen.

Overall, a good concert, but I wanted a bit more. However, the quality of this soundboard and the nice improv in Farther O'Blivion make it a tape worth acquiring.


October 31st, 1978 early

Halloween and Frank Zappa, words that guarantee a great concert.  Well, almost all the time.  But not this year.  Sadly, instead of being a Halloween treat, this tape is merely an average 73 showing, and the first half is outright dull as dirt.

We start off with our Pygmy Trilogy, featuring an upbeat but uninspiring FZ solo.  Napolean is in good voice for Idiot Bastard Son, which sounds really sweet.  This is contrasted by Cheepnis, which sounds...really short.  I'd forgotten how short this version is.  Where's the middle?

Eric Dolphy is nice to hear, but it's just the head.  And I haven't heard Kung Fu often enough yet to differentiate the tune from random improv noise.  It does have a nice blues riff for the first 10 seconds or so.  Penguin in Bondage has a long Frank solo, but again, it's just not that great.

T'Mershi Dog Meat is something I've heard so many times that I barely even concentrate when I listen to it.  Well played, with a couple of tape splices thrown in to wake you up.  RDNZL has Frank utilising an odd wah- wah effect, with so-so results.  Village of the Sun has the weird intro and outro that sounds COMPLETELY out of place, and Echidna (still Exentrifugal Forz here) is far too loose, almost awkward sounding.

However, every FZ show has at least 1 or 2 highlights.  Here the first is Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?, or rather the second half.  After a tired Bruce solo (he's not at his best tonight), and a good but hard to hear on this tape effort from Ruth, the drummers get some.  And HERE is where I finally sat up and took notice, as Ralph and Chester crank the energy up, despite the relative brevity of their efforts.  We get a few lively repetitions of The Hook, the methodical ending, and into an average Montana.

But fear not, Dupree's is around the corner, and surprise, surprise...it's the highlight of the show again.  It starts off with George Duke vs. the band, as George gets in his funky solo while Frank throws in some hand signal improv.  The bebop factor is high tonight, with George scatting all over his solo.  Lots of great drumming from Ralph, too.  After the theme, we dip momentarily with a Napolean sax solo that is FAR too long, followed by a wonderful Tom Fowler bass solo that is FAR too short.  Bruce, not to be shown up by his brother, gives us a real Fowler trombone special.  And then Frank, with 4-5 minutes of just nice guitar playing.  Peaceful, like many of his 73 Dupree's, but still fun to listen to.  There's just something about this song...

Dickie's closes the evening (as an encore), with average solos and extended Nappy singing.  It has the alternate lyrics, with the 'You Cheated' riff, as well as a mention of stricly from commercial.

However, half a Don't You Ever and a Dupree's do not a classic make.  Not a bad show, but frankly, this was Halloween, and we should have gotten more.


November 4th, 1973 early

The show begins with FZ making a some Brooklyn jokes, including a story about a strange-looking woman he'd seen. The audience is highly amused by this, as well as by FZ's funny band introductions. The first musical number is the Pygmy Bastard Cheepnis suite. I love this trio - one of my favourite songs (Idiot), sandwiched between two high-energy funky numbers. The Pygmy Twylyte solo is great.

Inca Roads turns out very entertaining. George's intro is great as always, and Ruth does a very rare improvisation at her "such a thing to land" lick. George and Bruce deliver two good solos, spiced with the FZ conducted licks we all know and love. But the hand signal thing flips out: in the middle of Bruce solo, he cues the band to make a long break, which they do. The rest of the song it cut to smithereens by hand signalled breaks and licks. Hilarious!

FZ feels the need to explain his hand signals, and decides to try a little audience conducting. I don't know if there's a cut on my tape, or if he blew off the thing, but we don't get any audience participation. Instead, a nice Penguin In Bondage with Kung Fu threw into it, and the little, soon-to-be-dropped bridge into the solo. Near the end of the song, FZ once again starts cueing the band into breaks. The 73/74 standards T'Mershi Duween and Dog/Meat sound nice as always, and so does RDNZL. There's an unfortunate cut in the solo section, and all we get to hear is the end of FZ's solo, which sounds quite good.

