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Winter '74 Reviews

February 16th, 1974

    This is the second show (and the first circulating on tape) from a brief period that ranks near the top of the list of lost chapters in FZ's music.  Although the tapes from this short tour are repetitious, every serious fan should have at least one, and this excellent recording ('74 FZ tapes offer perhaps the best argument for the point that SBDs are not necessarily preferable to AUDs) is a good candidate.     

The only personnel change since the last tour is the addition of Jeff Simmons on rhythm guitar, but this band is a different beast from the fall 73 unit nonetheless.  The underrehearsed air is mostly gone (although technical problems remain a consistent feature of the shows all year), and FZ's guitar sound has real bite.     

Even more that usual, FZ's typical setlist for this tour spotlights new songs, most of which are a few steps away from their definitive arrangements.  This has its ups and downs : the slower, funkier Andy (announced as Something/Anything) and doubtletime Florentine Pogen (with a wicked segue into Kung Fu) are fun; conversely, the solo sections in Approximate sound half-baked, and the busy full-band vamp behind FZ's Inca Roads solo doesn't give the guitarist enough room to move.  Of course, for the sort of listener who would read this review, the shortcomings are as fun as the successes.     

Tonight's Dupree's Paradise offers a lengthy FZ story about the club that inspired the piece, detouring into an amusing bit about drugs just before the theme - otherwise, this version offers some mellow fusion jamming including a short but cool Simmons solo, and concluding with a fine FZ outing that, as usual for the more inspired versions from this period, ventures away from the one-chord vamp into other key centers.  No other overwhelming solos, but FZ is on and in a good mood - recommended.

--PB

February 17th, 1974

I have a soft spot for this tour, and wish there were better sounding recordings of it. This one is an average audience tape, with a few annoying cuts, but is still a satisfying 25 minutes.

We start off with the intro to Cheepnis, essentially still the same as the Roxy intro. Then it's off to Pygmy Twylyte, with a healthy dose of Simmons guitar livening things up. Napolean's voice, for once, doesn't annoy me, and the whole things sounds really funky. Things really get good when Frank begins his solo, as for a minute or so Jeff starts playing LOUD RHYTHM, almost drowning Frank out. Guitar duel, 20 paces!

Idiot Bastard Son sounds nice, though there are a few cuts (which, ironically, don't cut anything, they're just silences inserted). Then we hear the beginning of Cheepnis, and THEN there's a big cut, right to the theme of Dupree's Paradise. So no Duke, or long intro about the Lounge. Oh, well.

The rest of the song is quite satisfying, with nice solos by Brock, Simmons, Bruce Fowler, and Frank. I really think Simmons' influence on this Winter/Spring tour is underestimated - his guitar is excellent, the only time we really see rhythm guitar with Frank under it, rather than later tours' rhythm plays the melody, Frank only plays solos.

Nice tape, and at 25 minutes, can easily be gotten as a filler item.

--SG

February 24th, 1974

"Interesting rather than great", I wrote somewhere else to sum up this short tour. Together with the short Apr/May tour it forms an intermediate between the great '73 tours and the ever-popular fall '74 tour, with a bunch of new songs that are getting worked into the set.

A 73/74 Cosmik Debris is always a 73/74 Cosmik Debris, with pretty much the same old solos as always from Brock and Duke, and a bluesy little solo from Zappa. Jeff blows his harmonica for a couple of bars too. Andy is not Andy yet, but even though it's very obvious that's it's a proto-version, I kinda dig it. The never-to-be-heard-again guitar arpeggio is cool, and the double drummers are used to nice effect, like when the two characteristic Andy rhythm patterns are played simultaneously before the solo. FZ actually solos twice during the song, once where you expect it (really good solo!), and then at the end where he "duels" with Nappy's wailings.

Florentine Pogen doesn't feel as much as a working version as Andy, but is almost even more different from the versions we're used to. The double tempo gives it a whole different feel, and I must admit I really like this too, though I'm glad FZ stuck with the slower version. The solo section sounds like a fast Willie The Pimp, and surprisingly features George on the synth. The abrupt segue into Kung Fu must qualify as one of FZ's strangest ever.

Next, it's the T'Mershi/Dog Meat suite, leading us into the old fave RDNZL. Zappa's solo is not complete on this tape, unfortunately. The rhythm section really rocks here, and things get even hotter during Duke's solo. Village Of The Sun is played in a very loose, groovy style. Odd solo section - rotating between Frank, Nappy and George, who plays just 4 measures each. The classic combo Echidna's Arf/Don't You Ever Wash That Thing? is always great, but as things are starting to get hot in Wash, Herb Cohen comes up and tells the taper that "he's not supposed to be tapin' this thing here".

Nothing really excellent, but overall fun listening - well, that sort of sums up most shows from this tour, in this reporter's opinion. I don't dig out these tapes too often, but when I do, I always find myself enjoying the relaxed jams and the interesting working versions.

