Saturday, June 26, 2010

Frank Zappa - The Fall 1977 tour

Zappa geekery warning. Also, Zappa warning in general, as I know some find him offensive.

At the end of the Winter 1977 tour, Eddie Jobson left Frank's band to form the supergroup UK with Bill Bruford and John Wetton. Likewise, Ray White left the band at the same time to pursue other interests (he would return in 1980). This left Frank with only 2 band members - his rhythm section, Patrick O'Hearn on bass and Terry Bozzio on drums. Clearly it was time to hire some new band members.

Frank was busy putting together an album from the Winter 1976 NYC concerts, and hired percussionist Ed Mann to do some overdubs. He hadn't had a percussionist in the band since Ruth Underwood, but in Ed he found the only other one he would ever hire. Ed was in Frank's bands, on and off, through 1988. Meanwhile, Frank,. Patrick and Terry, along with engineer Davey Moire, recorded a bunch of very silly dialogue for a project tentatively called Läther. He also went to a bar in Nashville and saw Adrian Belew playing in a band, and after a raucous audition, followed by a much quieter one, he hired him to replace Ray. Meanwhile, Ed Mann recommended Tommy Mars as a keyboardist, who he'd worked with in Connecticut; at the same time, former Zappa keyboardist Andre Lewis recommended Austrian Peter Wolf, who had emigrated the year before to play jazz. Frank ended up hiring both, and he'd have two keyboard players for years after that.

(Note: as many get confused, Peter Wolf is not the same Peter Wolf who is in the J. Geils Band. However, it *is* the same Peter Wolf who was the producer/arranger of We Built This City, Sara, Who's Johnny, These Dreams, and On My Own. In case you needed an infusion of 1980s just now.)

With his new band, Frank set out on a tour of the United States, starting in Tempe Arizona on September 8, and ending in Los Angeles on November 20th. This includes a legendary 6-concert run at the Palladium in New York City, whose madness would only be topped by the 1978 band the following year.

Here's a breakdown of the typical Fall 1977 setlist. If I've already discussed a song in my Winter 1977 post here, I'll direct you to those remarks, though I may note any differences between tours. This is unofficially called 'The Sheik Yerbouti tour', as much of the album came from this tour and the following Winter 1978 one.

Flakes intro - an instrumental version of the 'Bob Dylan' portion of Flakes is used to open these shows. See my post on Flakes below.

Peaches En Regalia - see previous post, but note that this version has Tommy and Adrian sing the final 'verse' in an acapella falsetto, with occasional cat growls.

The Torture Never Stops - see previous post. Note that Frank's Fall 1977 Tortures are really sublime, and he's really coming into his own as a guitar soloist. He's still playing a solo with this band, rather than attempting mini-spontaneous composition as he would with the 1980s bands.

Tryin' to Grow a Chin - see previous post. Still a Bozzio vocal spotlight. Though, as you will note, he doesn't so much sing as scream.

City of Tiny Lites - see previous post. Sung by Adrian, this is the version most familiar to people from Sheik Yerbouti. At the start of the tour, it was a vehicle for a Patrick O'Hearn bass solo, but about a month into the tour, Frank took it over as a guitar solo song. His solos here are OK, but Tiny Lites wouldn't become a stone cold Frank guitar classic until 1980 and the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression.

Pound for a Brown - see previous post, but note that now that Tommy and Peter are in the band, this becomes a major keyboard vehicle. Usually in this band it has Tommy taking the majority of the soloing, though both keyboardists get lengthy improvisations. Patrick also plays fantastic bass backing through this entire song, and many time I've found myself listening to him rather than the soloists. Frank initially took a guitar solo at the end, but see 'Conehead' below.

Bobby Brown - this is the debut tour for this Zappa favorite, and it pretty much sounds as it always has. It appears on the "Sheik Yerbouti" album. Around October Zappa would begin it by telling 'The Story of the Three Assholes', where he talks about interviewers from rock magazines who brought their girlfriends along to watch them interview Frank, then laid into him for writing sexist songs. Frank felt they were doing this so that the girls would see they were 'sensitive' and give them head later on. His response was this song (which is pretty sexist, I will admit), about a wannabe cool guy who sexually assaults girls in high school, is terrified by a sexual encounter with a strong butch girl where the tables are turned, and finally ends up happy as a gay man getting 'golden showers'. There's not much I can say in its defense except 1) hey, it was the 1970s, and 2) it was a huge chart hit in Scandinavia.

Conehead - An interesting oddity this tour. Frank was clearly an SNL fan, and had appeared as a musical guest in 1976. (He would return as host in 1978, but more on that disaster later.) He then debuted a song called 'Conehead' on this tour. However, it's nothing like the Conehead of future tours, and the one that appears on the album You Are What You Is. Instead, it's a spacey, bass-driven instrumental, with Patrick O'Hearn playing a very funky lick, over which Frank tears out a terrific solo. Frank really made his solos count this tour, and Conehead is always a treat. It gains its familiar tune and words in Fall 1978.

