Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frank Zappa - The 1979 Tour

Yes, I'm skipping Halloween '78 to discuss it at a later date. It's really too big a monster for me to think about at the moment.

After the Halloween 1978 concerts, Frank's band took a three-month break. Frank had finally given up on getting Läther released as a box set, and Warner Brothers had set out to release it in various ways as four separate albums. Zappa in New York was released in March 1978, and contained the live concert tracks from December 1976 at the Palladium. Studio Tan came out in September of that year, and featured a number of tracks recorded from 1972-1974, including concert favorite RDNZL. In January 1979 we got Sleep Dirt, which was also a hodgepodge of older 'classic' material (Filthy Habits from the Winter '76 tour) and studio work from December 1974, including instrumental tracks from an unproduced musical called Hunchentoot. (Frank released Sleep Dirt on CD with overdubbed vocals from Thana Harris that were added in the early 1980s. Most fans prefer the original LP.)

Meanwhile, there was still a tour to do! The setlist for this tour was rather odd - you'd expect an artist who'd released 4 albums (including Sheik Yerbouti, which would come out in the middle of this tour) to be playing the songs from those albums. Frank, however, had been playing some of those songs since 1975-1976, and was ready to ditch them and work on the songs he'd introduced in the previous Fall 1978 tour. He also was doing more and more interviews and business stuff, and so Arthur Barrow, the bass player, was left in charge of most of the rehearsals. This meant that much of the setlist had a tendency to be Arthur's favorites, as they're the ones he wanted to spend time on. Hence the appearance of a lot of the One Size Fits All album. The band was the same as Fall 1978s, mostly. Patrick O'Hearn had left the band for good, and would be increasingly involved in the 'New Age' music scene, so Arthur was once again the lone bass player. Ike Willis resolved whatever had caused him to leave mid-tour last time, and was ready to sing lead vocals again. And Warren Cuccurullo, a young kid who'd appeared at the Halloween show telling a story of his encounter with "Ms. X", was added as an extra guitar player.

This tour is an excellent one to have a show or two of, as it features some fantastic guitar playing. Frank must have agreed; he used this tour constantly to release guitar solos, both on their own and as part of the 'Joe's Garage' album (which started to take shape on this tour). Indeed, his estate are also in agreement, and several guitar solos have popped up on iTunes-only releases from 1979 shows that aren't even extant in audience recordings. SECRET 1979 shows! Of course, this show is not so excellent to have every show of, as it is extremely repetitive. There is one main setlist, which is played on every show of the tour. Sometimes if the show is longer they will add a few songs, but mostly it's the same old thing over and over. Which makes it easy for me to go over song by song, but can be grueling to listen to if you like variety. In addition, the band doesn't get to jam nearly as much as previous tours - only Pound for a Brown was a solofest here, and it only pops up a few times on the tour.

Here's a breakdown of that repetitive setlist:

Opening Guitar Solo: This varied every night, and there were several rotating vamps. Watermelon in Easter Hay, which had reached its final form last Halloween, was seen here, though it also sometimes appeared at the end of concerts. Two other vamps became very popular in Frank's repertoire: Treacherous Cretins (which utilized several time signatures; it started as 4/4 with a reggae beat, then at some point became 11/4. It's also one of my favorites), and The Deathless Horsie. Both of those can be heard on the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar album, and the Zappa Family Trust released a version of TC from Pau, France this last year. In addition, sometimes Frank would solo over a minimalist vamp that is usually known in fan circles as 'Persona Non Grata'. This gave us parts of the guitar solos used for 'He Used to Cut The Grass' and 'Packard Goose' from Joe's Garage, which Frank created by cutting and pasting several solos together over a different rhythm section.

(Frank would then introduce the band, and one of these introductions appears on YCDTOSA1 as 'Diseases of the Band'. Many members of the group had come down with a bad case of stomach flu right after the tour began, and it hit its peak for the London shows in mid-February. Astonishingly, these are some of the best shows of the tour. Goes to show that a fantastic band this was.)

Dead Girls of London - The debut tour for this song, a simple mockery of the young 'trendy' girls who the band saw in the clubs of London every evening. The lyrics have the phrase 'boutique frame of mind' in them, and 'Boutique Girl' was something Frank had mocked excessively in the Sheik Yerbouti days, as part of the I Have Been In You song. Frank tried recording this song in the studio (with Van Morrison on vocals!), but never got around to releasing it; a version from this tour ended up on one of the iTunes compilations. The ending has Frank say 'Gee I Like Your Pants!' instead of 'boutique frame of mind' - this sounds like a groupie phrase, and would be used as the title of a FZ guitar solo from the SUAPYG album.

I Ain't Got No Heart - One of Frank's earliest songs, from the Freak Out! album, and one he kept returning to over and over. It was part of the medley of old hits from 1974-1976, and returns for this tour. It's a standard 'anti-love song' that you got from that first album, using many of the doo-wop cliches to make fun of them. Of course, Frank also loved doo-wop, so this song is melodic and fun as well.

