Fall '78 Reviews
August 26th, 1978
This is probably the most surprising find of the Fall '78 tour. A relatively uncommon tape in trading circles, this opening show of the Fall tour is not one of the more sought out tapes simply because of its placement in the tour schedule. Zappa tours tend to start off slow, with the first couple shows of each run tending to be more "warm-up" shows than anything else. The Fall '78 run is a perfect example of this, with the October shows being ridiculously explorative while the September shows are disappointingly routine. So an August show- how good could that be?
Surprisingly enough, amazingly good. While my tape contains only 45 minutes of this concert, it is the 45 minutes from "Easy Meat" to "St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast", and thus all the goodies are here. The tape starts off with a strong "Easy Meat" solo, with Vinnie and Artie locking down the groove and sounding as if they have been playing this vamp for years. Frank solos at length, testing this uncharted solo territory and sounding as if he actually enjoys this vamp. "Village of the Sun" is soulfully sweet, with Ike in perfect form and Frank climaxing the affair with another lengthy guitar treat. "Pound for a Brown" is still far from where it would be a month later, though Ed does turn in one of his more enjoyable efforts. "Bobby Brown" is another song that comes across surprisingly strong, with Frank actually sounding sincere as he sings it. "Conehead" continues to dish out the surprises with another excellent Frank solo- a lengthy effort that rivals the inspired guitar solos of October. Even "Flakes" is enjoyable, containing an unexplained "Wanna buy a duck, Tony?".
Using this as a precursor to what would follow on the Fall tour, one would assume that this outing quickly reached amazing heights, and soared into madness by October. Unfortunately, this show is a fluke, exhibiting an energy and inventiveness that Frank and Company would not regularly repeat until October. A surprising find .check it out.
September 3rd, 1978:
One of the first Fall 1978 concerts, and probably the one most Zappa fans have heard, thanks to Rhino releasing the Saarbrucken concert on Beat the Boots. I'll admit, when I got assigned this, I thought it was going to be a chore. I hadn't listened to it in over a year, and presumed it would set up what Fall 78 is supposed to be: dull and boring setlists and shows until October.
I was rather surprised, therefore, to find this concert full of energy. Perhaps because it was one of the first with Barrow and Colaiuta, perhaps the new material, but this show is better than I thought.
The opener (presumably Purple Lagoon) isn't on the boot, so we start right off with Dancin' Fool, just beginning to set into stone. Then comes Easy Meat, and we get introduced to the first of three Fall 78 death vamps. Da-DUH-da-DUH-da-DUH-DUH, over and over and over. FZ's solo is a little 'just starting to warm up', but serviceable. And we get the first seal barks.
Keep It Greasey is where you first sit up and go "Hey! VINNIE'S drumming!" While I admit Terry had a bigger stage personality, Vinnie is still my favorite FZ drummer, and he just bursts out of the gate here, playing with MANIC energy in a song that should be throwaway. The other thing I noticed in Greasey is how much clearer Ike's voice is. Perhaps because it's the beginning of the tour, but he's not as gravelly and...well...Ikey as he would be in 88. He also hits some high notes, notes that would get assigned to Bobby and Ray as the years wore on.
The Meek sounds a little rough, and is probably the least rehearsed. However, there's a nice moment where FZ performs crowd control, and Denny gets to do some gorgeous slide fills. Meek was always lacking once Denny left...then into City of Tiny Lites, and death vamp No. 2. Plus, oddly enough, FZ doesn't solo here. However, Denny's solo is pretty good notwithstanding, though it kinda drifts after a while.
Pound for a Brown is very good for a September showing. It's just Ed and the keyboardists, but they give it their all. Ed's solos, as Jason has mentioned, are more interesting for what goes on behind them. There's an odd staccato accompaniment to start Ed off, and Arthur is almost as involved in the solo as Ed is. Then we get Tommy, showing off his classical background and keyboard freakiness, with both piano and synth sounds. Peter's solo starts off almost acapella, and is eerie. Then Vinnie jumps in and the two of them try to out-do each other, and bring the energy of the show right back up.