--JN

March 5th, 1974

This is one of the handful of nice AUD recordings we're fortunate to have from this tour, with the only flaws being a few cuts and unstable moments. After a band intro/soundcheck, it starts with the combo of Montana (good FZ solo, a bit short) and Dupree's, with a short Duke funk/fusion jam at the start, the usual jazzy string of solos after the head, and an FZ solo that develops into some sharp blues wailing over a stomping rhythm section but ends abruptly. A good version, but not exceptional by the standards of 73/74.

Pgymy/Idiot/Cheepnis is next, with Pygmy about halfway through its evolution from the Roxy arrangement to the Helsinki version. Then FZ intros an hour-long medley of mostly then-unfamiliar material, with Andy announced as Is There Anything Good Inside Of You and Echidna's Arf as Excentrifugal Forz. Since most of the notable alternate arrangements here have already been discussed, what's worth mentioning is Village Of The Sun, another proto-Helsinki version with Duke and FZ trading licks in the middle.

In Don't You Ever Wash, FZ describes Ruth thinking "'Bri-poo! Bri-poo!' Come back to her, Bri-Poo," presumably referring to engineer Brian Krokus. Was Ian already history by then, or was FZ pointing out some extramarital activities from the stage? Chester and Ralph offer a drum duet (in place of the Roxy duel) that sounds pre-planned, not too unlike Chester's jams with Phil Collins in the future, over which FZ announces Inca Roads, the final number on the tape.

Not essential, but worthwhile, and a low-gen version has gotten wide circulation.

--PB

March 8th, 1974

Frank's Winter '74 jaunt is an interesting affair.  While it lacks any truly magical musical moments, this tour does contains a number of really interesting arrangements.  Frank debuts a couple songs during this short tour, treats us to a short teaser of another, and dazzles us with one of the most unusual suite of segued songs he would ever concoct. Unfortunately, apart from the novelty of most of these items, this tour lacks any real fire, and apart from an occasional solo or two, the shows performed this time out are not all that special.    

Representing one of the better sounding performances we have from this run, the 3/8 show is, musically speaking, representative of what we have available from this tour.  "Cosmik Debris" and "Montana" start things off, showing off a band that sounds like it is simply going through the motions. Oddly enough, these lackluster performances lead directly to the highlight of the night, "Dupree's Paradise".  As is typical for '73 and '74, this Monster song starts off with several minutes of Duke led funk, both on electric piano and synthesizer.  Frank eventually steps in and joins the jam, conducting the band through several weird changes, and sending Ruth off on some short but wicked solos.  Excellent sound here, as Ruth has never sounded clearer or more prominent.  After a healthy dose of audience participation, we head into "Dupree's Paradise" proper, with the standard parade of solos lined up and ready to go.  We get Nappy on flute (and noises), T. Fowler on bass dueling it out with Simmons, B. Fowler on trombone, and Frank on guitar.  The solos are all typically good (nothing truly great), with Frank's standing out as it is over the opening bassline of "Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy" (a song that would not see the light of day for another year).  While this vamp dominates the proceedings and limits the degrees to which Frank can venture, the relative novelty of this vamp (in hindsight, of course) makes this the most enjoyable effort of the lot.    

The "this would be better on other tours" "Pygmy Bastard Cheepnis" follows, with "Pygmy" being the only standout here as it sounds GREAT with the trombone and the guitars and the prominently mixed percussion. Unfortunately, a lifeless "Dummy Up" jam slows the momentum down, and essentially kills the remainder of this mini-suite.   

At this point, we enter the novelty portion of the show.  First up is an early reading of "Andy" (not yet called so), which consists of the same parts in the same order, but with a different instrumental arrangement and some unusual tempo changes.  This is obviously not as good as the final product, but it is definitely worth hearing.  I am not sure I can say the same for "Florentine Pogen", which is simply the same song performed twice as fast.  It is worth hearing though simply for the bizarre segue into "Kung Fu".     

From here on out we are in territory familiar to all, with your standard "Penguin T'Mershi Dog Meat RDNZL etc etc" suite.  "Penguin" is nothing special, "T'Mershi Dog Meat" sounds as great as always, and "RDNZL" is still its inconsequential self.  (It is not until the Summer/Fall '74 tour that this song would become a serious heavyweight contender, no?).  The set closing "Echidna's Arf-> Don't You Ever?" is another pair of tunes which benefit greatly from the percussion heavy mix, and despite standard solos by Bruce and George, these tracks close the show in strong fashion.  Finally, the "King Kong-> Chunga's" encore also sounds nice thanks to the mix, but the paltry solos all around make this a disappointment more than anything else.    

While I will not say that this is a great show, I did enjoy listening to it.  Ruth, more than anything, sounds Great!!, and getting to hear her so prominently featured in the mix is probably the high point of this tape.  Apart from that, it is more interesting for the several novelty items than for any real musical excellence.  Worth owning, but not essential.

