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Fall '77 Reviews

page one

September 9th, 1977

The earliest tape extant from this AMAZING tour is the rather skeevy quality audience tape. Essentially it's a sea of mud!! But it is not without it's moments. FZ gives good "Torture" here, building on the forceful solos of the previous tour. The band is clearly finding their way with "Envelopes" (VERY early and raw!!) and "I Promise..." though the latter is much more successful than the former. "Wild Love" is already friggin' incredible...two months later and it would rate in the "legendary" category all around--particuarly here, FZ seems to be giving the guys a chance to stretch out a bit--perhaps he was showing off the ensemble? He had to know that this band was capable of revelatory happenin's!!

The main treat here though is the encores: in jumbled order and a longer segment than usual, capped by a "Daddy Daddy Daddy" that is nice to hear (I think that's Adrian on the backing vocals--nice job, whoever!!), but the execution is a bit limp--the song seems to be not ideally suited to this
group, which evidently is why FZ removed it from the sets soon after. "King Kong" is short but nice to hear in this spot too. Probably as a result of it's Encore status, there isn't as much wide-ranging improv as there would be when inserted into the main set. FZ closing proceedings with a very sweet "Black Napkins" solo. Overall, it's an interesting show, but there are better quality tapes out there!!

--SP

Here we go again with a new band, one that during its half-year existence would qualify itself as one of the best ever, through a huge quantity of great shows. Like many other FZ bands, they would grow stronger and stronger, and reach their peak near the end (Feb '78, in this case), but even an early show like this one shows what capacity they had.

If there's one thing to complain about, it's the tightness. Especially in the segues, many of which are messed up pretty badly. Black Page is far from perfect, and they start Punky's Whips at a breakneck pace which FZ has to correct. But these are only minor complaints, and the quality of the songs played, and the solos played therein, easily compensate for the occasional glitches.

This is also the tour where Patrick has taken the step from "merely great" to "pure genius". The mix on this tape does a lot to emphasize this fact, and in the Torture Never Stops solo, he's more audible than FZ. Both are playing really well, making our first solo from this tour more than enjoyable. City Of Tiny Lights comes with a bass solo only, but what a solo! O'Hearn shows not only astounding technique, but also some of the startling creativity and originality that would become one of the many redeeming features of this tour.

Next, Pound For A Brown, which hasn't really reached Monster status yet, but serves us with typical, good solos from Tommy, followed by an excellent guitar solo. At first, I wasn't really sure if it was Belew or Zappa, but in the end, there's no doubt it's FZ. It starts out with some odd melodic figures, continues with some funky playing and ends up in a R&R frenzy. Terrific! Even the segue into the next song is great.

Flakes, in one of its first performances, sounds great. Most of Envelopes is cut out, but it seems to be without vocals. Then, after Disco Boy, it's time for the tragically underplayed I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth. FZ's solo is good, Tommy's is so-so, but Peter's is great, matching the beauty of Eddie Jobson's efforts on this song. One thing that's bugging me is the little piece of music before Wild Love - I've never understood if it's a coda to IPNTCIYM or an intro to WL.

Wild Love isn't really as wild as it would become later in the tour, but definitely great. Peter takes the first solo (very good), while Terry rules in the background. Adrian plays one of his characteristic solos, quite nice.  In Titties 'n Beer, FZ deviates into a story about Sam, the tire salesman who   purchased $80,000 worth of "dungeon equipment" at The Pleasure Chest in L.A. Nice versions of Black Page, Jones Crusher, Broken Hearts and Punky's Whips close the regular set.

The first set of encores brings us the standard Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo and Muffin Man. But the second set is far less predictable: Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, followed by King Kong and Black Napkins. King Kong turns out to be the Monster Song of the evening too. Pretty short, but full of random madness, all conducted by the guy with the funny beard. Black Napkins brings us one of the best solos of the show. An awesome ending to a very good show

--JN

September 18th, 1977

Now, while the Fall 77 tour is indeed one of my all time favorite tours, it has to be said that it starts off slow, like most FZ tours. This is not one of the must-have wonderful all the way though 1977 concerts. But there are one or two oddities that make this a tape and a half worth getting.

