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Winter '78 Reviews

page one

January 24th, 1978

After two years of rather lackluster tours, Frank once again toured the States in the Fall of '77, and with the help of a young and musically adventurous band, whipped out some of the most inspired performances of his career. Bringing it all to a head on New Year's Eve, Frank gave his Rockin' Teenage Combo a short rest before once again hitting the road- this time in Europe. With a slightly revamped set list, and a better idea of what this band was capable of, Frank embarked on one of his more inspired and all around enjoyable tours.

That being said, the opening show in London is not one of those tapes that it is a must have. Because it is this band on this tour, this tape earns many points, but compared to most of the performances that would follow, this concert is one of the weaker ones of the run. Frank's solos are all woefully short (with one exception), the Monster songs (which are what really make this tour great) are not yet monstrous, and elements of the set list are missing or not yet developed. "Little House I Used To Live In" is especially weak, lacking the powerful segue from "Jones Crusher" and not yet containing a Frank Tango solo. Having just listened to an abundance of Fall '78 tapes, however, I did notice a lot of little things about this band, and this tour's performances, which make this tour (and this tape) more enjoyable:

-"Dancin' Fool" sounds more disco (mockingly so, of course), which adds to the enjoyment of the tune.
-"The Torture Never Stops" has never sounded (and never would sound) better thanks to the presence of a confident sounding O'Hearn on bass.
-"City of Tiny Lites" finds Belew on rhythm, saving one of Frank's consistently weak solo outings.
- "Punky's Whips" and "Titties 'n' Beer" bounce along effortlessly thanks to Mars' piano, and Ed Mann's percussion support during Frank's "Punky" solo is great.

There were also a number of little things about this performance in particular that endeared me to it. Bozzio messes up the "Tryin' to Grow A Chin" lyrics. O'Hearn makes Frank laugh aloud during the "Broken Hearts" middle-of-the-song monologue. Frank seems to be in a good mood throughout, joking with the audience, having a good time with the "Black Page Dance Contest", and explaining the meaning of several songs. None of these things make this particular trip essential, but they do improve the ride.

BUT, and this is a big but, there is one performance in this show that I feel is a MUST HAVE. Coming late in the show, and not the typical barnburner we have come to expect, "Yo Mama" is awesome. The song starts as normal, with the lyrics heading into the solo section. During the solo, O'Hearn and Bozzio play a heavy, King Crimson-ish vamp- simple and repetitive, but very intense. This obviously heralds the presence of a non-typical "Yo Mama" solo, and that is exactly what we get. There is no slow build in intensity, no gradual coming-in of the band. From the get go, this is just one weird, intense solo, with Frank soloing all over the map and the rhythm section pounding away. By the time Frank returns to the closing theme, absolutely nothing has been accomplished in this solo, but a little bit of everything has been tried. While not climactic in the typical "Yo Mama" sense, it is definitely exhilarating. Not the best "Yo Mama" solo, but for its uniqueness alone, this is a must hear.

Overall, this is an enjoyable but not essential tape. If you are not a completionist, and do not need every tape available, you can skip the tape, but I do recommend tracking down the "Yo Mama" as filler. It should be heard.

--JG

January 25th, 1978

The second night in London is an average show represented by an average AUD recording. Basically, we get the proto-Sheik Yerbouti set, without much incident. Most of the elements are in place, but a few ingredients that would make some of the February shows special are not yet here.

FZ's Torture solo uses some interesting effects, but it's relatively brief and only hints at the monstrousness it would develop during this tour, and his Tiny Lites break is so short that it barely warrants a mention. Peter gets to jam in Pound and Tommy in Little House, but the latter piece lacks both FZ's introductory segue out of Jones Crusher and his solo. I Have Been In You and Flakes (at least the first half) are the versions FZ used for the basic tracks on Sheik Yerbouti, and FZ's safety-pin-enhanced Frampton rap includes some banter with a superfan named Jesus (initially mistaken for another such character known as Todd Rundgren), who would also turn up at Knebworth in the fall.

So, a good performance, but nothing special. And the audience seals the shows fate by voting for old songs rather than new ones when FZ gives them the option at the second encore, thus giving us an uninspired Black Napkins and San Berdino rather than a probable Wild Love/Yo Mama (or perhaps something even better). It gets better.