And yes, even Bobby Brown isn't enough to cancel that energy out. Plus it seques into Conehead, which starts off with a nice, slow buildup - and then a cut. ARGH! We do get the end of the solo, though, which sounds fierce. Flakes doesn't have the 1-2-3-4 riff, but hey, it wasn't played that often, is a funny song, and has a nice piano riff before the moron speech.
Magic Fingers is a welcome song to hear after all these years, is played at breakneck speed, and Vinnie goes insane. Then comes DETYS Suite, which isn't as tight as it would get in 79. However, FZ makes an amusing screw up in the Canarsie monologue, and Father O'Blivion sounds rather funky, even thuogh George isn't there.
And then comes the encore, Bamboozled by Love, and death vamp No. 3. Despite being hindered by the vamp, FZ does produce a good bluesy effort.
So, there you have it. Not the best concert in the world, but it had enough to keep me interested, particularly the energy. On to Bremen.
September 4th, 1978
I have a feeling that the reviews from the European tour won't be overly positive, so to keep down the negative talk, I'll try to keep quiet about the boring parts. So, be prepared for a short review...
Actually, the first part of the show isn't that terrible. The Easy Meat solo is quite good, and the Village Of The Sun (my favourite 1978 resurrection!) solo is even better. Denny gets to play a short solo in The Meek, and though it sounds as if he wasn't prepared for that, the outing it pretty charming. This is not one of the better tours for City Of Tiny Lights, IMO - the solos aren't bad, but they never seem to go anywhere. This is a good example; we get a bunch of cool rock licks, but I find myself wondering when the solo will begin. But the song is easily excused as long as it leads into Pound For A Brown!
As always, the monster festivities starts with an Ed Mann solo. But it's Vinnie who takes over the show immediately. He and Arthur play a cool funky groove, and switch oh so smoothly to their patented fast jazz style for Tommy's solo. And at the next hand signal from FZ, they all fade out to near-silence, and Peter gets to solo for himself for a short while, before Vinnie and Artie joins in with a new groove. Terrific stuff, but way too soon, we get thrown into Bobby Brown (whose intro I'll always associate with anticlimax, because of this tour). Conehead has a decent solo, and a totally messed-up segue into Magic Fingers.
Then, nothing of interest happens until the end of the encores. Frank's Muffin Man solo isn't too inspired and cut rather short. Bamboozled By Love it better, Denny intersperses the verses with some nice licks, and plays an equally nice solo. FZ's last solo for tonight is one of the better. But on the whole: nah, you guyz can much better than this!
September 5th, 1978
This concert is your typical Europe '78 concert. In fact, I probably could have placed either of the first two reviews in this spot and it would not have made a difference. While I would not go so far as to call it a bad show, it is most definitely a frustrating one.
The frustration comes in due to the fact that Frank never lets the band members or himself solo for any noteworthy length of time. If run together, Frank's handful of solos ("Easy Meat", "Village of the Sun", "City of Tiny Lites", "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?", "Conehead", "Bamboozled By Love") would probably not equal the length of one '79 "Inca Roads" solo. The solos are pretty good for what they are- they just do not go on for very long. Thankfully, Frank's style of soloing this time around is very direct and confrontational, and thus he does not need much time to build up a nice head of steam. Nonetheless, longer solos would be nice. The Monster song of the night- "Pound for a Brown"- is barely that, with Eddie, Tommy, and Petey doing some interesting things but just not for very long. (See the previous review for an almost exact description of what happens during this show's "Pound")
Without a doubt, the most interesting event of the night, and a valid reason to get this tape, is the World Premiere* of "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" Thanks to Denny's slide and the insertion of short Denny and Frank solos in the middle, the song takes on a more bluesy and soulful feel. This easily qualifies as one of the best WDIHWIP? performances ever, and possibly attests to the dangers of having a band over-rehearse material. This song would never sound this fresh again after this tour.