Finally, we get the dynamic Slime/Swifty duo. The solo in I'm The Slime is just as dirty and wah-wah drenched as we want it. Big Swifty is one of my favourite live numbers, especially the 1973 performances. This is no disappointment, similar to the YCDTOSA #1 version, with great solos by Duke, Bruce Fowler and FZ. The drumming is excellent all the way.

Yeah, the drumming - hardly mentioned it above, but it's one of the things that make these shows so enjoyable. At times, the double drumsets might sound a bit too busy, but most of the time they produce terrific grooves. Tom Fowler is an important factor too, though he don't really come through on this tape. To sum it up, quite a good show with a nice, loose atmosphere.


November 4th, 1973 late

     What comes through on this tape is how loose the atmosphere at the shows on this tour was, more so than any post-1969 tour that comes to mind.  There are several cold stops between songs and we get a good deal of FZ banter, including a birthday celebration for roadie Oscar (with a warm dedication from FZ).

After the opening Cosmik Debris, we get another glimpse of the still-under-construction Village/Echinda's/Wash medley.  Village once again has the instrumental section which sounds like it would be more at home on a Hatfield & The North album than in this R&B-style song, and Duke is the principal vocalist rather than Brock.  In Wash, FZ describes Ruth wondering "what could I possibly say to a vegetable?," which draws applause.  In contrast to the previous trilogy, Pygmy/Idiot/Cheepnis sounds well reheased, and the first of these offers a good 73 vintage FZ solo.     

Dupree's starts with a short, chaotic improv which ends up with Duke playing one of FZ's stock licks from this period (the one Ruth played at the Roxy in the middle of Bruce's Be Bop Tango solo, and just before FZ's Big Swifty solo) while the rest of the band does The Hook - quite twisted.  The post-theme solos include one of FZ's most dramatic efforts from this year, beginning with some stunning long, low notes and including some drumless passages.  Very impressive.  A frenzied San Clemente Magnetic Deviation and a standard instrumental encore medley close out this show.


November 6th, 1973 late

This tape begins with some more good-humored FZ banter, including his introduction of two then-Blood Sweat & Tears members in the audience (Tom Malone, later of ZINY fame, and Georg Wadenius), and an announcement that a radio station is coming through his amplifier tonight. Fortunately, the noise isn't evident on this audience recording.

Alas, FZ's guitar also doesn't come across very well on the tape, so you can more or less skip the first two numbers, Cosmik Debris and Montana. Dupree's, however, is fine - Duke jumps straight in with a cool funk jam, and FZ's solo gravitates to a D minor jam reminiscent of Chunga's Revenge. After this, we get a lecture on breasts from an audience member "imported from John Hopkins University," including a mention of Ruth's path from modeling school to Julliard to hanging out with "smelly musicians" in Los Angeles.

Next is another Pgymy/Idiot/Cheepnis medley, with Idiot cut out on my tape. After that, we get what might have been the first stand-alone Be Bop Tango. It follows a similar pattern to the Roxy version, with a Bruce solo followed by FZ trying to have the audience learn the melody from Duke. Unfortunately, my tape cuts for good soon after this begins.


November 7th, 1973

  I must admit to having a rather negative bias against this tour (and hence this review).   I am not a big fan of this tour, and generally find it to be one of Frank's most overrated outings.  This viewpoint seems to have strengthened recently thanks to the rather uncritical reviews of a couple of my colleagues (ha ha), and I approached listening to this show with very little enthusiasm.  Having said all that, I must admit that I enjoyed my experience of re-listening to this show, but must hold firm with my belief that this tour is highly overrated.    