Peaches sounds more energetic and fresh than it ever would again, thanks to a harsh Belew guitar and Bozzio drum Fury. The Torture solo is quite good, using a lot of echoplex effects (at least I hope those are effects, rather than the quality of the theatre). City of Tiny Lites gets a few weeks as the Patrick O'Hearn spotlight, and he carves out a nice little bass solo, very different in style from his Wild Love excursions later on.

Pound for a Brown is the early highlight, though. We get an excellent Tommy Mars solo, with lots of scat and fast, classicalish notes. Then, to my surprise, a FZ solo, very staccato and tempo changing. Quite interesting, and he actually takes a few minutes to stretch out.

Then, after a short interlude of Flakes and Big Leg Emma, we get a surprise. It's the 6th anniversary of Hendrix's death, and to commemorate it Frank lets Belew solo for about 5-6 minutes in the style of. It's a fabulous solo, quoting from at least 5 or 6 JH songs, and even Star-Spangled Banner. The band flow smoothly behind Adrian, and we get a lovely spontaneous improv.

After that, we get a very early Envelopes, sans Mars vocal, and a dull plod through Disco Boy. Lather has good if quick Belew and Wolf solos, then on to Wild Love. Sadly, this is not quite the monter of monters it would become. We get some excellent keyboard work from both guys, a 4-5 minute E-bow solo from
Adrian. Then a FZ solo which is sadly cut VERY short before going back to the theme. It's OK, but a far cry from the 30-35 minutes Wild Loves to come in November.

After that, the rest of the show kinda runs on 77 autopilot, with no more surprises. My tape is missing all of the Titties 'n Beer improv, so nothing new there [ My tape isn't, and contains quite a bit of O'Hearn stepping up and joining in the stand-up routine, which involves the Gay Club scene and O'Hearn's "Buddy Love" character.... I laughed a couple times- Fogz]. Frank's Punky solo is good, but still shorter than usual. And Dinah-Moe is now sans the slow, vocal-oriented ending, thus making it totally dull. Luckily, Frank's Muffin Man solo is a good capper to the night.

Despite the disappointing latter third, this is a good show, with Pound and the Hendrix instrumental making it worth getting. But this is only a rehearsal for what we'd get in a month or two...

By the way, for an eyewitness account of this show, visit here:
http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/Delta/9078/zap77.html

--SG

September 23rd, 1977

An average fall '77 show in above-average sound, well that's enough to make this reporter's mouth to water. Everything on this tape ranges between good and awesome: the less interesting vocal songs sound fine because of the inspired and energetic musicianship, and the jams are more or less great because of...well, the inspired and energetic musicianship.

Peaches is nice as always, and Torture brings us the first guitar solo of the evening. A very good solo - the first, echo-plexed half sets a sad mood, which is transformed into anger in the second half. Patrick delivers some of his characteristic fills in unexpected places.  This is one of the best tours for the City Of Tiny Lights/Pound For A Brown combo, and this show provides an excellent example. COTL comes with a O'Hearn solo, but Bozzio almost makes into a solo spot for himself too. The interplay between these two makes this a very memorable jam, and has also a great part in the following Pound improvs. Tommy has his usual, nice little synth orgy, which is followed by a FZ solo. Here, Ed has joined the rhythm section, and the outcome is great. A long, funky solo, one of the highlights of the show.

FZ does a little preamble to Flakes, has some extended dialogue with Adrian, and adds some guitar fills in the Dylan part. Good versions of Envelopes and Disco Boy, before it's time for the wonderful Lšther/Wild Love. Good solos in Lšther, but the keyboards (especially Peter's) should have gotten more time if
you ask me. And then Wild Love...this song would keep growing over the course of the tour, but already at this early stage, it's really great. Terry, Patrick and Ed whip out a speedy "samba" beat, that's absolutely terrific, and on top of this, Tommy and Peter play one great solo each. Then Adrian's typical e-bow solo, which sounds more violin-like than ever tonight.