Apart from this, the only other highlights for me are the always enjoyable "Village of the Sun", and the underrated "Conehead", which yet again finds Frank whipping out an inspired (and the longest of the night) solo. Vinnie and Artie are of course great, and even during the dullest moments, they lend a force to the music that some of the weaker material desperately needs. This is not a great show by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to several juicy moments, it's worth tracking down.
*There is a debate over whether this is the LIVE World Premiere, or the ACTUAL World Premiere. The debate centers around the actual date of the Circus Krone performance.
September 7th, 1978
Another festival gig with the Zappa band being introduced by perhaps the festival organizer. The Revenge of the Knick Knack People allows for a brief tuneup/soundcheck before the band kicks into the Purple Lagoon to continue the soundcheck. Denny's amp fails to powerup so FZ decides to check his guitar a bit and does a cool solo over the Purple Lagoon vamp. Altogether the Lagoon vamp lasts possibly a record 7 minutes.
Some of the better sounding tapes seem to come from this venue and this is no exception. You can really hear the ambience of the hall. A typical Zappa setlist plays out early on with some highlights including a nice solo by Ike(?) to begin the solo section but he might be making up for a few flubs he made in the lyrics to Easy Meat and Keep It Greasy. Regardless who it is [Denny?- Ed.], Frank picks up on his solo and renders a beauty of his own. Other highlights include Frank's terrific solo in Village of the Sun.
Some nice band soloing during Pound For a Brown leads directly into a very early performance of the Deathless Horsie with L Shankar guesting on possibly his double violin. Shankar was on the same bill as a member of John McLaughlin's One Truth Band. Shankar sticks around and after Bobby Brown, comes out again for what is the monster song of the night, believe it or not - Conehead. This is one of those classic Zappa improv sections that spins out of the vamp for Conehead. FZ takes a solo, Shankar takes a solo then Peter with Shankar, then FZ doing some band conducting into the Hail Caesar variations. FZ cues in Mo's Vacation and Shankar adlibs over the top of it, then another Shankar solo, Frank joins in and it turns into a duet of sorts. FZ must cue in a call for 13, the band vamps in that time sig for a while and Frank brings in his Squirm/Trancefusion licks. Really amazing stuff.
The rest was hard to top all of that but during the encore of Bamboozled By Love ("an even stupider song than Titties n Beer") Frank slips in another nice solo. Great show, highly recommended.
September 8th, 1978
Only three guitar solos, none of which is particularly great, somewhat under-rehearsed, and nothing that even gets close to a monster song, yet this is one of my most prized recordings. Why? Well, it's a video, the only one that exists from this era, it's great quality. FZ and the guys are relaxed and funny, we get some unique performances, AND, we do get german subtitles!
This was a TV broadcast rehearsal, commonly listed as both Jul 1 and Sep 9, but the truth is probably somewhere in between, in late August. It has been aired on at least two occasions, with different contents, and it's impossible to say what's the correct song order. I had to watch three different recordings - hope I didn't miss anything.
Despite the flaws mentioned at the beginning, I really enjoy listening to the music here, because of the visuals. Keep It Greasey, with Vinnie going berzerk, is indeed great, and even songs like Easy Meat and Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me? entertain me. FZ's Easy Meat solo starts out uninspired, but gets better towards the end. We get a very early incarnation of Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? which sounds quite good (FZ's short solo is hardly worth mentioning, though).
FZ excuses the German TV audience before Sofa #2, and then it's time for the sickest moment of the show: The Seal Call Fusion Music. It's Vinnie playing drums and barking out seal calls at the same time, while FZ instructs him what styles to play. The disco seal is great, and so is the Bavarian Waltz. At this point, FZ invites Tommy to accompany him on a toy accordion. The result is exceptionally weird, and highly amusing - must be heard!