Brown Shoes Don't Make It - This is the last stand for this classic 1960s number, easily Frank's most offensive song of his early days. It's a tale of hypocrisy in government, but also features incestual pedophilia. With the chorus 'smother my daughter in chocolate syrup and strap her on again', this has to remain one of the least popular Zappa songs to sing in public. This tour has pretty much the definitive live version, and the band really give it their all - aside from the offensive lyrics, it's an incredibly fun and varied song to listen to. You can hear a version from this tour on the Tinseltown Rebellion album.

Cosmik Debris - Yes, after taking five years off, Cosmik Debris is back, and would basically be in every tour from here to the end. However, it gets truncated here, losing the long, emotional guitar solo that Frank had given it in the early 70s for a short, heavy-metal tinged solo by Warren Cuccurullo. The whole song is louder and faster than usual, the loudest it would be before, like much of Frank's repertoire, getting 'reggaefied' in the 1980s.

Tryin' to Grow a Chin - This was Terry Bozzio's signature song (along with Punky's Whips), and as such, it left the tour initially when Terry left the band. Frank was particularly fond of it, however, so decided to resurrect it for this tour with Denny Walley doing the vocals. This gave the song a much more comedic flair, especially as Denny kept forgetting the words to the song, or mixing up which verse came first. Still, he did a very acceptable job here. Other singers would not fare so well, but we'll get to that with the 1981 tour. You can hear Denny's version on YCDTOSA1. He screws up the words there, and Frank and Ike start singing Wooly Bully at him in response, a reference to that song's indecipherableness.

City of Tiny Lites - essentially performed as on the previous tour, with Denny taking a slide guitar solo, then Frank taking a solo. The two would frequently compete to see who could be more awesome, which led to some great performances, including one where Frank quotes Filthy Habits mid-song. Late in the tour, Frank dropped Denny's solo, and created an entirely new vamp to be placed within it, where he would take a long, involved solo. This vamp would later be called 'Outside Now', and the solos on Joe's Garage come from that. He also included one on his Guitar album. It's a great vamp, and produced some great solos, but it also felt very awkward coming in the middle of Tiny Lites.

Dancin' Fool - performed as on the previous tour.

Easy Meat - performed as on the previous tour, complete with the basic, repetitive vamp that Frank initially used for it. Despite the vamp, Frank frequently delivered some nasty, searing guitar work here, giving some of his 'dirtiest' solos. One of the better ones was used as part of Packard Goose on the Joe's Garage album. Late in the tour, the rhythm and vamp that would become 'Catholic Girls' was also heard here.

Jumbo Go Away - Ah, Jumbo. I'll make no bones about it - I don't like this song. It's origin came from a tour incident involving Denny Walley and a particularly clingy groupie, one who was apparently quite overweight. Denny tired of her quickly, eventually threatening to hit her. Frank, who loved to document groupie culture, found the whole thing hilarious, and documented it in this song, which featured Denny singing it. It's one of his crueler songs, with the groupie coming off as quite desperate and sad, and Denny being essentially an abuser. The one bright spot is the bridge - Frank had an insanely complicated piece called Number 6 he'd had the band working on, and plunked it right in the middle of this song to serve as a bit of relief. So in the middle of the sexism, listen to the band members showing off their music reading chops. The song would wind up on You Are What You Is, and you can hear a version from this tour on the 2010 iTunes bundle the ZFT put out.

Andy - This is the first of three songs from the One Size Fits All album that would be returning for this tour, mostly due to Arthur Barrow's fondness for them. We hadn't heard Andy since the Summer of 1974, when it was still called 'Something/Anything' and quite different from what eventually got recorded. This version sounds far more like the album, even featuring a guitar solo from Frank that seems to be exactly transcribed from there. That's the one big drawback, actually - the solo is only 12 bars, and always sounds the same. Still, it's great to hear this again.

Inca Roads - With respect to the fans of Summer 1974, which is also filled with gorgeous solos, this is THE tour for Inca Roads. This despite the fact that it's lacking its ending, as well as George Duke. With a few minor exceptions, every Inca Roads solo from this tour is an absolute joy, and can be listened to over and over again. Don't take my word for it - Frank releases Inca solos from this tour as the 3 title songs on the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar series, as well as Gee I Like Your Pants from the same albums. A solo from Eppelheim became 'Toad-o-Line' from Joe's Garage (which Frank renamed for the CD to 'On the Bus'), which quoted and played around with the song 'Hold the Line' by Toto. The entire uncut solo was also released as 'Occam's Razor' by the ZFT on the One-Shot Deal compilation, and Frank also released 'Systems of Edges' on the Guitar album. To top it all off, the 2009 iTunes release featured a solo from Graz, Austria, aptly titled 'Gorgeous Inca'. Everyone loves this song, and everyone should love these guitar solos.

