Fall '73 Reviews
November 23rd, 1973 late
This night follows the same pattern as the previous one in NYC: an early show with a normal set, and a late show full of deviations. And unfortunately, just like in NYC, it seem as the taper weren't equipped for two shows - this tape cuts after 45 min. Very frustrating - I'd really like to know what became of this show.
BeBop Tango once again opens the set. And wow, how shall I describe this? It's easily in the top-10 of Most Monstrous performances ever, at least I can't think of many monsters as unpredictable as this. Aside from the normal procedures; the theme, the jazz trombone solo and the dancers onstage, we get tons of amazing musical improvisations, which I can't possibly describe it in detail. The band keeps moving all the time, switching between styles. We get a waltz, a march, some lounge jazz and various solo vamps - probably some of these are american songs or jazz standards I can't identify. And of course it's FZ who is the director of all this, but not in the usual conductor/hand-signaller role, but as guitar player. He's active playing most of the time, and steers the band into new movements by playing what's on top of his head. And with Zappa busy, the band gets lots of freedom to come up with own ideas. We even get to hear a very rare Ruth solo. Some really inspired moments, including two great solos by FZ. There's an unfortunate cut, but still the song clocks at nearly half an hour.
Camarillo Brillo provides some much-needed contrast in its only known performance from this tour. Then, a short drum duel, which turns into a short bit of Cucamonga and eventually into a drum/percussion only Cheepnis. The final song on the tape is the underplayed Big Swifty. Duke takes the first solos on e-piano (very good) and synth (great!). After that, the band makes an amazing transition from 11/8 into 4/4, without hardly changing the vamp. FZ plays a good solo, leads the band into a MACH-2 rendition of Eat That Question, and back to the BS vamp again. Bruce gets to solo for a short while before the tape is cut.
December 1st, 1973 early
I acquired this tape not too long before writing this review, and when I first listened to it, I recall being surprised at how good it was. I am not a big fan of this tour, and am genuinely surprised at how popular and highly regarded it is among Zappa die-hards. Thus, when I popped this time in for the first time several months ago, I remember thinking that maybe I was beginning to see where all the adoration was coming from. I guess I should never have listened to the tape a second time.
Armed with high expectations, I found this show to be, for the most part, quite disappointing- as routine and uninspired as the rest of the shows I have heard from this tour. "RDNZL" and "Inca Roads", two songs which would consistently knock my socks off less than a year later, together contain solos from practically every band member, none of which attest to the true abilities of this band and its members. "T'Mershi Dog Meat" sounds as it always does, but lacks that "we're on the verge of playing this too fast" hysteria of the Europe '73 or Fall '74 performances. The "Village of Echidna's Thing?" medley has finally coalesced into the versions we have on Roxy, though none of the individual performances particularly stand out.
Despite all these disappointments, the show is not without it's moments. Frank's "Big Swifty" solo contains some interesting phrasing about two-thirds of the way through- what sounds like pre-written lines a la the "Pojama People" jam- which escalates the solo to an almost frantic pace. Sadly, though, Frank quickly pulls the plug after this outburst; nevertheless the short ride is exhilarating. The highlight of the show- and possibly a must hear performance on this otherwise forgettable tape- is Frank's "Chunga's Revenge" solo. The solo itself ranks in there as your typical wah-wah tinged '73 feast, but thanks to Tom Fowler's simply out-of-control bass work, this jam takes on a breathless pace. In fact, thanks to the bass heavy sound of the tape, Fowler can be heard clearly throughout the whole show, and it is his bass work which lifts many of the performances out of the mediocrity in which they seem content to be.
While I am hesitant to recommend this tape simply because of Fowler's bass and Frank's "Chunga's" solo, I do have to say that both of those things are quite inspired on this December night. Possibly not enough to redeem the show, but for those of you who enjoy this tour, they are definitely a reason to acquire this tape. Listening to this tape, I understand Frank's reasons for releasing Stage type compilations, and I think that maybe a Fall '73 compilation tape would be a rather grand idea. You know, just get the big pieces;.however, I digress.
December 1st, 1973 late
The last two weeks of this tour remain relatively undocumented on tape, which is sad. Like most other tours, this one seems to have reached its peak near the end. One of the strenghts of this tour is the even-ness - most everything is good or very good, but for the first couple of weeks it lacked real highlights and long jams. But here, towards the end, FZ's confidence in the band seems to have grown, and he gives them more and more freedom to stretch out in the jams.
The tape begins surprisingly in the middle of Babbette, a song that I thought was a one-time-only event from Passaic '74. An unnoticable segue into a short What's The Ugliest Part Of Your Body? over the same chords, before it's Cosmik Debris with solos on sax, e-piano and guitar. Then, Montana with a great guitar solo, similar to the YCDTOSA #4 version.
The undisputable highlight of the show is Dupree's Paradise. It begins with Duke doing some great clavinet stuff- Lengthy, really good solos on flute, bass (very long!), trombone and finally guitar. This is an excellent and unusually experimental FZ solo, an early sign of how his playing was about to evolve in the next two years. The band has problem following him - at one point he starts playing the "na-na-na" theme that would later be known as the post-solo bridge of Inca Roads, and later he comes up with a new chord progression he wants to solo over. And once again I have to praise the rhythm section which keeps providing great, varied grooves underneath it all.
After that, FZ throws us into Echidna's Arf, which feels pretty odd without Village Of The Sun and Wash That Thing. It seems they're in a bit of a hurry here, as FZ announces that they're about to play the last number of tonight - no encores. The final song is Dickie's, a good one with bluesy solos from Duke & Zappa.
December 12th, 1973
This short 1 hour glimpse at the famed Roxy shows has the beginning half of the final evening of the recordings that took place in the second week of December 1973. The tape cuts in during what sounds like a jam but develops into Cosmik. Frank makes the opening announcements asking everybody to imagine that the cameras all over the room have no film in them. The medley of Pygmy/Idiot Bastard Son/Cheepnis follows and the evening is off to a great start, the band sounding tight, but to my ears, the majority of material FZ used for the LP must have come from other nights. Hard to see why T'Mershi Duween, Dog Meat (great!) and RDNZL were not worth of release, but we'll see the film one day I hope.
Grab this tape for now, it gives a nice side-angle to the Roxy LP and the sound quality is not all that bad for an audience recording. The small club helped.
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