The Yellow Snow suite is nice too, but edited down for some reason (during Rollo, the subtitler gives up, understandingly). We also get a rare appearance of Baby Snakes - to my knowledge never played in concert again after the Spring '78 tour. They also perform a piece called Dead Air, apparently not played since 1968. It's very short and heavily inspired by John Cage's 4'33...
The third unique performance is something called I'm On Duty. FZ tells a story about how people take for granted that he uses drugs, and ask him what he's on. "I'm On Duty" he replies, whereupon the band freaks out in uncontrolled improvisations. Pretty amusing. Finally, they play Conehead, with a decent solo by FZ.
Oh, there was a Pound For A Brown too, but only with a vibes solo. I also forgot to mention Dancin' Fool, Band Intros over Deathless Horsie and Bobby Brown.
September 9th, 1978
Prelude to a lukewarm review : One reason I enjoy collecting Zappa tapes is the way that they document the musical gruntwork lying behind the masterful performances that appear on the official albums. Sometimes it can be equally fun (and revealing) to hear the shows where the band and the songs are still in the process of maturing. That's why I sometimes pull out tapes like this one, documenting the last of a series of European dates which found Zappa breaking in a lineup with three new nembers.
The highlight of this tape comes at the beginning with one of the first versions of "Deathless Horsie." Barrow and Colaiuta are not quite as tight or as daring as they would be in a few months, but Zappa's playing is nearly as fiery as on SUAPYG. After that, we get a band intro/mic check, where Zappa allows each member to feature his hurt for a few seconds.
The rest of this tape features the same songs as Saabrucken, performed more or less the same way. Denny solos as well as FZ in "City Of Tiny Lites" and plays a different solo from the '79 versions; Peter Wolf introduces a brief but cool Latin jam in 7 at the end of "Pound For A Brown," and FZ's "Conehead" solo is unusually good, thanks in part to Colaiuta's best drum support of the night. That's it, really, as the musical highlights go. If you're a big fan of the Saarbrucken BTB release, you might include this in a trade (it's one of the easier 9/78 shows to find since it appeared on a vinyl boot), but otherwise I wouldn't make it a priority.
September 15th, 1978
This is the first show back in the states after a few days off to travel and bring the equipment back to the USA.
The show starts with a nice Deathless Horsie solo, still in early development. The band pretty much goes through the motions for most of the main set but highlites include a nice City of Tiny Lites FZ solo and a terrific Conehead solo again by FZ. He must have loved that vamp to solo over. No monsters in the main set, even Pound for A Brown is scaled back, but this short Pound improv section would be standard for several more upcoming shows. The Yellow Snow medley nicely ends the main set.
The crux of this show really starts with the encores, a mini show in itself. It starts off inconspicuously enough with Bamboozled by Love and just when you think the show is over, we get a Sy Borg indicating that we're going to get more. We do. Sy Borg is really nice, Peter takes some really lovely solos. Little House I Used to Live In follows with a mini-monster section including a nice seal call drum solo by Vinnie, the hail Caesar variations and more really excellent Colaiuta soloing which segues into Tell Me You Love Me. They're not done yet. This segues into a real nice Yo Mama, another nice long solo by FZ. Sofa #2 is next, very tight and then one of the first Packard Goose performances. Frank apologizes before one of the verses that there are alot of words in this next verse but he manages to get most of them out. No solo middle section but instead a funny rap about Warner Brothers executives being like little birds with their mouths open waiting for food. Classic.
Not a very good audience tape but at times, very listenable.