- PB

January 26th, 1978

The third night of this run and for 1978 begins with the usual Purple Lagoon intro which I've always liked. Band intros follow with Patrick introduced as Patrick "Annabelle" O'Hearn. A typical 1977-78 show follows, highlites include Peaches En Regalia showcasing the excellent bass and drums of O'Hearn and Bozzio, maybe my favorite version of Peaches comes from this band. Frank's Torture solo starts off really unusually, probably breaking in a new effects box that sort of shimmers out of the deep end of a pool. Nice solo. Adrian's vocals are great on City and during Pound For a Brown, the short solo section is given soley to the keyboard section. Adrian shines again in Flakes making his guitar sound like an Indian violinist that we would be seeing later that year. Broken Hearts is cut from my tape and the last highlite on my tape is Frank's solo during Punky's Whips - are real exteneded affair with some exploration. Titties and Beer ends my tape.

--BL

January 27th, 1978

Welllllll....night four and, if the set hasn't changed much, the band is still performing to it's characteristically high standard. At least amongst my tapes, this is the lesser quality tape from this stand, and my copy contains a miserable edit in a key moment of the show (Audience Participation Time!!). But, with that in mind, here we go boys and girls...

Allow me to say this: I LOVE THIS BAND!! Maybe I'm biased because one of the first FZ products that sucked me into Z's Universe was Baby Snakes, but I love the interplay between the band members on this tour. This is of course implying that I'm giving the Monster Songs more credit than they deserve at this point (they would not develop until the band was in deepest, darkest Europe). But for me, even truncated Monsters from this lineup are more deserving of a listen than even the more adventurous Monsters of, say, the 1988 band (I can hear the voices now..."Blasphemy!!").

The tape starts off with "I Have Been In You" and if you're thinking you've been here before....Well, you have. This begins 80 minutes of mostly Sheik material with few surprises, but a few things can be singled out for mention: these versions of "Wild Love" and "Yo Mama" are not revelatory, but I always loved the Spring '78 performances of these. One of these sequences should be unearthed in a future spiffy vault release, shouldn't they? "How many say AMEN to it?" Decent FZ solo in Yo Mama, but he is not opening up here like he would later in the tour. Parts of the solo sound like frustration to me, that sort of choked urgency we hear in his playing from time to time, notably in the studio version of "Willie The Pimp".

My tape cuts at the end of T 'N' B, before Frank leads the audience into the usual Participation segment we're familiar with from Fall '77...It cuts back in at Black Page #2. Tommy's solo is very nice in Little House (although, again I'm biased). Dong Work is always fun live, and Envelopes is once again well-exectued. Again, the performance is not amazing (typical of a show from the opening stand of an FZ tour), but it is a fun if incomplete tape. If you find it in good quality (and with Audience Participation complete), you might want to consider this one!!

--SP

January 29th, 1978

This is a relatively rare tape in trading circles, and marks Frank's departure from the Hammersmith Odeon to start in on Germany. And yes, this means we get the German Dancin' Fool ending. The show is a pretty decent sounding one, with an echoey hall not helping things.

We do see some of the typical early Winter 78 habits. Frank gives us a Torture solo that could really get to be something special, but is cut off far too soon. Tiny Lites delivers a decent solo, certainly better than the ones we'd heard in England recently.

The first monster, pound, has a slightly more unusual Tommy Mars solo - very lounge-jazzy, with heavy backing from Patrick. It almost sounds like another song. Whatever it is, it's great. Peter gives us a very melodic solo, too - very melody driven. As usual with Wolf's Pound solos, the band gradually joins in and we get more and more chaotic until it collapses into I Have Been in You.

Frank tries to do a boutique intro for this concert, but quickly realizes the crowd just isn't getting it, so we get a denuded IHBIY tonight. Flakes, of course, if full-blown, and Adrian's solo makes this the treat it always is.

Wild Love starts off pretty plain with an uninspired Ed solo, and Patrick doesn't fare much better at first. He doesn't do his usual rock-vamp type solo, instead opting for a Purple-Lagoony, more free-form solo. It's really odd and xenochronic. Terry tries to join in, but is drumming much too fast, so Patrick plays Louie Louie to try to slow him down. They end up veering so far from Wild Love proper that Terry has to count in 1-2-3-4 to get back to the theme. Really odd. Adrian's solo, like Ed's, is pretty pedestrian.