The show begins with your typically funky '73 rendition of the "Pygmy Bastard Cheepnis" medley.  Frank's short solo during "Pygmy Twylyte" is enjoyable but nothing special, and "Idiot Bastard Son" is always nice to hear.  The drum work is especially noteworthy early in this medley, but falters rather badly during "Cheepnis".  Maybe it's just my ears, but Chester and Ralph sound stiff as robots during this latter tune, forcing the funk into an uncomfortable plod.    

"Village of the Sun" contains the inspired "Down in the Dew"-esque intro, which is one of the grooviest pieces of music Frank has written. "Inca Roads" finally finds the band doing what they should be doing- improvising at length- but neither George's nor Bruce's solo is that noteworthy (though FZ's rhythm work is quite nice).   

At this point-halfway through the set- Frank decides to conduct an audience poll in order to discover the make-up of his audience.  Using applause to gauge the percentage of the audience, he queries the crowd on whether they attend or did attend college (40%), are male (70%), are female (figure it out), are in high school (20%), are in the work force (40%), are gay, or are stoned out of their minds (200%).  From all this, Frank interestingly enough concludes that the Mothers have become a "working man's band".  

The show continues with the "Penguin T'Mershi Dog Meat" medley, finding Ralph, Chester, and Ruth propelling the performances to a whole new level.  Frank's "Penguin" solo is especially nice thanks to the rhythmic support.  "RDNZL" still disappoints me at this stage, while "Montana" sounds great with the extra drums and the trombone presence of Fowler. "Dupree's Paradise" is easily the highlight of the show, opening with approximately 8 minutes of pure uncut Duke.  He hooks us with a short funk jam, slowly melts into a meditation on space, detours through a short mutated lounge jam, and then drops us off at the doorstep of Dupree's Lounge itself.  Brock then blows his flute, Tom slaps his bass, Bruce slides his trombone, and the Lighting Technician takes a solo while Tom plays "small bass", Chester "keeps time", Ralph "plays the set", and Ruth "plays the gong."  The tape then stops and the rest goes unheard. 

This is an okay show with a couple funky moments, but ultimately disappointing considering the quality of the musicians in the band.  For me, the same can be said for the entire tour (so make sure you check out my next Fall '73 review….more of the same??).


November 11th, 1973 early

The show starts with band intros and soundchecks with Ian "home babysitting" after an audience member asks his whereabouts.

They start with a nice "Montana" and, wasting no time, "hook" segue into a cool jam (my tape changes to a board source at this point so not I'm not sure if something is missing) led by George which "Dupree's Paradise" flows out of. Of note in the middle solo section are Napolean's nice flute solo, Tom's bass solo (always cool in 73-4), Bruce and then an extended solo by Frank. Also that hook melody line is used during the middle and at the end of all of solos during the solo section - except FZ who takes a 7 minute solo.

"Pygmy Twylyte" is intro'd by FZ as a "song about sitting on the toilet of a Greyhound bus". "Idiot Bastard Son" and "Cheepnis" follow as a part of this medley. The still evolving "Inca Roads" is intro'd by FZ. George, Bruce and then Frank all perform nice solos in the usual center vamp section.

The first show ends with "Dickie's Such an Asshole", still the subtitle to "The San Clemente Magnetic Deviation" and featuring a few small extra sections and lyrics.

Before the encore someone yells "eat shit" and Frank says "we've BEEN eating shit, we've been staying at Holiday Inns all the way". Can't you just picture Marty and the dogs and the Holiday Inns with the kennels in the back of 'em? A segue of I'm The Slime and Big Swifty close the first show nicely.

This tape is really unusal featuring no fewer than three sources, at least on my tape. The tape starts with a fair audience recording and the 'good' board portion starts with the keyboard jam and continues throughout with a few edits back to the audience tape an a couple of spots and a lesser quality board tape in a few spots. Interesting show, interesting tape.


