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Spring '73 Reviews
Whenever a band member leaves mid-tour, it always takes a couple of shows for the band
to find its feet again. And Kin Vassey was in Kent last night, but isn't here tonight in
Indianapolis, so it's clear that something happened. I'll miss Kin's dynamic, especially
as Sal hasn't yet leapt in vocally to fill
it. The tape I have is also slightly slow, which lends another blend of sluggishness.
Cosmik Debris is almost entirely missing. And in another annoying tape problem, the tape
seems to cut to a much-poorer sounding version right in the middle of the best solos!
What works here tonight? Ralph's Farther O'Blivion drum solo is one of the best I've heard
from him. Frank's Montana solo is fabulous. Frank's Dupree solo, despite going on a little
too long, is also excellent, and quotes the Inca Roads theme.
Still, not many highlights to be had here. Save this one till later.
80 painful minutes of listening, five minutes of writing a review:
I've written a couple of reviews before, where the sound quality has made it difficult to
assessment on the performance. This, however, is the first case where the sound makes it
impossible. The C- I've given this tape is flattering (and insulting to some of the other
C- tapes around!),
and is only due to the fact that my grading system doesn't go farther down than that. It
interesting to see the microphone used - the taper talks right into the mic a few times,
and even then it's
impossible to hear what he says. A membrane or something must have been broken.
I listened really hard to try to discern something that would be worth noting. The solos
in Inca Roads
and Farther Oblivion seem to stretch out quite a bit, there seems to be some extended
Ponty's Steno Pool solo, but there's no way of telling what really happens. And the
medley starts with Chunga's Revenge, so no Green Genes or King Kong solos tonight.
There is in fact one noteworthy thing on this tape: Eat That Question, possibly in its
world premiere. It is
also - correct me if I'm wrong - the only pre-88 version we have where it's played as a
freestanding song, including the keyboard intro and everything. George also plays the only
solo of the song. This would have been cool to hear on a listenable tape.
Don't get this tape unless you're an obsessive completist. There's nothing on here to be
even for the most tough-eared 1973-lovers.
-JN (tough-eared, 1973-loving obsessive completist)
There's a lot of great things that would inspire a trader to get this tape. Frank is on
throughout, giving us inspired solos in Montana, Zomby Woof, and Cosmik Debris. Ralph
continues to amaze me every show I hear, and delivers a kickass Farther O'Blivion coda.
Jean-Luc, when not playing a solo by numbers,
This show failed to leave much of an impression on me. The mediocre sound
quality may have something to do with this, but since I was prepared for this before I sat
down to listen, I think the blame can rightly be placed on the fact that the performance
is simply uninspired.
shows some honest to god flare and verve (more on that later). Yellow Snow makes its
post-Kin debut, and has managed to rock out even more now that Sal's picked up the vocal
reins (though it's still Mar-juh-reneless). And Frank's setlist choice is very good,
including several fairly new song choices.
However, there is one major reason why this tape should be a must in any serious Zappa
collection, despite having only B/B- sound. About 35 minutes into the show, Frank lets
Jean-Luc, for the first time since Phoenix, do whatever he wants. What follows is over
half an hour of some of the most amazing improv I've seen this band do. Unlike the more
structured improvs we see throughout the tour, with audience participation and normal
soloing (and we get one of those too, later in the show), this is a totally unpredictable
monster, with double violin, echoplex effects, Jean-Luc plucking his violin like a guitar,
and comes in with about 6 mini-soloettes throuhgout. When Jean-Luc *isn't* front and
center, we have Frank giving some intriguing, double-time Sleep Dirt chords, a chaotic few
minutes where everyone seems to be soloing at once, Bruce on trombone, and Sal with a tour
de force trumpet solo with mariachi stylings and "Fascination" thrown in to
boot. Then (then!), we get George doing a very Dupree's intro, with lounge chords moving
into Space Invaders synth noises. Then... finally... we segue into Inca Roads (lounge
version, with Sinatra).
Even without the improv, this would be a very good show. Everyone's on form, very few
boring solos, and lots of very new songs or rarities (the only 73 Eat That Question that
doesn't emerge from a Big Swifty, I believe). But this improv is one of the top 5
highlights of this band, and needs to be heard. Seek the tape out for this.
"Exercise Dog Meat" opens the show with a "nothing special here"
performance. While the "Exercise Four" from the 5/16 show would blow me away,
the entire medley as performed here is competent and nothing more. The "Don't Eat the
Yellow Snow" medley, though, does suffer from the poor sound quality, as many of the
vocals are lost in a sea of too much bass and drums. From what I can tell, though, it is
also a simply by-the-numbers performance, with the "Mar-juh-rene" sequence
revealing this info:
M= the Majesty of mar-juh-rene
A= Appleton, Wisconsin
R= Rye Krisp
- = a dildo for a deranged lightning bug
H= hensile, which should start with a pre-
- = simply because there are two of them in mar-juh-rene
R= Blessed Relief
E= to the 14th power
E= pasted on the end which is silent
Yes, even the "Mar-juh-rene" sequence is pretty weak tonight.