--JG

March 9th, 1974

Oklahoma City, right in the middle of the Winter 74 tour. Things are starting to pick up now, and we get a mostly enjoyable show, only falling down near the middle.

The beginning is nice, though. Frank turns out a quick and dirty Montana solo, and there's a mention of 'Okie floss' that Nappy and George don't bother to pick up on. We head straight into George's Dupree's intro, nice and funky as per usual, with Frank breaking in to give us some comments on short people. As Frank gets siller, George switches from piano to synths, and starts to do the Nintendo sounds that he throws into his solos. Into the theme, and off to sololand, with quite a good Brock flute solo. The highlight for me, though, is Tom Fowler's bass solo, which is simply AMAZING. He seems to think he's playing a Brian May guitar solo, and is just all over the place, using the entire range of notes, feedback, and talent. Incredible.

Simmons takes a guitar solo next, which is quite odd, and sounds like it might be conducted by Frank. Then back to Tom for a bit, before Bruce's solo, where Bruce desperately struggles to make himself heard over the cacophany of the band's backing. Sadly, in the middle of this, my tape cuts into the beginning of Cosmik Debris, so someone else will have to fill me in on Frank's solo, which I hear is quite good!

Cosmik Debris is no slouch either, mind you, with another parade of solos. Napolean on sax, then a nice long harmonica solo by Jeff, then George on the keyboards, then Frank. All of these solos use the basic blues vamp to their advantage, and make you wish that Cosmik in the 80s had been able to stretch like this.

Unfortunately, now we come to the dull part of the show. Pygmy Twylyte, despite a nice sounding intro, did not have a very good funk jam this tour. And Cheepnis is really hard to listen to - the band simply play loud chaos while Napolean bow-wow-wows over the top. Gad, where's the May tour when you need it? Inca Roads is also hindered by a repetitive, dull vamp for Frank's solo, but gets better as it goes along, with George perking things up a bit.

Then it's time for another big Highlight, Andy (Or 'Is There Anything Good Inside of You?', as Frank introduces it). While this is not the classic Andy we're familiar with, it's quite an interesting version, slower and more blues than rock. Frank, in turn, takes a slower paced solo, which works really nicely. And I'm getting quite fond of the 'Something/Anything' jams at the end of this song.

After that, we get the usual Winter 74 medley, with Penguin having a short but good solo, and Village of the Sun being radically remixed and tossed in a blender - was this song ever the same two tours in a row? It's also an odd choice to close the show with, but from the sound of Frank's hurried goodnight, I think the venue was anxious to get them off the stage.

Good show, with a few less than good spots in the middle, but more than worthy for Dupree's, Cosmik, and Andy.

--SG

March 15th, 1974

The last documented show of the Winter 74 tour is from Seattle, and it's a decent example of the strengths and weaknesses of the tour.

We start off with the weaknesses. Pygmy Idiot Cheepnis is taken at a slow pace, and Nappy has started to find the screech that would soon become his standard. Inca Roads is more interesting, with the B-quality audience tape providing several interesting textures, inclusing some lovely subtle Simmons
guitar on the intro riff and dominant percussion. The vamp is still very stilted and chunky, but we get decent Zappa and Duke solos, and a near inaudible Fowler one.

Cosmik Debris is where things get really fun. Frank decides to vary the solos tonight, much to the surprise of the band, and exhorts Ruth to do one. She refuses. He then asks George to do a marimba-esque solo while Ruth mimes. We don't know if she did or not, but George's solo is still fun, with a BeBop Tango quote thrown in. Simmons is next with a very long harmonica solo that's quite good (Simmons makes these tour, IMO), and a decent Nappy sax solo. Frank's solo is very odd - sounding like a synthesiser more than a guitar - but too short to go anywhere.

Babbette is next, and is the surprise of the tape, as it's a monster version. Well, OK, not quite, but it is about 6-7 minutes long, with an extended vocal bridge, some lovely Duke high vocals and Simmons taking a guitar solo (Frank is getting a lot of solos in weird spots tonight). A real extravaganza. It still segues into Approximate, which is quite funky thanks to the tape's sound quality. Loud backing, difficult to hear Duke solo.

Montana starts slow, but heats up quickly and takes us into Dupree's. George's solo is more interactive than the 73 versions, with cowbells from Ralph/Ruth. We're starting to lead up to the Fall 74 Dupree's extravaganzas. Toms' bass solo is fabulous, and mutates into a Simmons/Fowler guitar bass jam. Then
Bruce on trombone, I believe, though it really sounds very trumpet-like - was walt sneaking on stage? Frank's solo just begins to catch fire before the tape cut.

After that, it's the New Song Parade, with nothing really amazing or appalling. Frank is still experimenting with Village of the Sun's intro/outro, making it always worthy of a listen.

Good show, especially the middle hour or so. I wish these tours had soundboards.

--SG

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