Saturday, August 21, 2010

Frank Zappa - The Fall 1978 tour

The last time the band changed, in the Fall of 1977, Frank only had a rhythm section from the previous band. Now, for the Fall 1978 tour, the rhythm section is the one he has to replace. Terry Bozzio has left the band after 3 years (a very long tenure for a 70s Zappa band member) and joined the band UK. Patrick O'Hearn also left, though circumstances would force his return halfway through this tour. And Adrian Belew joined David Bowie's tour - Frank was famously mocking of this towards the end of the Winter 78 tour, as Adrian let Frank know before the tour ended - but would become far more famous later on for his work with Robert Fripp in King Crimson.

To replace Terry, Frank hired Vinnie Colaiuta, who could not make up what Frank lost in Terry's vocals or comedic stylings, but whose drumming was simply monstrous. And, most importantly for a band like Frank's, he could sight-read. To play bass, Frank hired Arthur Barrow, who had worked with Vinnie and former Zappa band member Bruce Fowler the year before. Arthur wasn't as improvisational as Patrick was, but his bass-playing was technically spot-on, and he proved so good at learning things fast that he would later take over as the band's rehearsal director ("Clonemeister") in Frank's absence.

To make up for the loss in vocals and guitar, Frank hired Ike Willis, who had seen Frank perform in St. Louis in 1977 and had a short backstage 'audition' at that time. Ike's vocals were fantastic, and brought a new vocal dynamic back to the band which it hadn't really had since the loss of Ray White a year and a half earlier. Unfortunately, Ike had to leave the tour mid-October, so Patrick O'Hearn was brought back for the remaining 2 weeks of the tour. Frank also brought back Denny Walley to play slide guitar and sing vocals. Denny had played with Frank on the Spring 1975 tour with Captain Beefheart, but hadn't sung at that time. We find out why here - he has a sort of strangulated tenor that is pretty rock 'n roll, but not very tuneful. Nevertheless, it works for Frank's songs.

Ed Mann, Tommy Mars, and Peter Wolf remain from the previous band, playing percussion, keyboards, and keyboards, respectively.

As for the tour, most fans tend to divide it into two parts: September 3 - October 25, and the 6 Halloween shows. I'll discuss Halloween separately as well, and confine myself to the typical Fall 78 setlist. Actually, I'll do the 'early' and 'late' setlists - when he had one show that night, he'd do the early show with some extended stuff, when he had two he would do a 2nd show that introduced some lesser-played songs. Let's break things down. As always to avoid repetition I will point you to my prior Zappa posts (see tags) for discussion of those songs.

Opening Guitar Solo - For the first few shows of this tour, Frank would start things off with The Purple Lagoon, but after a week or so, he began to rotate various vamps over which he would play a guitar solo. Some of these could be short and perfunctory, and some long and sumptuous. Generally speaking, if the show opens with a fantastic guitar solo, it's a good sign the rest of the show will also be awesome. Debuting here was a vamp that would eventually appears on the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar album as 'The Deathless Horsie', as well as a more free-form vamp that fans call 'Persona Non Grata', an example of which can be heard on the You Are What You Is album with Steve Vai overdubs as Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear.

Dancin' Fool - pretty much the same as the Winter 78 version.

Easy Meat - This song actually debuted eight years previously, on the first Flo and Eddie Zappa tour. Its lyrics actually fit in pretty well with the lecherous humor from that band, being a song about, well, a girl who is 'easy' and whom the singer can have sex with and then move on the next morning. Not exactly high art, but this was a period where Frank was enjoying finding more songs to offend people. Watch for the namecheck of 'Rolling Stone'. Vocals on this were by Ike Willis till he left mid-tour, then Denny Walley took over. Frank would play the guitar solo, which is rather short and simple this tour. It would eventually appear on the Tinseltown Rebellion album, but with a later tour's version and a magnificent keyboard bridge (missing here).

Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me? - This had debuted in the Fall of 1975, and was played for about a year and a half before being dropped. It's back now, and will stick around for another couple of years. I've never really liked the song, as I generally prefer my offensive songs to either have a solo to take my mind off it, or a technically difficult bit where I can point to it and say "Look, hard to play notes!". This is just a crass story about a jerk guy meeting a dimwitted girl at a bar, then going back to her place, trying to score, getting rebuffed, and eventually getting some head. At least the guy is portrayed just as scummily as the girl. It appeared on the Zappa in New York album, which featured the version from the Xmas 1976 tour.