After this mini-monster, the band continue with a strong suite of more regular songs. Titties 'n Beer has one of the more entertaining FZ/Bozzio dialogues I've heard. As we've noticed before, Frank is in a good mood, and keeps cracking up the poor devil, who doesn't seem particularly dangerous tonight. Black Page has grown much tighter over the first two weeks of the tour, and Jones Crusher grooves nicely (unfortunately it doesn't lead into a jam as it did the previous tour). Punky's Whips is missing on my copy, so instead we move right into the final encore - The Illinois Enema Bandit. Quite a surprising choice, and highly appreciated by the Illinoi Enema Bandit. The song itself lacks a lot of power as Frank sings it, but it spawns two good guitar solos, one by Adrian and one by FZ.

Definitely a show worth having.

--JN

September 25th, 1977

Hey!! I get to review a decent audience tape!! Actually I've noticed if I  play around with the EQ a bit I can get maximum (well, sorta) O'Hearn out of  it. Actually it is a quite good tape, with nice balance between the  instruments (the solos are particualrly clean and nice for the era). And here  we have another rippin' '77 show! FZ is fired up for his solos tonight, as  "Torture" makes clear once again. The rhythmic support for FZs solos are phenomenal tonight, as they are for the entire tour, but this tape brings out  just how good the Bozzio/O'Hearn rhythm section truly is. A standard set for this tour (although the standard is VERY high), but we do get passable early versions of "Flakes" and "Envelopes". "Jones Crusher" really stomps tonight...long live Adrian Belew!! Special mention: FZ's solos in "Punky" and "Black Napkins" are among the best of the entire tour!!

Bottom line: This one makes great car listening...that is, an easy-on-the-ear tape from a great band!!

--SP

September 29th, 1977

Apart from your Flo 'n' Eddie laced encores, this show is your standard, possibly sub-standard Fall '77 affair. I am a great fan of this tour, and rate it as one of Frank's Top Five excursions, and would probably even choose to listen to this show before listening to the Great shows from many other tours ('80, '84, heck, even '88). But compared to most of the other shows available from this tour, this Toronto affair just does not cut the mustard.

The first side of music is one disappointment after another. Frank's "Torture" solo patiently rallies into an aggressive attack, but just as things are getting truly interesting, Frank halts the proceedings and returns us to the final verses. "Pound for a Brown" falls victim to the same such abortion, only this time a tape cut is the culprit, prematurely ending Mars' solo and jumping us forward to the tail end of Frank's "Conehead"-vamp solo. "Wild Love", the song which would eventually become THE MONSTER, is nothing more than three tweedle-deedle solos, with neither Wolf, Belew, or Frank whipping out anything worth remembering.

There are two moments of note in this show- one of which may redeem the entire tape. To open the second set, Frank throws in a surprise "Illinois Enema Bandit", a song not normally in this band's repertoire. Frank does the vocals (poorly), and the solo section becomes a mini-Monster. Belew goes first, and while his solo is not all that great, it is truly interesting to hear his guitar pyrotechnics played over a blues vamp. Keyboards and Frank also solo, though nothing special comes out of these. Not a great performance, but the simple fact that Frank sings, coupled with Belew's "fish out of water" solo (he is not a blues player), make this a worthwhile listen.

The encores are also quite entertaining. With special guests Flo 'n' Eddie, the band runs through several 200 Motels-era numbers, slightly tweaking each one enough to give it that Fall '77 "damn we're a good band" stamp. Not the most challenging or rewarding music of the tour, but damn solid entertainment.

Finally, one last positive aspect of this tape- something I am finding with all the Fall '77 tapes- is that the audience recordings highlight different sonic aspects of the band. Wolf's cheesy keyboard in "Peaches", Belew's rhythm work in "City", Mann's percussion in "Punky's"- these are just some of the examples of tiny little things that jumped out at me while listening to this tape- things that I did not notice or Frank chose to bury in the other mixes. So that alone made me happy that I listened to the show.

But when all is said and done, this is at best an average show from a great tour.