Yo Mama delivers a typical early FZ solo. He's still experimenting with this tune, and gets frenetic a little too early before slowing down at the second vamp. Still manages to get something going. The segue into Punky's still jars with me a little, but it would be leaving soon enough. The Punky's solo is a nice rockin' number, though, and this band plays it really well.

Little House is still tangoless, but that's OK for this performance, as Tommy really gets to stretch out. He scats, he uses piano, synths, gives us Space invaders keyboard noises. We get an almost complete Uncle Meat tossed in near the end. Frank keeps the band involved with hand gestures, and keeps his guitar
strapped on, throwing in some squirm licks and having Tommy respond. Quite a treat, probably the highlight.

After that it's business as usual, with Frank's Muffin Man solo being quite loud and metal-ey, as if he realized he hasn't had a solo since Punky. Good concert, shows how things are gearing up towards the classic February Europe shows.

--SG

January 30th, 1978

Despite the echoey tape quality, this is a fairly decent show. Frank is in a fairly good mood, doing the outro to Dancin' Fool in German. Terry is still singing Tryin' to Grow a Chin as the angry young man rather than the whiny voice he'd take later.

Torture is starting to expand, and while it doesn't hit the heights it would in 2 weeks or so, it's a fairly respectable effort, with Frank sounding like he's slapping his guitar. Tiny Lites...well, this isn't the tour for Tiny Lites solos. OK, but not all that memorable.

Then comes one of the highlights of the tape, Pound for a Brown. Now, I don't know if this is simply the way this audience tape sounded, or if it was deliberate, but Patrick is incredibly active throughout all the solos here. Tommy's solo goes from low to high gear, while Peter's is more jazz, but throughout Patrick is just jammin' to beat the band. Suddenly Peter, Tommy, and Patrick are all jammin at each other, and it's almost chaos. Finally it comes back to Tommy on piano, and then a cold ending. Nice.

I Have Been in You is missing the boutique intro, as FZ doesn't believe the German audience will understand it. The song is OK, but...tape cut. Flip it over, and we're near the end of Flakes, after the first one-two- three-four. AAARGH! And it sounded like a great jam, too! After that, there was no way Broken Hearts was gonna please me.

Luckily, Wild Love did, with a pretty good, "We're not playing King Kong yet so you get two extra solos" jam. Ed sounds like he's playing calypso, Patrick is just all over the place, and Adrian e-bows the night away. Every time I hear a 76-78 tape, I am reminded that while other bassists who played with Zappa were excellent, Patrick was God.

Then we have Yo Mama, probably the guitar highlight on the tape. The segue into the solo is still very awkward, but once the vamp gets going (a bluesy shuffle rather than either the 'this kinda sounds like You Are What You Is' we'd head in the middle of February or the 'this is the three- part vamp we know and love' we'd hear by the end of the tour), and Frank goes to town. Aw, hell, it's Yo Mama, you knew it would be good.

Standard encores, with the line of the show: "Well, we were gonna play something nice for you, but instead we'll play Dinah-Moe Humm." Muffin Man ends with a decent solo, but the tape cuts out.

Average sound with a less than audible FZ guitar means this isn't a must-have, but Pound, Wild Love and Yo Mama make it enjoyable.

--SG

February 1st, 1978

As he so often would do in Germany, FZ starts out the show by testing the communicativity of the audience. - "Are you ready for the show?". No response. So this becomes another show of very little chit-chat, but a whole lotta' playing, and I ain't complaining.

Another standard feature of German concerts is the "Bei mir oder bei Dir?" in Dancin' Fool, but this time FZ dares to try the whole "What's a girl like you..." monologue in German, and his attempt is not too bad. Peaches In Regalia is always pleasant to hear, but it's not until The Torture Never Stops that the show really kicks off. The solo starts out melodic and beautiful and evolves into more intricate lines. Excellent support from Patrick and Terry. And with a nice, rather clean guitar sound, it nearly reaches Rat Tomago class, but it's a bit too long.