"Farther O'Blivion" proves that Ponty is best when in small doses (he is
actually damn good when in small doses, I say), and Fowler on Trombone is, as always,
SICK!! Sadly, the song fades out during the drum solo.
We rejoin the show right before the "Improvisation" (no "Cosmik
Debris"), which is essentially 10 minutes of Frank and Duke soloing. There are bursts
of inspiration scattered throughout- the opening 2 minutes, the "stop and listen to
Frank play guitar" at the 8 minute mark- but this is really not at all interesting.
At the 10 minute mark, Frank announces that the band has a stage curfew, and thus they
jump right into the encore medley. Ponty again satisfies with a short burst in "King
Kong", and Underwood takes a way too short solo in "Mr. Green Genes". The
tape fades out during Frank's "who cares this is kind of dull anyway" guitar
Bad sound and a lame show. Skip it.
When I sat down to listen to this tape, I was excited.
When I sat down to write this review, I was disappointed.
I am not a big fan of any of the 1973 tours, but considering that this is a rather good
sounding show, and that it comes at the tail end of the US tour, I pumped myself up for an
enjoyable listen. I popped the tape in, enjoyed Frank's pre-show banter, and found myself
absolutely thrilled by the "Exercise Four" which opens the festivities. While I
normally hear this song as nothing more than a warm-up for the Dog Meat that follows, this
performance is bursting with passion from the first note, and for the first time, I find
myself thoroughly engaged by this charming little number. But then something happens.
"Dog Meat" fails to hold my attention (oh where did that passion go?), the tape
fades out just as "50-50" begins, and before I realize what's going on, I find
myself listening to one of the most frustrating tapes in the FZ ouvre.
First complaint: no "50-50".
At this point in the show, Frank announces that he is going to receive an award, and
this entire on-stage awards ceremony is captured on tape. The band plays cheesy circus
music while the editor of a northeastern magazine awards Frank with the Pop Musician of
the Year award. Ponty also receives some recognition from this individual, and
interestingly enough, Frank conducts the band through some obnoxious (but funny) noises
during this part and much of what the man says is drowned out. Frank then lectures the
audience on why they cannot (or should not) smoke, before returning to the music.
"RDNZL" comes next, which apart from the trombone madness in the middle, goes
by too fast for my taste. This is one song that I would not find all that interesting
until Fall 1974. Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the tape is the "Don't Eat the
Yellow Snow" suite. "Yellow Snow" is faster and funkier, "Nanook Rubs
It" is bluesier, and "St. Alphonso's" contains one of the finest snatches
of music in Frank's entire '73 catalog (I absolutely LOVE the cymbal crash that follows
the "entrance like a queen" line). During the extended "Father
O'Blivion/Mar-juh-rene" nonsense where Frank would nightly give a different meaning
to each letter of Mar-juh-rene, we learn the following:
M= the Magic in the mar-juh-rene;
A= the acne caused by the mar-juh-rene;
R= refuse (as in trash), which is what the box to the mar-juh-rene is;
- = the stool from a ladybug;
J= a junior in high school;
U= all of you;
H= A Happy Home (which is what you have if you use mar-juh-rene;
- = a dildo for a stink beetle;
R= Racine, Wisconsin;
E= a long e;
N= to the nth degree;
and E= which is silent.
After this comic nonsense, the "Farther O'Blivion" that follows is
wholeheartedly embraced, with both Ponty and Fowler whipping out solid solos in their
Second complaint: "Montana" is cut in its entirety.
George's "Dupree's Paradise" opening jam is typical, though enjoyable as
always. Some funk, some Frank-conducted nonsense, a lengthy little jam that sounds '90's
techno, and an eerie calm before the storm that leads right into the opening theme.
Third complaint: "Dupree's Paradise" fades out right after the theme
The real reason to get this tape, despite all the horrible edits (and there's still one
more!), is "Catherine's Theme". Frank explains that he had a conversation
earlier about the death of a Russian czarina named Catherine. Apparently, she used to
enjoy having sex with bulls, and had this contraption built that would elevate a bull
above her bed, only to lower it back down so she could fornicate with it. Unfortunately,
one day the contraption broke and the bull landed on Catherine and killed her. Frank
attempts to act this out on stage. Act one is a tango played rather sleazily by the band
while Frank narrates Catherine's thoughts ("Oh, I love that Ferdinand
"). In act two, the bull enters to some demented mariachi music
and is hoisted above Catherine. In act three, the bull falls with a loud crash at which
point Frank dives right into a sinister "Eat that Question."
Fourth complaint: "Eat that Question" fades out as soon as it begins, only to
return as Frank is ending the set while the band plays the "Eat that Question"
For an encore, the band play "Mr. Green Genes-> Chunga's Revenge" (no
"King Kong"), which finds Ian delivering an inpassioned solo, and Frank
delivering an outright lame solo.