--JG

September 30th, 1977

Fall '77 is one of my favorite Zappa tours, so how did I get stuck writing two negative reviews in a row? Like the previous night's Toronto show, this Detroit concert is one of the weaker links in the Fall '77 chain. To begin with, the tape does not document a complete show, missing a good chunk of songs in the second half of the performance, including two of my favorite, "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth/Lather" and "Wild Love". What remains on the tape is some lackluster performances and a couple ridiculously short solos. Frank's guitar solo in "Punky's Whips" races by so fast that I had to rewind the tape twice and re-listen, making sure that there wasn't an edit somewhere in the 60 second effort. Even the "Black Napkins" encore, which would be a guitar orgy in St. Louis two days later, is nothing more than a tweedle tweedle, bend bend, flurry flurry "Good Night" solo- a strictly by-the-numbers, but only up to five, effort.

Unfortunately, the sound on this tape is awesome. I say unfortunately, because it is truly a waste that such a lackluster performance is captured in such clear sound. The only real musical highlight is the second half of Frank's "Pound for a Brown/Conehead" solo. After whipping out what appears to be a complete, damn-that-is-short solo, Frank cannot seem to bring the band back together and into "Flakes". So he scratches some strings, whips out some runs, makes some noise, with O'Hearn and Bozzio following his lead. For roughly over a minute, they explore this funky new collage of noise, resulting in an interesting little patch of music. They then proceed with the show and everybody goes back to sleep.

The show is really not as bad as I paint it, but it does fall to the bottom of the Fall '77 barrel, with much disappointment that such a good sounding show could be so musically Blah! Oh well.

--JG

October 2nd, 1977

This show has some historical importance since FZ met Ike Willis on this occasion, and since it received a glowing review in Down Beat. As the review notes, the band members played well despite their discomfort at being outside in cold weather; FZ gets some mileage from this scenario during his comments tonight.

All that aside, this tape finds the band on its way to the heights they reached at the end of the month, though not there yet. There are several details in the arrangements that would get tweaked as the tour
went on, and a few mistakes, most of them on FZ's part (he comes in with an out of place guitar lead during Chin and causes a train wreck in the middle of Punky's Whips). That cheesy organ sound that Tommy uses on several songs here, which got abandoned by fall '78, sort of symbolizes the shortcomings of the tour.

Still, there's lots to enjoy. FZ's Torture solo doesn't have the punch of Rat Tomago yet, but Bozzio and O'Hearn are starting to rage in a way that they rarely did in the previous band, and they also have the
chance for a barnstorming jam in Tiny Lites (which also features an unusually bluesy Belew vocal) that I would take over most solos FZ ever played on this song. There's also a good Conehead solo with some odd meter switches from the rhythm section (unfortunately, the coolest part gets caught in a tape flip), and FZ tacks an interesting brief coda onto Wild Love.

The dialogue improv in T & B is short, but O'Hearn and Bozzio throw some adlibs in Broken Hearts that crack FZ up, causing him to blow many of the lyrics in that song as well as the Punky's Whips intro. FZ ends the show with a fine Black Napkins.

This is a good recording which, though not on par with 10/30/77 or 2/15/78, shows one of FZ's better bands developing its chops. Recommended.

--PB

October 17th, 1977

This is one of those tapes that makes tape collecting so worthwhile. The sound quality, the audience, the mix, and best of all, the performance all join forces to deliver one of the most enjoyable from-start-to-finish Zappa shows captured on tape.

From the get-go, the music is off to an interesting- and promising- start. The opening Purple Lagoon vamp tinkers on musical chaos as Bozzio and O'Hearn try to funk things up early, but get a little too excited. The funk may not work here, but their eagerness to jump in and get cooking early is good. "Peaches-> Torture" opens the show well, though nothing special jumps out yet. Bozzio messes up the lyrics to "Tryin' To Grow", and the early anticipation begins to look misguided. But then, during "City of Tiny Lites", O'Hearn steps up and takes what would be the last of his regular COTL bass solos, and from here on out, the show can do wrong. This solo is typical O'Hearn- melodic at first, slowly building in intensity until it reaches a solid funk groove. When the band returns to the instrumental bridge prior to the lyrics, O'Hearn is still going full-bore, playing his written parts as over-the-top as he can, while embellishing the music as only he knows how. The whole band is pumped by now, and the show takes off.