After Tryin' To Grow A Chin (a.k.a Did We Really Need It Twice On YCDTOSA?) we get City Of Tiny Lights. Though this song peaked in 1980-82 (especially as solo vehicle), I must say nobody ever sang it better than Adrian. But the solos from this tour are generally disappointing, and this is no exception. Baby Snakes is not a very remarkable song, yet pretty enjoyable, especially since this was virtually the only tour it was played. It's placing in the set is funny too - between the otherwise unseparable COTL and Pound For A Brown.

As usual, PFAB becomes a keyboard-heavy excursion. Not really a Monster Song, just Tommy and Peter trading solos. Really good though, and O'Hearn's playing is brilliant, while Terry is a bit too frenzied here. The I Have Been In You lecture is kept to a minimum, and FZ once again demonstrates some German he's picked up - "I'm going in you again" becomes "Ich gehe in dich hinein".

Flakes was one of the first FZ songs I learned to love, and one of the few FZ rock vocal songs that I never grow tired of. The versions from this tour are extra good, with Adrian's nice solos. Broken Hearts is another song that was at its best this tour, much because of Patrick O'Hearn and his remarks. Here, he throws in the word "butt-wig" that cracks FZ up so bad, he can't sing for a while.

About a week from here, FZ would place King Kong at this stage of the show, which would make this tour reach an even higher level. But for now it's right into Wild Love, a song which qualifies as one of my favourite live numbers ever. It's not as far out now as the previous tour, but still a great Monster. As usual, the solo sections consists of a "samba" part with percussion and bass solo, and one rock part with guitar solo by Adrian. Ed's solo is quite good, and Patrick's is excellent - long and full of his typical, cool protuberances. Belew uses some interesting effects for his solo, but it's not one his better efforts.

And now: Yo Mama. There aren't words to describe this guitar solo, it must be heard. A real epic, in three movements. The first one is calm and majestetic, with very sparse drumming. For the second one, which almost sounds xenochronized, Terry finds a steady beat. From here FZ and the rhythm section start increasing in intensity, and the 3rd mvt becomes the climax of the show.

Depending on what happened in Vienna tha night after this, this might have been the last performance of Punky's Whips ever. If so, a worthy farewell, with a good R&R guitar solo. Titties 'n Beer becomes very amusing, after FZ goofs on the words - "boots" becomes a temporary secret word, and FZ and Bozzio are laughing so hard there's a long break in the dialogue.

The last two songs on my tape are Black Page and Jones Crusher. The ending is a bit confusing: FZ holds out the last chord of Jones Crusher for a very long time, as if he's deciding whether they should play Little House. It seems as he decides not to, and makes the final "thanks for coming" talk instead, but after that, he starts playing Little House on the guitar. The band catches up, only to be interrupted by FZ who cues them to play the C-chord, and the show is over. A strange end to an excellent show.

--JN

February 3rd, 1978

Standard set list, but by now the tour is starting to take off musically. In particular, it's clear that this is becoming *the* tour for Torture. Granted, the 1980 and 1988 versions have some (unfair) advantages, but for unadorned performances of the song it doesn't get better than this. Bozzio pulls off some truly startling fills, O'Hearn slips some deft harmonic shifts into the solo and FZ's guitar improv is developing new heights of furiousness. Also, he has some interesting effects on his guitar tonight, with a sound often very similar to Peter's Sy Borg synth timbre, and he includes a real solo in Tiny Lites (though not a great one).

Speaking of Wolf, the hometown boy jams effectively in Pound - as usual, he sounds reminiscent of either McCoy Tyner or Jan Hammer, depending on whether he's on piano or synth. FZ keeps the spoken word mayhem to a minimum due to the audience's minimal English comprehension. His Yo Mama solo is unusually fast-paced, and, as would become typical on this tour, the rather loose ending of the improv section makes for an awkward transition back to the vocal conclusion.

Good show - unfortunately, my tape (derived from a vinyl boot) cuts early in Tommy's Little House solo, so someone else will have to report on how it ends.

