Saturday, July 24, 2010

Frank Zappa - The Winter 1978 tour

A giant Zappa geekery warning for this post, and the obligatory Zappa warning for those who don't want to see me mentioning Dinah-Moe Humm again.

I have a particular soft spot for this tour. Not only does it feature many of my favorite Zappa songs played by one of my favorite bands, but it was also my first exposure to the Zappa tape-trading community, and my first live concert tape. I got a copy of the February 15th concert in Berlin, Germany, generally acknowledged as one of the highlights of the tour. I was enraptured.

This features the same band as the Fall 1977 tour, which covered the United States and Canada. The Winter 1978 tour is a European tour, hitting the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium. The audiences there have always been more into Zappa than they were in North America, even in the 1970s, but several concerts this tour have Frank running up against a language barrier, as he starts several times to try to do long spoken word intros, then realizes that few there can speak English. He also talks about singing "for the GIs" several times, reminding you that this was right in the middle of the Cold War.

For those who forgot, the band for this tour is Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals, Adrian Belew on guitar and vocals, Tommy Mars on keyboards and vocals, Peter Wolf on keyboards, Ed Mann on percussion and vocals, Patrick O'Hearn on bass and vocals, and Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals. This would be Terry and Adrian's last tour with Zappa. Terry would go on to found Missing Persons with his wife Dale, and many years later joined Duran Duran for a time. Adrian would go on to greater fame by joining Robert Fripp in his new version of King Crimson. This was also Patrick's last tour as sole bass player, but he would later join Frank mid-tour in the Fall of 1978 to play bass with his replacement Arthur Barrow.

Here's a breakdown of a typical Winter 1978 playlist. If I've discussed these songs before, I'll just point you to my previous discussion, while noting any variations that may have changed for this tour. Much of this tour, especially the shows in London, was used as backing tracks for the Sheik Yerbouti album.

The Purple Lagoon - After a one tour break, this difficult instrumental returns as the opening bit of musique concrete for this tour. It would be its final tour as the main opener/closer, though it would also begin a few Fall 1978 shows.

Dancin' Fool - After 2 proto-versions were played in the Fall of 1977, this is the debut tour for one of Frank's most popular songs. Another swipe at disco, or more accurately a swipe at older folks who go to the disco clubs and try to treat them as singles bars, pretending they are 'hep'. The description of the narrator as "One of my legs is shorter than the other and both my feet's too long" is Frank's own; after an onstage attack in 1971 where a crazed fan pushed Frank into an orchestra pit, he needed surgery and one of his legs was indeed slightly shorter the rest of his life. Also watch for Frank's mocking of cocaine in this song, another example of his dislike of drug users. This song appears on the Sheik Yerbouti album.

Peaches En Regalia - essentially the same as the Fall 1977 version.

The Torture Never Stops - essentially the same as the Fall 1977 tour, only even better. This is pretty much THE tour for Torture solos, as Frank really outdoes himself here. A great example is heard on the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 1 CD, which features a Torture from Germany on this tour (mislabeled as 2/25, we're not sure where it's from) that is absolutely sublime. The song 'Rat Tomago', from Sheik Yerbouti, is also taken from a Torture solo, this one 2/15 Berlin.

Tryin' to Grow a Chin - essentially the same as on previous tour. Starting about 2 weeks into the tour, Terry's vocals got a bit less angry and a bit more 'whiny teenager'. I think he was getting tired of the song. It has been pretty much in every show since the Fall of 1975, along with Torture. Both would get a well-deserved rest after this tour.

City of Tiny Lites - essentially the same as on the previous tour, with Adrian handling the vocals. The guitar solos for this tour were OK, but not great - we'd have to wait until 1979 to see Tiny Lites really start to take off as a guitar vehicle.

Baby Snakes - A one-tour only treat, breaking up the usually inseparable combo of Tiny Lights and Pound. The song appears to be a nonsense verse, but listening closely makes you realize that it's (surprise!) about sex, with 'baby snakes' being clitorises. The Sheik Yerbouti album has a version from this tour, with one exception. On the album, the lyric is 'They live by a code that is usually SMPTE, which stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers'. This was no doubt the original lyric, but Frank and the band got to goofing on the acronym, so all live version list SMPTE as 'Suck My Pee-pee Towards the End'. I think we can be grateful Frank went with the original for the album.

Pound for a Brown - Essentially performed as on the previous tour. On this one, it's a strictly keyboards only showcase, with Peter Wolf taking the majority of the solos. Shorter than it has been or would be in future, it's nevertheless a treat, especially for you lovers of mini-Moogs.

I Have Been In You - This song has a long and amusing history. In May 1977, Peter Frampton released an album with the title 'I'm in You', featuring a song with the same name. The song is apparently not meant to be as salacious as its title suggests, but Frank took one look at the album and thought "Is that guy kidding or what?" At the time, Frampton was at the height of his popularity, especially with teenage girls, for being cool and English and having long blond hair and pouty lips and the like. Frank then wrote a song in the fall mocking it, called I Have Been in You, which pretty much takes the suggestion in Frampton's song and makes it explicit. This song actually opens the Sheik Yerbouti album. It debuted a couple of times last tour, but is a regular number here, with Frank doing long, involved spoken intros about you, a teenage girl, abducting the succulent young pop star of your choice and taking him back to your room to sleep with. As always, these could get pretty crass, but hey, it's Zappa.