November 11th, 1973 late

FZ starts the show with a long rap about the tango. Amusing, and he must have thought so himself, as he chose to include it on the WXRT broadcast he edited together later. He does a lot of talking during the BeBop Tango too, and judging from the audience response he's really funny, but the rancid sound quality makes it impossible to hear what he says. We get a typically good jazz trombone solo by Bruce, and some nice marimba licks from Ruth. She doesn't really solo, but she adds some improvisations to her lines, which is cool. The Tango still ends with Cucamonga, a leftover from Farther Oblivion

1973 is the best year for Cosmik Debris, in my opinion. This is a great one: Nappy's solo is not too inventive, but nice and bluesy, and Duke takes one of his funky rides. Village Of The Sun still has the funny little intro, and Echidna's Arf is still called Excentrifugal Forz. Both are great, though. And so is Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?, apart from some ugly flubs in the composed parts. Bruce and George deliver more good solos, before it's time for the battle of the drum sets, which sounds like a bomb raid on this lousy recording. Same with Tom Fowler's solo, unfortunately. Here's where the really interesting stuff begins to happen - FZ conducts the band to intersperse the solo with little licks that I don't recognize, and somehow steers them into playing a reprise of the Echidna arpeggio, at a very slow tempo. This finally turns into a whole different song, some blues-type thing that I should probably recognize. This part is excellent, despite the sound.

Penguin In Bondage is great too, with a different bridge into the solo than we're used to and a very good solo by FZ. The set closes with T'Mershi Duween/Dog Breath, a medley that I always sing along with. We get the standard 1973 encore: Green Genes/Chunga/King Kong. And this is great stuff - Brock's Green Genes solo is nice, but the really hot stuff comes in the Chunga part. Bruce goes first, with his best solo of the night, then FZ cues the band into some of the standard licks before it's George's turn. The solo is long and excellent, and Frank takes an active role as rhythm guitar player, and changes the vamp into a VI-bVII-I one. Finally, FZ steps out in the spotlight, and delivers a lengthy, groovy solo. The show goes from very good to great during the last 8 minutes. I really need an upgrade.


November 18th, 1973

Only a small portion of this show exists on tape, but fortunately it is from a radio show broadcast in the Chicago area so the quality is quite good. The Bebop Tango on this tape is one of the early versions which was up until this fall tour a part of the Farther Oblvion medley from the spring and summmer shows. While Frank is introducing George to play the Bebop lick, he asks him if he is aware that he is in Canada right now, George doesn't know where he is at the moment. Then Frank has some fun with an couple of audience members who are just too reserved so he asks the audience to get involved and only one guy up in the balcony twitches the way Frank was hoping. The band sounds great. Pick up the WXRT Un-concert for the complete radio b-cast featuring several shows from this era.


November 22nd, 1973 early

Pretty standard setlist, consisting of the old familiar suites. First, the Pygmy suite which sounds like it used to, with Nappy doing some "Dummy Up" singing and FZ playing a short, not too inspired solo. The Village/Arf/Wash suite does *not* sound like usual - the intro to Village Of The Sun is a new one, and most noticably: it's dreadfully slow. And this lethargic tempo continues into Echidna's Arf, but suddenly and surprisingly, FZ manages to conduct the band into correct tempo . DYEWTT also contains becomes a little weird - the band plays the part after "Watch Ruth" terribly untight, and FZ stops the music. Then, silence for a long while, until FZ cues The Hook and some other licks, before he manages to get them back to the song. Good solos by Bruce & Duke, and a funny ending: after the drum solos, there's a long part where George and someone else trade laughs.

One of the negative sides of the solos, incl FZ's, from this tour is that they most often have a fixed length, a number of bars, after which it's always back to the song again. And most often, this length is too short, and doesn't really allow the soloist to give his/her all. Therefore, it's nice to hear FZ stretch out a little longer in Penguin In Bondage. He's really inspired here, and comes up with a great wah-wah-drenched solo. In my opinion, Zappa would never again be as bluesy as he was in the 1973 PIBs. The Penguin inevitably leads us into T'Mershi/Dog/Meat and then RDNZL. In the latter, FZ once again catches himself in the fixed-length trap, and what seemed like a promising solo is cut short. The same can be said about Duke's synth solo.