In summation: "Farther O'Blivion" is enjoyable, "Catherine's Theme"
is admittingly funny, and Ian's "Green Genes" solo soars. Almost everything else
about this show (apart from the surprisingly strong "Exercise Four")
disappoints. Such wasted potential.
I wasn't really that enthused aobut this review when I picked up the tape - I
remembered this concert as being fairly average Spring 73, with no real standouts. I was
pleasantly surprised to hear more than one or two really great moments.
Like many mid-70s tapes, my copy runs slightly slow - enough to notice, not enough to
annoy. We get the beginning of the running theme of the night. The monitors aren't
working, and Frank interrupts the show many, many times to correct this. Exercise 4 starts
this off, with Frank ensuring the audience can
hear Ruth, because he's finding it hard to.
After an average Fifty-Fifty and a very good Montana, we get to the meat of the show -
it's Dupree's time. Highlights include the by now standard Spring 73 intro - Duke funk
solos interlaced with conducted madness and full band chaos; Jean-Luc's solo manages to be
interesting despite many "Look, I can play my violing real high!" moments; and
Frank's lengthy but somewhat academic solo (Lewis Saul would enjoy analysing this one).
Inca Roads has finally risen up from its tiny February 4-minute version to become a raging
beast. Sal's Sinatra tonight is so dead on I'm amazed the man himself wasn't a special
guest. His trumpet solo is equally magnificent, and the audience knows this and gives
hearty approval. Bruce's trombone solo is
also long and satisfying. A keeper, one of the best Incas of this leg of the tour.
Cosmik is merely OK tonight, but then we get a Yellow Snow with some nice moments - it too
has finally fleshed out into the full-on version that would shortly dazzle Australia.
Here's the Mar-juh-rene rundown:
M - Majesty of the mar-juh-rene;
A - Anguished experience when there's no vocal in the monitor system and thank
god it came back just now;
R - Redundant, which is what it is when you gotta keep asking someone to turn
your voice up in the monitor system;
hyphen - described as a stool about this long from a ladybug;
J - [put to an audience vote; judging from the tape, most shout Joint];
U - you, because you already figured out what the J was supposed to be;
H - Happy home, which is what everybody oughta have;
hyphen - used as a dildo if you can't get a vibrator that small;
R - Ridiculous, which is what this monologue is;
E - long extended E, E to the Nth power for all you math geeks out there;
M - weeny M next to the e that lasted a long time [I listened to this bit 4
times - Frank actually says M. Whoops.]
E - teeny weeny E silent on the end of that.
After that it's into Farther O'Blivion, which now contains its initial flurry of notes -
and it sounds great! Jean-Luc and Bruce's solos afterwards aren't as great, but it really
heats up when Bruce and Ian start trading licks.
The encores seem to cut straight into King Kong, with Ian doing a special "whip
out" sax solo (as FZ describes). It's really incredibly funky - wish Ian had soloed
like this more often this tour. The second hightlight of the tape, after Inca. Ends with a
decent if unspectacular Chunga.
Not the most spectacular 73 show - no improvs, Frank's solos aren't as riveting as usual.
But still enjoyable and worth getting.
While the quality of the audience recordings from this tour is generally surprisingly
high, it's very nice to
have a crisp soundboard from the American leg. It's not the hottest show for solos and
jamming, but you
can clearly discern all the instruments, so this is an excellent tape for studying the
arrangements and instrumentation of this tour.
Exercise #4 is a prime example - you rarely think about how well-constructed those little
melodies are, but here they are in full splendor, including the delicate bass line. And
the segue from Dog -> Meat gave me goose bumps, although I've heard those songs
hundreds of times. Beautiful! Ian plays a fine flute solo in Fifty-Fifty and Frank plays
some cool blues in Cosmik Debris. Zomby Woof is a rather rare treat - not perfect yet, a
good version with a sinister guitar solo. Cool to hear Frank in this high register, going
up to an F.
Montana brings FZ's finest solo of the evening, very rhythmic. Some technically astounding
especially at the beginning. Good, but not spectacular intro to Dupree's. The violin solo
section is great -
Ponty is better than usual, and it's nice to be able to hear Tom Fowler, who produces an
together with Ralph (no other rhythm combo could make 5/4 this groovy!). Frank whips out
really inspired solo, building slowly in intensity for over 6 minutes, but unfortunately
there's a cut here
back into the theme. This is where Frank finds out that they only have time for one more
song, and he lets the audience choose between "something old" (the Green Genes
medley, presumably) or "something new". The crowd chooses wisely, and we get
Farther Oblivion. I've been raving enough about this piece on these pages already, so
let's just say that it benefits a lot from the sound quality, and the band does a
wonderful rendition. They go straight from the BeBop Tango into Cucamonga without any
solos. Still, a
splendid ending to a must-have tape!