Flakes - We're into Version 2 of this song from the Sheik Yerbouti album, and my personal favorite. The first half of the song is essentially performed as on the previous tour. After the 'Dylan' verses, the keyboards strike up a minimalist vamp, and Adrian Belew performs a solo on e-bow. This goes on for a minute or so, then he switches to guitar and solos a bit more. When he's done the whole band just seems to pause on a long chord, then Patrick screams "ONE TWO THREE FOUR!" and the band proceeds to go into a full on chaotic jam, with Frank and Adrian having a mini-guitar duel. The whole thing extends to about 4-5 minutes after the song 'proper', and is one of the great unreleased treats in the Zappa catalog. For the Sheik Yerbouti album, Frank overdubbed vocals over the second half (the 'I'm a moron and this is my wife' lyrics), and in future tours it would appear this way. I like that version too, but I miss the giant instrumental raveup. You can hear it in the background on Sheik Yerbouti.

Broken Hearts Are For Assholes - as performed on previous tour. Patrick's mid-song vocal improvisation frequently made the band crack up.

King Kong (2nd half of tour only) - This, along with Pound for a Brown, was the longest running of Frank's concert songs, first being performed in 1967 and last heard on the final tour in 1988. It's an instrumental, of course, consisting of the theme (played very fast this tour) and solos. The main soloists on this tour were Ed Mann and Patrick O'Hearn, and after a week or so they started to throw in a vocal breakdown where each band member would pick a two-syllable phrase ('sport shirt', 'blow job', 'white person', etc.) and spout it in a sort of acappella meltdown. You can hear a performance of this madness on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 6, as 'White Person' - it's from the 2/25/78 Neunkirchen concert.

Wild Love - Not quite as epic as the previous tour, but essentially performed as it was there, with solos from Ed, Patrick and Adrian (before King Kong was added) and Adrian alone (after KK arrived). This would be its final tour, which saddens me. An underrated song.

Yo Mama - The reason that Wild Love isn't as epic is that Frank's final monstrous guitar solo had gotten so monstrous that he finally simply decided to cut it off and writes some lyrics around it. The result is Yo Mama, one of his best guitar vehicles. The lyrics themselves are almost pointless, a brief rant at twenty-somethings still living at home, but the solo was always fantastic, taking shape as the tour went on and frequently including snatches of a riff that would develop into the song 'You Are What You Is' two years later. This appears on Sheik Yerbouti as the final song, The stunning solo from Eppelheim on 2/24 is also heard on the One Shot Deal posthumous compilation as 'Heidelberg'.

Punky's Whips (first half of tour only) - essentially as performed on the previous tour. Frank and Terry were growing weary of this song, and it vanished about 2 weeks into the tour. Being a vehicle written about and for Terry, it was also its last tour.

Titties 'n Beer - essentially performed as on previous tours. The dialogue between Frank and Terry is even more perfunctory here, as if they just want to get through it fast. The final tour with this as a regular set piece, though it would pop up occasionally as an audience request in future tours.

Black Page #2 - essentially performed as on the previous tour. In the UK, they'd try doing dance contests before this, as on prior tours, but Frank must have been dissatisfied, as by Germany it had gotten to just hand clapping for audience participation.

Jones Crusher - essentially performed as on the previous tour. This was the final tour for this short-lived number.

Little House I Used to Live In - Boy, does this song have a long and involved pedigree. It first appeared on the 1970 album Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and consisted of a piano-instrumental head, as performed (and possibly written) by Ian Underwood. It then segued into a live performance of what Frank then called 'The Duke', a lively instrumental played throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. The song also appeared on Fillmore East June 1971, called LHIUTLI but consisting just of 'The Duke' part. Now for this tour, we see the song revived, but only the instrumental piano part, leaving 'The Duke' off. After the band plays the piano part as a full band intro, the song then goes into solos, usually led by Tommy Mars on keyboards (who would frequently scat during them). On this tour, this was then followed by Frank playing a tango guitar solo, with the band playing a great tango vamp behind him. Another highlight of this tour, these solos were smooth and smoking. You can hear an excerpt of one as 'The Sheik Yerbouti Tango' on the titular album - it's from 2/15 Berlin.

Dong Work for Yuda - This was done as an acappella instrumental for the Winter 1977 tour, and I discussed its origins there. Here it gets a somewhat minimal full band version, but still ends with Terry playing the part of John Smothers and coming out with a few good quotes. This would be the final tour for this song, but it would pop up out of context, like so much of that album, on Joe's Garage.

Bobby Brown - performed as on the previous tour.

Envelopes - performed as on the previous tour, with Tommy's 'I'm screwing you' vocals and Terry's drum solo. This is the final tour for the song in this form, though it would return in 1981 sans vocals and drum solo.

Disco Boy - essentially performed as on previous tours. With Frank having Dancin' Fool as his new vehicle to mock disco, this would prove to be the final tour for this song as well.

The encores were usually Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, and Muffin Man, which I've talked about before. Sometimes we also heard an early proto-version of the classic guitar solo Watermelon in Easter Hay. One of these early versions can be heard on Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa.

This is a terrific tour, highly prized by Zappa collectors due to the band's skill and the many opportunities for solos. Frank had another North American tour lined up in the Fall of 1978, but as opposed to last fall (where everyone but the rhythm section had left the band), this time only the rhythm section (plus Belew) were leaving. Frank would have to get a new bass player, drummer, and rhythm guitarist. And he might also want to find a good vocalist, something Frank had lacked since Ray White left the band.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I only like 2 songs from JB and this is the second one. I'm always humming this song after I hear it or whenever I think of it. Darn. Thank You :lol:.