--PB

February 4th, 1978

While the sound on this tape leaves quite a bit to be desired, the music most definitely does not. Frank's guitar solos are the typical Winter '78 scorchers, the Monster songs continue to grow in their monstrosity, and for some reason, even the "Dancin' Fools" and "Tryin' to Grow a Chins" and "Disco Boys" sound more interesting here than they would with any other band.

"The Torture Never Stops" heralds the arrival of the first truly outstanding moment, containing a five-and-a-half minute Frank solo that rivals the oft compared to "Rat Tomago". Nearly buried beneath a louder-than-usual barrage of screams and groans, Frank issues forth a series of metallic flurries punctuated by sustained, ear piercing screams. Bozzio and O'Hearn patiently pound away in the basement, laying the solid foundation and wisely choosing the spots in which to jump forward with some inspired fills. While Frank releases a series of blurred riffs, Bozzio and O'Hearn maintain the tension by concentrating on the simple yet effective vamp they are asked to play. As Frank reaches his points of tension (over and over again), Terry and Pat decide to release theirs, filling the empty spaces with impossible drum fills and funky yet threatening bass lines. The resulting mesh is amazing, continually pushing the solo to greater heights.

Frank continues the screaming in his "City of Tiny Lites" solo, which for the most part is quite unimpressive. "Pound for a Brown" sees Wolf giving us a longer than usual solo, with O'Hearn once again taking us into some refreshingly funky territory. "I Have Been In You" (never an enjoyable song, if you ask me) is slightly salvaged by Frank's decision NOT to do the spoken intro, though the cut during the "Flakes" jam (I should have assigned this tape to Gaffney) does not help matters.

Eventually, though, "Wild Love" rolls around, and the show once again enters amazing territory. Mann takes a nice, long solo, O'Hearn is given the spotlight he deserves (instead of having to steal it from the soloist he is supporting), and Belew dishes out his typically tense, almost painful (in a good way) solo. The rhythm section pushes his solo to what seems its natural climax, only to have Belew attempt to push the intensity higher. Bozzio and O'Hearn answer the challenge, managing to lengthen the pleasure and prolonging the climax during this "Wild Love". Unfortunately, "Yo Mama" does not let us rest after the aforementioned frenzy. Frank unleashes almost four minutes of pure guitar noise upon entering solo territory, lapsing into one of those "no-one-else-is-on-the-stage-with-me" modes. He eventually realizes that he has company, and slides into a frantic, ZZ Top style boogie riff. This invitation to join is accepted by the rhythm section, which tries its best to scramble after the "catch-me-if-you-can" Zappa. The boys give it their best shot, but finally far so far behind that they just stop. Frank continues with his sheets of fury, spitting out some nice, ugly chords to compensate for the lack of a rhythm section. Mars decides that he has something to add, and injects some out-of-place but somehow appropriate sci-fi keyboard noises. Finally, after almost two minutes of guitar/keyboard madness, Frank returns us back to solid ground, and the show resumes. Now we can rest (briefly).

The "Titties Page Crusher" provides us our safe (but enjoyable) breather, before "Little House I Used To Live In" ushers in the final madness of the night. Mars' takes his rather extensive solo first, taking the time to establish a rather reflective mood with the piano before calling forth the rhythm section and wandering off into more unpredictable territory. Again, special mention must be made of the rhythm section, who are simply amazing in the way that they both support and challenge the soloist. While Mars' solo is great, Frank's Tango outing is in another world. Much better than the officially released version, this performance finds Frank continuing his metallic outbursts, but in a more controlled "tango" environment. At one point, Frank seems to be playing faster and faster while the rhythm section seems to be playing slower and slower. A definite mind-bender.

From here on out, the show enters more predictable terrain, which is fine since a mental break is definitely needed. While all the performances are as solid as anything else from this tour, the "Torture/Mama/House" trio belong in that category of "must hear", and push this show into the "must have" pile. Get it.

--JG

February 5th, 1978

This is your typical Spring '78 show. And for this tour, "a typical show" is definitely a compliment, meaning that it's a great concert, with lots of excellent jamming.

First song of real interest is, as usual, The Torture Never Stops. This is the tour for Torture solos, possibly in competition with fall '80. FZ's playing, as well as Terry's drumming, is very powerful. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about City Of Tiny Lights - merely a decent solo.