Flakes - Another tour debut, sort of. This Sheik Yerbouti song is about plumbers, mechanics, etc., mostly in California, who show up to do a job, tear everything apart, leave without fixing anything, then charge you a huge bill. Frank decided to write a rant called 'Flakes', which includes an amusing Bob Dylan impression from Adrian Belew. After Belew's contribution, the song comes to a quick end. In Winter 1978, it would gain a long instrumental coda, with an e-bow solo by Belew, and a band rave-up at the end. From Fall 1978 onwards, it would get the vocal 2nd half familiar from the SY album.

Big Leg Emma - see previous post. This was the song's final tour.

Envelopes - An 'instrumental' song with a convoluted history, Frank originally composed it in 1970, but never performed it with a band. He then gave it to Tommy Mars to perform on this tour. It started as a Tommy-led keyboard instrumental, but about 2 weeks in Tommy started singing juvenile sex lyrics in a high falsetto as he played, and Frank found this amusing. He'd keep doing it for the rest of the run, and into 1978. The song then goes into a 4-5 minute drum solo by Terry Bozzio. When the song eventually returns to setlists in 1981, it was once again a pure instrumental, and had no drum solo afterward. This is the version that appears on the Ship Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch album.

Disco Boy - One of the few songs Frank ever performed that he debuted live *after* it had appeared on an album. He's toyed with the guitar riff on the Winter 1976 tour, but this is the first appearance of Disco Boy proper, as seen on the Zoot Allures album. The song is a typical dumb rock anthem a la Dinah-Moe Humm, written for the kids in the audience to mosh to. The plot involves a teen going out clubbing every night, looking cool, trying to hook up with a cute girl, watching her go home with your best friend, and going home alone to jerk off. It's a classic tale of the disco years. Frank, aware how dumb it was, would frequently scream out "Rock and roll!" after the instrumental break. The audience, of course, would go nuts.

I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth - Winning the 'most offensive title' award handily, this piece is actually an instrumental, and quite a beautiful one at that, featuring a keyboard solo by Peter Wolf. It debuted in the Christmas 1976 concerts. The title itself comes from a lyric in the song 'Punky's Whips', which I shall discuss later in this post. Frank also sometimes called it Läther, and it appears that way on the Läther album. It appears with the IPNTCIYM title on the Zappa in New York album.

Wild Love - This is the big one, folks, and *the* number one reason to get a tape from this tour. This may surprise people who have only heard the Sheik Yerbouti version, which cuts off at 4 minutes after the vocal intro, which is just another boy-meets-girl song. But after the intro when played live, the band would start to solo. And solo. And solo. Some of the Wild Love performances clock in at half an hour or more. We'd get solos from the keyboard players, from Ed Mann, and from Adrian Belew. Then we'd get Frank, whose solos got more outrageous as the tour went on, and are almost a separate song of their own. A good example of this can be found on the Trance-Fusion album, where Frank's 10/28/77 early show Wild Love solo is included as 'Bowling on Charen'. Improvisational heaven right here.

Titties 'n Beer - see previous post. Frank has now removed the 'Chrissie puked twice' verse that was written for Bianca, making the song about a minute shorter. Terry still isn't very good at improvising when compared to Frank.

Dance Contest/Black Page #2 - After TnB, Frank would usually try to get the audience worked up a bit by working in 'audience participation'. In smaller halls, this just involved trying to clap along with the instrumental composition Black Page #2, which was named by Terry Bozzio after he observed that the piece was so complex that you could not see the white space in the sheet music for all the notes Frank had included. The audience would try to keep a 4/4 beat going while the band played the song's weird rhythmic structures. In later shows that had larger halls, Frank would get some audience members to get on stage and dance to the song - but the dancers couldn't dance to the 4/4 beat, they had to dance to the weird rhythm. A lot of fun. Black Page #2 appears on the Zappa in New York album in this form.

Jones Crusher - see previous post, but note that this is the more familiar version I mentioned there, with Adrian Belew on vocals, and no guitar outro.

Broken Hearts Are for Assholes - see previous post.

Punky's Whips - another tour de force for Terry Bozzio on vocals, and a song that seems simpler than it actually is - it's quite difficult to play. The song is about Terry's obsessive love with the lead singer of the 70s hair band Angel, Punky Meadows. Terry exhorts all the things he'd like Punky to do to him, then reminds us that he is not at all gay. The song has a very fluid sexuality which I find makes it very much of its era. It typically ends with a fiery Zappa solo, and is typically the final song of the 'main' set.

Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, and Muffin Man - see previous post.

San Ber'dino - A classic from the One Size Fits All album, this was played by the 1975-1976 bands, then revived for this tour. It's performed very well, with terrific energy, and usually sends everyone home with a smile. The song itself is about a teen getting jailed and having to spend several days in 'Tank C' - something which happened to Zappa himself in the early 60s, after being busted for making 'pornographic materials'.

This tour is a fan favorite, and rightfully so - I'd nominate it as being one of Frank's top 5 tours. Great musicians, a fun setlist, and some awesome solos.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for such your intense understanding of Zappa.