Florentine Pogen - Perhaps the least satisfying of the OSFA trilogy, mostly as when it gets to the point where it normally goes into the solos, it stops. You can hear this band performing it (along with the 1974 band, in one of the strangest meshes Frank ever released) on YCDTOSA4.

Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me? - essentially performed as it always is.

Keep It Greasey - essentially performed as on previous tours, which is to say as the short punchy song, lacking the long guitar rave-up on Joe's Garage (which actually came from an Outside Now/Tiny Lites solo). The song ends with a drum fill by Vinnie Colaiuta, and depending on the tour, this can go on for some time as Vinnie gets more and more overwrought.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing - performed as on the previous tour. Denny's slide is always great to hear.

For the Young Sophisticate - This one had been kicking around for a while. It was originally performed in studio in 1973, with Ricky Lancellotti on vocals. Frank then put this performance on his 4-LP Läther album, but that never got released, and unlike much of the album it was not repackaged and released as something else in the late 70s. Thus, the first version most people heard was this one from 1979, its first live tour, with Frank on vocals. You can hear it on the Tinseltown Rebellion album. The song itself is about a girl who reads too many women's magazines and feels that her hubby will leave her if she isn't catering to the whims of Madison Avenue. Her hubby responds with a vaguely sexist "No, that won't happen", saying he'd love her regardless.

Wet T-Shirt Nite - One of the underrated one-tour wonders here, this is essentially performed as it would be on Joe's Garage, minus the long monologue of the contest itself. The song itself is a gleeful exposition of the glories of the Wet T-Shirt Contest, and of tits in general. In the middle of the song, as with Jumbo Go Away, Frank placed a rehearsal piece he'd been working on, called Saddle Bags, which means we once again get to see the musicians showing off their chops. It also has a great segue from the instrumental bridge into the 3rd verse, where it almost turns bossa nova.

Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? - This had debuted at the start of the previous tour, but only appeared a few times. It's now shorter, lacking the blues guitar solo it had before, and exists purely to mock guys who screw around with groupie girls and are then surprised to find they have a venereal disease. It works well coming out of T-Shirt Nite, and I feel fits better there than it does with the Joe's Garage song, as it would on future tours. You can hear it on the Joe's Garage album.

Peaches En Regalia - essentially as performed on previous tours, usually involving a rave-up ending that could go on for 2-3 minutes. You can hear one variation from this tour as 'Peaches III' on the Tinseltown Rebellion album.

Yellow Snow Suite - Essentially performed as on the Fall 1978 tour, only faster and better and with a lot more audience participation. The London Yellow Snows are fantastic, and Frank merged together the best bits of each to create the 20-minute Yellow Snow Suite you can hear on YCDTOSA1. A highlight every night it appeared, provided you aren't listening to every concert in a row. "Oh, you want kindergarten!"

This usually ended the longer show's main setlist. Shorter shows either dropped Yellow Snow and ended after Peaches, or cut right from Honey to Peaches and ended there. As for encores:

Strictly Genteel - essentially performed as on the previous tour, and dropped fairly quickly.

Montana - Ah, one of the worst decisions (IMO) Frank ever made. Not bringing back Montana, it's a classic. But cutting the entire guitar solo. Noooo! This just makes it a cute novelty number - there's nothing wrong with it, but I miss my solo, dammit. Sadly, it would stay this way for almost the rest of his career.

Dirty Love - The other returnee for this tour, this hadn't been heard since the 1976-1977 bands. It's also the last tour for this particular song. Nevertheless, it's quick and fun, and it's always nice to go out singing "The poodle bites, the poodle chews it!". You can hear it on YCTDOSA6.

Pound for a Brown - This only popped up occasionally, usually at the end of a night. But when it did, it was always awesome - filled with keyboard and drum solos, as well as more great Frank guitar work. Why Johnny Can't Read from SUNPYG is from this tour.

Bamboozled By Love - appeared very infrequently, but essentially performed as on the previous tour. A variation from 1979 was used on Tinseltown Rebellion.

Conehead - also appearing very infrequently, I mention it here as a 1979 variation featured the solo 'five-Five-FIVE', which Frank had debuted in late 1975 and occasionally inserted into other solos, and it would appear on SUNPYG.


This tour was from February to April 1979, and after it Frank took an extended, year-long break from touring. Most of it was taken up with recording and releasing Joe's Garage. He also had the birth of his last child, Diva, in July. In the interim, Peter Wolf leaves Frank's band to become a producer (you know We Built This City? He produced that), and Warren Cuccurullo likewise departed to join Terry and Dale Bozzio's band Missing Persons. Denny Walley left here as well, as did Ed Mann (though Ed would return). Frank now had a very small band - he'd need at least another guitar player if he wanted to go back on the road. Which he did, because as he was taking this break, and recording Joe's Garage, he was also writing a metric ton of new material - all of which would debut in 1980...

1 comment:

  1. Right on, really well stated Sean. This band had serious legs, and it's utter dissolution after recording JG is a shame. But it was fun while it lasted!

    Bill L.

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