Then there's a cut, and I suspect that something is missing here, because FZ tells us that we have time for one more encore, but I didn't notice the first. Anyway, this second encore is great - the highlight of the show. A couple of guys in the audience have kept yelling "Louie, Louie" all through the show, and FZ decides to give them what they want. And what we get is "Brian, Brian" (probably in reference to Brian Desper (sp?), the sound mixer) - a nice explanation to FZ's Babette intro on YCDTOSA #1, "...or even Brian, Brian". And in the middle of this, the goate-ed one decides to throw in The Mudshark. The story is the one we know with some extensions, with another really bluesy guitar solo. Excellent, but it's not over yet - the band return to the Louie Louie riff for some extra jamming, including a rare Hammond solo and some wah-wah sax. The show closes with Kung Fu, providing sharp contrast.


November 22nd, 1973 late

While the early show consisted of an average fall '73 setlist, this can not be said about the late. When the tape cuts immaturely after an hour, we're still in the third song! Yes, this is an odd show, with some really extravagant deviations. Unfortunately, not all of these are musical improvisations - there's a whole lot of talking from FZ going on too, and the sound quality makes the monologues a bit difficult to follow. But we do get enough musical entertainment to make this a nice tape.

The first item is the BeBop Tango, which makes up more than half of side A. Most of it is an extended dancing portion, where FZ finally makes the whole audience dance and pronounces them the best audience they'd had so far. After that, FZ has Ruth and Ralph play the Tango theme three times, faster and faster, which they do amazingly tight. This evolves into a short drum solo, which evolves into one of the weirder things this band would play: a trio version of Cheepnis, with Ralph, Chester and Ruth! Quite cool to listen to when you know the song, but the audience must have wondered what was going on.

Inca Roads keeps evolving, but still lacks a guitar solo. But what we get ain't too shabby either - George and Bruce take one long solo each over the 7/8 vamp. Both are very good, but it's the accompaniment that really stands out here. I think it's Chester who does the drumming, while Ralph funks it up with some percussion (cowbell?), and Tom Fowler is all over the place - superb!

Dupree's Paradise starts in a Duke-lead jam, and it's possible we've missed his solo intro. Nice and funky jamming though, which via a synth interlude leads us into a mellow lounge-jazz vamp. And here comes one of the longest FZ monologues I've heard, about the Dupree's Paradise bar. An edited version of this is widely spread as part of the 1974 WXRT broadcast, and various bootlegs. But unedited it gets boring, and it's quite a relief when they break into the DP theme. Then, a fine run of solos, unfortunately disturbed by some speed fluctuations. Nappy goes first with a beautiful flute solo (which he should've done more often!), followed by 2 * Fowler. Bruce's solo is especially good, but here, the taper's deck was running slower and slower. Didn't Duracell exist back in '73? The speed problems continue during FZ's solo, and before he's finished, the tape cuts. Quite a shame - the jam was getting more and more inspired, with the rhythm sections showing that they could groove better than any other FZ band.


November 23rd, 1973 early

    This is a standard fall 1973 performance.  The band's sound is closer to what you hear on Roxy & Elsewhere than on the tapes from earlier in the tour, but the intriguing oddnesses that distinguish those tapes are in short supply here.     

Another late '73 vintage Inca Roads appears, and is notable because FZ turns in a thoughtful, hesitant solo over the 7/8 vamp between George and Bruce.  Penguin In Bondage includes an extra chorus before the solo, with some vocal and percussion riffs interspersed with guitar noodling, and both this song and Montana offer fairly frenzied FZ solos by the standards of this year.     

Dupree's, in addition to the typical pre-theme space/funk (and a bit of Ruth taunting) and post-theme sideman solos, offers the most notable musical interlude of the tape in FZ's solo.  It's long and quickly rambles far away from the standard 5/4 vamp, quoting "RDZNL" at one point.  If only the bass was more distinct in the mix, this would be a must hear.  Overall, though, this tape is recommended primarily to completists and R & E enthusiasts.


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