"Pound for a Brown" finds the band riding several solid grooves, with Mars' solo going from a jazzy, acoustic tinged jaunt into a hard, fast hitting funk. O'Hearn continues pushing the music to its limits, bringing the jam to an early tension-and-release. Mars' takes full advantange of this with contrasting keyboard sounds that bring out the emotional impact of the jam.

"Conehead" finds Frank taking his first memorable solo of the night- a long, lazy, very low-key affair that simply glides over the steady groove that O'Hearn and Bozzio churn out. "Envelopes" arrives with lyrics, "Disco Boy" sounds great thanks to this particular tape and the way it highlights Belew's guitar, and "Lather" finds this band sounding tighter and more confident than ever.

The obvious highlight of the show is "Wild Love". From the get go, this performance yells "Monster", with O'Hearn once again amplifying the intensity by laying down bass lines during the written sections that make everyone sit up and go "Oh shit!". I have heard this song performed dozens of time on live tapes, and no other version has the power that this one exerts. Once the solo section arrives, the band is already going full steam, and the keyboard solo simply takes off into the stratosphere. O'Hearn once again pushes the groove to its limits, and by the time Belew begins his solo, it seems as if the seams are already ready to burst. The first half of Belew's solo is indescribably intense. O'Hearn and Bozzio continue to escalate the funk frenzy, while Belew emits a rapid series of high pierced shrieks and screaming weasels from his guitar. The tension builds to a point beyond what we seem able to take, before the band effortlessly slides into a walking disco beat, providing the relief we need at this moment. It is then that the band slaps us on the head. Belew jumps back on the floor, this time with a herd of raging elephants, and proceeds to stomp on and tear up everything in site. Belew eventually wears himself down, though amazingly enough the rhythm section continue laying down the groove. At this point, Frank steps onto the floor and tries to dance, and at first, it does not look as if his guitar will be able to cut it. But he eventually finds the groove, and with some silky and suave moves, dances in and out and through the steady beat, attracting attention and stirring the whole crowd onto its feet and into the dance floor. By the time the main theme returns minutes later, everyone is up shaking their ass, waving their arms, and smiling like fools. This is one of Frank's best "feel good" solos.

From here on out , the show runs on pure adrenaline, with O'Hearn once again stepping up and repeatedly wowing us with his prowess. "The Black Page" is a sonic Monster, with O'Hearn's bass jumping out of the mix and literally pounding me in the ears. The segue into "Jones Crusher" is easily the most powerful ever, as O'Hearn drops a four note bomb right at the intro, sending us into the song like we are on a four-loop rollercoaster. "Broken Hearts" finds the band cutting loose and having a few laughs, as does "Punky's Whips", which eventually builds up to an exhilarating rock 'n' roll climax. The encores dish up the goodies as expected, though sadly my tape lacks the closing "Black Napkins", which could be one of those monster solos the '77 and '78 tours typically brought about in that vehicle.

This is all-around a GREAT TAPE!! Excellent sound, excellent band, excellent tour, excellent performances, and O'Hearn. For what more could you ask?

--JG

October 18th, 1977

Another show proving that the band is growing better and better, but it doesn't go really as fast as I'd expected. There is nothing bad about this show, but unfortunately, there's nothing really great either. It's especially Frank's solos that doesn't really live up to the expectations.

To begin with the positive aspects, Pound For A Brown is a success tonight. The keyboard players and the rhythm section have found each other, and produce some really fine jamming. The instrumental Conehead follows as a coda (it would soon become a stand-alone piece), and works very good, one of the best guitar solos of the concert. Wild Love has also kept evolving, now earning true Monster status. Many good solos, the best being a joint Wolf/O'Hearn effort. This song has a lot more to give, as the following reviews will prove, and is still a little disappointing.

The suite that follows, Titties 'n Beer through Punky's Whips is strong, despite lacking instrumental improvisations - the energy with which they're played and the vocal deviations make up for that. T&B, Broken Hearts and PW are full of little jokes that crack up the performers as well as the listeners.