Keep It Greasey - This song actually debuted late into the Fall 1975 tour, but was only played once or twice before being dropped. It makes its true debut here, and is yet another song about the wonders of anal sex. Presumably Frank felt the need for it to be hear as he'd dropped Broken Hearts Are For Assholes from the tour. I generally listen to Vinnie's drumming on this song, which is truly over the top. The song would appear on the Joe's Garage album with a long instrumental coda - live, it's just for the three verses and choruses.

Village of the Sun - This was a staple of Frank's classic tours from 1973 and 1974, with George Duke and Napoleon Murphy Brock on vocals. Now that Frank has Ike Willis in the band, he can put it back in the lineup, and Ike's vocals are fantastic. Sadly, after Ike leaves the song is dropped, as it needs a vocalist who actually can sing well. In previous tours it segued into a complicated instrumental called "Echidna's Arf (Of You)", but here it leads to a calm, relaxed Frank guitar solo, which is usually quite good. The lyrics themselves are a tribute to the town of Palmdale, California, and its vicious sandstorms. The original version can be heard on the Roxy and Elsewhere album.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing - Another tour debut, and one of Frank's better political songs. Generally if Frank is going to offend people, I'd rather it be with political or religious views than with sexist claptrap, and The Meek is a great example. It's an attack on religion in general, but Billy Graham's style of televangelism in particular. It also features some terrific slide guitar by Denny Walley, and a nice, easy to song melody. Frank makes a point here he's made before and will again - he doesn't care what people believe, as long as they don't proselytize. It would appear on the You Are What You Is album.

City of Tiny Lites - similar to previous tours, only now Denny Walley not only sings lead vocals but adds a slide guitar solo, which Frank would then follow with his own solo. As always whenever Frank had to follow a dynamic soloist, this could lead to some terrific guitar playing.

Pound for a Brown - similar to previous tours, this was one of the tour's two big solo vehicles, and featured solos (usually) by Ed Mann on vibes/marimba, Tommy on piano keyboard, and Peter on moog synthesizer. Sometimes Frank would also take a solo. As the tour went on, Pound got longer and more involved, and some of the keyboard solos were astounding. You can hear the keyboard solos from a Halloween Pound on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 4.

Bobby Brown - similar to previous tours.

Conehead - This debuted as an instrumental riff on the Fall 1977 tour, but here it's the Saturday Night Live parody song we know from the You Are What You Is album. Unlike that album, the version here is usually followed by a nice Frank guitar solo, or, when he was a special guest, a violin solo by L. Shankar.

I Have Been In You - generally performed as in the previous tour, this mocking of Peter Frampton was usually shorn of its long, boutique girl intro here.

Flakes - Having debuted in the Fall of 1977 as essentially the first half of the song, then adding the 2nd half as a fabulous instrumental jam in Winter 78, Flakes as we know it today debuts here, with its second half devoted to more mocking of its subject. While I love the instrumental jam version best, this one is also fun, as Frank really goes to town on mocking repair people who promise to fix something, then never do, but charge you just the same.

Magic Fingers - A nice surprise this tour, this was a song that Flo & Eddie performed for the 200 Motels movie. It's revived here, and gives the show a rocking bout of adrenaline at just the right time, being a fast-paced rocker. The subject, of course, is sex, and more specifically the vibrating beds you get in cheesy motel rooms.

Yellow Snow Suite - Generally speaking, this ended the main set most nights. It's the first four songs from the Apostrophe (') album, Don't Eat The Yellow Snow, Nanook Rubs It, St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast, and Father O'Blivion, with an added 5th coda song, Rollo, which debuted (with different words and unconnected to Yellow Snow) with the 2nd 1972 tour but gains silly words here. Altogether it winds up being about 14 minutes long, and can be longer depending on how much fun Frank is having. The 'Nanook Rubs It' part usually involved Frank trying to get the audience to stand up and jump up and down on the imaginary fur trapper, something which he usually didn't have success with as audiences were OK with clapping, but jumping up and down made them feel like idiots. He had more luck in Europe in 1979, and the version of this Suite of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1 album is the definitive one.