September 17th, 1978 early
Aww, spare me please. Even for a September '78 show, this is pretty bad. The highlight of the show- "The Deathless Horsie"- is missing who knows how much of its beginning, yet it is still easily the best part of this boringly typical and anemic show. We join Frank's solo in progress, and thankfully still end up with four solid minutes of six-string fury. From here, it's all downhill however. "Village of the Sun" and "Conehead" turn in pretty decent solos (as they always do), but nothing that must be heard. The "Easy Meat" and "City of Tiny Lites" solos sound like nothing more than finger exercises, and the keyboard solos during "Pound for a Brown" are ridiculously short. Ed Mann's solo is pretty good, but not enough to salvage this pathetic Monster. The only other somewhat-different event that this show offers is "I Have Been In You" and the opening rant that accompanies it, but you must be pretty desperate to crave that. Save your money and don't go to this show.
September 17th, 1978 late
Frank must have realized how badly the previous show sucked. Possibly as an apology to those who had to sit through the early show, Frank completely mixes up the set list for the late show, and delivers a show that deviates from the norm even more than any of the "go-for-broke" Halloween shows. While those later Halloween shows would ultimately provide the more satisfying performances, this early in the tour treat is a very welcome change of scenery, and does provide the inspiration for some amazing moments.
The surprises arrive immediately, with the first known performance of "Twenty One" occupying the opening guitar solo spot. Frank solos for approximately five-and-a-half minutes, displaying his virtuosity by wringing some intense emotion out of the complex solo environment. "Bamboozled by Love" may not be one of Frank's strongest tunes (Frank and the blues ), but it benefits greatly by its placement early in the show. Never a satisfying encore or set closer, its second song status here maintains the heavy-guitar feeling of the show and keeps the element of surprise strong. "Sy Borg" makes one of its first performances next, and contains a nice, mellow Wolf solo. The Monster of the night comes next- very early in the show for '78- in the guise of "Little House I Used to Live In". This is Tommy's big moment in the spotlight, and he opens his solo with several minutes of a cappella piano work, flavored with his unique vocal stylings. Patient and restrained, this opening workout slowly (and very nicely) builds in intensity to the climatic Tommy/Vinnie duel. Once Vinnie jumps in, Tommy briefly abandons his piano sound for a cheesier synth sound. Tommy and Vinnie fight it out for several minutes, with Tommy switching between piano and synth while Vinnie just goes crazy. Arthur eventually makes his mark by inserting his fast jazz bass line, which sends Vinnie off on a short, seal call enhanced drum solo.
At this point, Frank tells Vinnie and Artie that they are going to play "Mo's Vacation", and we get an amusing little exchange between Frank and his band mates as they mockingly complain about having to play such a hard piece. "Mo's Vacation" sounds as good as ever (possibly another premiere performance), and is followed by "The Black Page" (which is possibly another premiere for this tour). Unfortunately, the amazing segue which would be present later in the tour is not here, as Frank needs to inform the band what is next, and thus we get several seconds of rare silence. Still, the song is great to hear. Continuing the insanity, Frank then tells the band to play "Uncle Meat", which sounds rehearsed but does not come across as all that great. Ed is awesome, but Vinnie is simply too busy and Artie too funky. Another tour premiere- "Suicide Chump"- keeps the surprises coming, and turns in one of its better appearances (after this tour, this song would never again be worth hearing, no?). The tempo is slow but not lethargic, Frank and Denny pepper the lyrics with tasty licks, and the ending Frank-on-guitar and Denny-on-vocals jam is quite nice. Also of note is Denny's slide solo, which is much more restrained and patient than normal. "Tell Me You Love Me"- another tour rarity- sounds surprisingly sluggish, with Vinnie sounding like a lumbering heavy metal drummer. No matter, though, as all is mended with the middle-of-the-show climax, "Yo Mama".