The negative aspects, then? Well, FZ has taken over O'Hearn's solo spot in City Of Tiny Lights, leaving us without any real bass solo, which is a shame. The replacement is one of Frank's weakest solo vamps ever, IMO, one that would spawn very few memorable solos over it's 1,5 years. The vamp and the solos
sound like they could be parodies, but I doubt they were. Tonight's attempt is a typical example: FZ keeps hammering out heavy chords and typical R&R licks, which sound pretty cool on the surface, but upon closer listening turn out to contain very little of interest.

The same could be said about most of Zappa's solos tonight. He doesn't toy around with the echoplex in Torture, but starts off aggressively and works his way slowly towards a climax. Pretty good, but he seems to lack really interesting ideas. His Punky's Whips solo suffer from the same syndrome as Tiny Lights - lots of R&R, little real content. Muffin Man comes with a really nice solo, cool vibrato, along with Conehead the best of the show.

Maybe I sounded overly negative above - overall, this is a good show, but far from the heigths we know these guys could reach. The sound is pretty good on the first 90 min, but bites it for the last 25.

- JN

October 20th, 1977 early

Now we're cooking! The band is really on tonight, and Frank's in a great mood.   "We're ready to burst into song," he tells the Boston audience, and indeed the band seems ready to expand the boundaries of the 77 setlist, making solos longer and more adventurous.

It always surprises me how many songs I find to be in their 'perfect' version with this band. Peaches is one of them, with Tommy and Adrian's 'ba-ba' vocal chorus being a wonderful highlight. Torture is your typical first solo of the show song, as Frank warms up by experiemnting with various styles, starting off with a clean, picked sound unusual in Torture. It's also notable that at this point on my tape, Bozzio was VERY LOUD in the mix. A good song to listen to Terry's drumming style.

City of Tiny Lites is now sadly minus an O'Hearn bass solo, and Frank's is OK, but not great. O'Hearn and Belew, however, sound fabulous in the background, with their riffs becoming far more interesting than Frank's solo.

Pound for a Brown starts off with a very assured head. Damn this band was tight. Instead of the usual keyboards, however, we first have a long, 4-5 minute monologue improvised by Patrick, mostly riffing on 'The Reverend Buddy Love'. The audience loves it, and it is amusing at times (though only at times). Luckily this doesn't replace any solos, so we have Tommy soloing with his usual 'scat along to my synths' thing, then Peter and Patrick have a short duel before Peter takes a longer solo. Conehead enters, and Frank finally realizes the band is showing him up and pulls out all the stops, delivering a terrific solo, with lots of dissonance.

The middle of the show then arrives, showing Frank's keen ability to balance a setlist. The Big Leg Emma/Envelopes/Disco Boy threesome is one example of variety and never keeping the mood quite the same. By the way, if you've always had difficulty understanding what Tommy Mars sings in Envelopes, this is the tape to get, as his lyrics are quite clear. Nice drum solo by Terry, though by now it's more a composed piece - 'Drum Solo' by T. Bozzio - rather than a solo in itself.

I'd just like to note that Patrick and Adrian are INSANE in Disco Boy. Thank you.

Wild Love, like the other songs in this show, is played flawlessly at the head. This is where I really noticed how many times we see Peter Wolf dueling with another member of the band. Tonight he and Frank trade licks for a minute or so, and then it almost becomes Wolf v. Band. Very cool. Tommy gets a shorter break, then Ed plays his usual entertaining but not amazing solo. Adrian is really, really on tonight, with a very long e-bow solo. Frank needs to top that, and is finally stretching out his Wild Love codas. We hear snatches of Inca Roads, and what may be the first appearance of the lick I think of as 'The Squirm'. Fabulous.

After that we get a normal final 30 minutes, though with this band that's not a letdown. Frank and Terry both seem to be doing lots of mid-song impro in Titties 'n Beer, but FZ cuts it off early. Frank's Punky solo is still short, but it's getting there. Presumably Frank was getting cued from offstage about show length, as he cuts things off after Camarillo Brillo, with only a brief Muffin Man tease.

Still, a really nice concert, with great sound. They'd get even better, too. A keeper.

--SG

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