This was your typical 'early set'. If Frank had a 2nd show, we'd usually see some variations of these songs, mixed in with the 'main' songs played again (such as Dancin' Fool and Easy Meat):

Bamboozled by Love - Debuting this tour (though Frank tried out the lyrics in a few improv spots a couple years back), this is your basic slow blues number, with vocals by Ike (when he was there) and Denny (when Ike left). The lyrics are about a guy yelling at his woman for cheating on him, and saying that when she returns he will murder her. As this is a blues song, I give that a pass, as, well, that's what a lot of blues songs were about. It also featured a Frank guitar solo.

Sy Borg - Frank was starting to pull together various songs from his recent tours and seeing if he could work them into a coherent album with a 'plot'. This would eventually become Joe's Garage, but most of the songs from that album work just as well on their own as they do within the context. This one is about sex - particularly sex with a 'machine person', with a nice triple-layered pun in the title about a cyborg, the robot being named 'Sy' (a Jewish name), and 'CYBernetic ORGasm'. The lyrics are crass, but the song itself is very pretty, one of the prettiest Frank ever did. It would also only appear on this tour, so is a nice rare treat. It has vocals by Ike and a moog keyboard solo by Peter Wolf.

Little House I Used to Live In - the other major solo instrumental song of the tour, this is essentially the same as the last tour, with Peter and Tommy getting piano solos (Tommy gets a longer solo, as Peter got a longer one in Pound), followed by Vinnie doing a drum solo. Vinnie's drum solos on this are an amazing outpouring of energy, very different from Terry Bozzio's, which were almost a performed composition.

Mo's Vacation - this didn't appear very often, but when it did it was always impressive. Apparently this came about after the band had mastered Black Page #2, and perhaps someone noted that it had become easy for them. Frank apparently took this as a challenge, and wrote Mo's Vacation, which has EVEN MORE insane polyrhythms for bass, percussion and drums. The 'rock band' version of this never appeared on an album (though the melody to it was quoted at the end of the song 'Wet T-Shirt Nite' on Joe's Garage), but Frank ended up turning it into a long classical piece called 'Mo & Herb's Vacation' which is on the London Symphony Orchestra album.

Black Page #2 - Performed as it has been the previous tours, as just the complicated instrumental, with no ending guitar solo. That would come later. On Halloween they did another 'dance contest' theme before this.

Suicide Chump - Another tour debut, with vocals either by Frank or Denny, depending on the point in the tour it's being performed. This tour's version usually involved a long spoken word intro with Frank talking about what the song was about, followed by the body of the song itself, then Denny and Frank playing slide and regular guitar solos. The whole thing was about 9-10 minutes long, and a nice bluesy treat. The song itself is not so much about mocking people who kill themselves as people who 'pretend' to kill themselves - taking too many pills (but not actually enough to kill themselves) or cutting their wrists (the wrong direction, so they don't actually bleed to death), then calling their friends and begging to be saved. Frank feels this is just a sad plea for attention, and notes if they want to be suicidal they should just do it. Let's face it, empathy is not a reason anyone listens to Zappa.

Tell Me You Love Me - Like Magic Fingers, this is a rocking number from the Flo & Eddie years that was revived to provide a short burst of raw energy into the set, and it does its job perfectly. The song itself is basically just a typical guy begging for affection.

Yo Mama - essentially performed as on the previous tour. The solo has gotten more structured, and tends to expand in 3 stages. First is freeform, with Frank playing under a very minimalist vamp. The band then comes in for a second section with full instrumentation, then Frank shifts into a 3rd vamp that sounds almost triumphant, riding that one for several more minutes. Yo Mama solos this tour could last from 10-12 minutes, and are some of the best guitar playing Frank's ever done.

That's basically what you'd see as a second set, with interspersed stuff from set #1. For encores:

Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man - same as previous tours.

Strictly Genteel - Another number from the 200 Motels album, this was stripped of its lyrics and performed as a majestic instrumental. I feel it actually works better that way, with the band creating a wonderful atmosphere to send people home in a good mood.

As I noted, most of the tour was fairly straightforward. Halloween 1978 though, is a different beast, and deserves a separate post.

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