Pound For A Brown keeps spawning great keyboard jamming. Terry goes apeshit behind the drumset, but in some way, Patrick's excellent playing saves it from sounding too maniacal. In I Have Been In You, FZ mistrusts the Swiss' English comprehension at first, and means to make a very short introduction. The response is good though, so FZ decides to do the whole thing. As usual, he gives a little local touch, this time by suggesting that Swiss girls ordinarily have to put up with ski instructors and Saint Bernhards. Flakes is nice too, really good playing by Adrian. Broken Hearts once again finds the band members trying to crack each others up in '84ish style.

But once again, it's Wild Love that lifts the show from very good to excellent. Terry's drumming is splendid throughout - his focus is on abusing cowbells and other percussive stuff instead of the crash cymbal, a nice contrast. And it serves as excellent support for Ed and Patrick who deliver great solos. O'Hearn also gets a chance to solo at length all by himself. The solo extravaganza ends with another kicking Belew solo Predictably, Yo Mama proves to be one of the highlights. The solo starts off nearly a capella, with just an organ in the background. FZ's playing is varied and inventive, getting more and more rhythmical and after a while, the rhythm section catches up. Terry and Patrick comes up with a great, wild groove, and the rest of the solo is more R&R than the majestic excursions we're used to. Terrific, nevertheless.

Titties 'n Beer, Black Page and Jones Crusher serve very well as ear-resting - but far from dull - filler stuff between the more challenging songs. And challenging is just what Little House is. I'm not sure, but it may be an all-Mars affair tonight. An orgy of piano, wailing and synth - great! Is Pound For A Brown Solos on YCDTOSA4 all we have released from these 1978 keyboard feasts? Shame! One of Peter/Tommy is also very active during the Tango, tonight definitely in parity with the SY version, if not better.

The rest of the show is pretty much standard, which is not to say it's bad. Some set lists report a Watermelon at the very end, but it's not on my tape. Muffin Man puts the end to another impressive show by FZ's Rockingest Teenage Combo ever. And it would get better - in two days, King Kong would make its glorious re-entry into the set lists...

--JN

February 6th, 1978

I'm lucky to get to review these two Paris shows, they seem to be little traded and after listening to these shows, either would make a great complete show to come out of the vault, but most great Zappa shows can make that claim so on with the review..

The first night started off with the usual Purple Lagoon introductions including Terry "Faster Than The Speed Of Light" Bozzio. The first two songs are nice and precise (Dancin/Peaches) without any surprises, great versions. The Torture Never stops introduces Adrian's effects and features a real nice, ripping solo by FZ as you'd hope for. But fairly usual up to this point, just great playing.

Frank decides not to do the monologue due to a lack of audience comprehension (to some whistles and jeers) before I Have Been In You and to my ears, this is the best one I've ever heard, and I can usually give or take this song. But the band sings great harmonies and Terry adds some energetic drumming giving it a bit more spirit, similar to the beefed up album version. Flakes lets Ed and Patrick do solos before Adrian shows everyone in the house that he's capable of some amazing lead guitar too. And they show their appreciation of Adrian's feedback and note bending extravaganza. The band keeps it crisp and lively throughout a great Yo Mama with a beautful FZ solo and some great three and four part guitar and keyboard harmonies at the end of the song.

Enter a monster song in Little House I Used to Live In. Tommy leads off with his brand of scat singing/playing to and around the main melody for a few minutes and the band skips into the tango. This shows Frank noodling around with the ideas he'd choose to release from the show a week later. Cool stuff. The band, still having fun is led into the full band version of Dong Work For Yuda, with a special mention to "this ice box has nice acousnics" for the ice rink they are playing in which actually does sound nice even based on this average audience tape. Envelopes is introduced as "another song you won't understand" (more whistles and jeers) and it's working title, at least on this night, was Love Log. No words sung by Tommy so I'm not sure why FZ said that. Terrific version, Ed's percussion and Terry's drumming leap out giving this song more power than I ever heard (I Like This Show remember) and Disco Boy closes the show.

That was the highlite, the encores are the usual fare including Dinah Mo Humm/Camarillo Brillo/Muffin Man and a final interesting double time version of Watermelon In Easter Hay. Get this show and if you get a clean copy, let me know.

--BL

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