Unlike the "Yo Mama's" from the Spring '78 tour, this "Yo Mama" (and all "Yo Mama's" since) is not your slowly building, guitar epic showcase. While Vinnie and Artie (and in '81 Wackerman and Thunes) are no doubt highly talented musicians, they could never grasp that methodical, well-paced acceleration that Bozzio and O'Hearn employed so effectively during their tenure. Frank seems to know this, because instead of taking the time to slowly build his solo, he simply takes off as soon as the race starts. With full-speed guitar soloing from the second we enter solo territory, this "Yo Mama" is a mad dash to the finish. We get approximately two minutes of solo Zappa six-string fury, before Vinnie and Artie join in. The segue into Phase II is rather weak, and Frank seems to lose track of where his solo is going at this point. Almost immediately, therefore, he calls for the segue into Phase III, and rides the rhythmic wave that the band builds beneath him. The solo peaks before reaching a truly climatic conclusion, but all things considered (the tour, the month, the solos so far), this is a satisfying excursion.
At this point, the show returns to more familiar and less exciting territory, with the usual opening sequence of songs finally making their appearance. Disappointing to hear, yes, but "Easy Meat" and "Village of the Sun" do benefit by their late appearance in the show. Frank's "Easy Meat" solo is easily the best of the tour so far- lengthy and quite "out-there"- while his "Village" entry continues the pattern of excellent "Village" solos. Unfortunately, the tape (but probably not the show) ends during "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", so we do not get to see what interesting things might have happened to "City of Tiny Lites" or "Pound for a Brown".
At this point in the tour, this is a great show. With a handful of tour premieres, a mixed up set list, and some inspired solos, this concert gives life to a slowly dying tour. On strictly a musical level, the performance is not as impressive. The new songs are not particularly the liveliest of songs, and Frank's needing to announce each song prior to its performance inhibits the musical flow. Nonetheless, it is still enjoyable, and worth seeking out.
September 19th, 1978
This is a rather newly surfaced show on the trading market, and so I got the rare opportunity of reviewing a show while listening to it for the first time.
One of the unique things about this tour is how the show openers can prove to be the highlight of the show. This is one of those kickstarting shows, with a beautiful, soaring Deathless Horsie. Some amazing moments, where Vinnie follows FZ's rhythms perfectly, as if he knew what was going to happen (did he?). Oh well, this climactic opening is followed be the run-of-the-mill Dancin' Fool/Easy Meat (not too exciting tonight)/Honey/Keep It Greasey suite. In the meantime, I start fantasizing, "Will we get a Village Of The Sun solo extravaganza?", "What heights will Pound For A Brown reach?"...then what happens? Right after Keep It Greasey, there's a harsh cut right into Bobby Brown!! At least 20 min - normally the most exciting part of the show - are missing. Grrr...
And the following part of the concert does not compensate for this loss. Conehead is played without a solo, instead we get some audience participation - FZ instructs the audience how to sing "Remulak" in harmonies - which is cool, but right now I'm dying for a solo. Mo's Vacation, Black Page, I Have Been In You, Flakes, Magic Fingers, Yellow Snow suite - all good songs, and FZ is in a good mood tonight, but where are the jams?!
Denny plays a decent slide solo in Bamboozled By Love and Peter shines in Sy Borg - and then...yes! Little House I Used To Live In, with Tommy and Vinnie madness for a couple of minutes - wonderful! Then, out of nowhere, FZ bursts in with the "Information is not knowledge" monologue. "And after these small words from the immortal prophet, let's rock!", he adds, and Vinnie whips out a groove, which turns into a drum solo. Soon, Arthur is invited, and we get a great, speedy jam between the two. Unfortunately, it gets cut short by FZ, who once again wants to do the Information rap, this time with the audience repeating after him. How this weirdness ends, we'll probably never know, because of an unfortunate tape flip. Great Monster song though, but still no guitar solo.
For the encores, we get Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man and Strictly Genteel. Muffin Man is great, the solo is inspired but rather short. Yes, the amount of FZ soloing is the big let-down with this show, though the nasty cut on side A is partly responsible for this, of course. It doesn't feel fair to judge a fall '78 show without hearing it's Pound For A Brown, but I have the feeling FZ hadn't really discovered this band's jamming potential yet.
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