Frank Zappa – the Spring/Summer 1980 Tour

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Zappa post. This one took a while for a couple of reasons. First, the 80s mostly mark the end of the ‘Frank plays one setlist over and over’ days, so it’s harder to break down a tour song by song. Secondly, this honestly is not one of my favorite tours. Frank had a LOT of new songs, and he wanted to play them in preparation for recording – even if they weren’t quite road ready yet. This tour would introduce the majority of what ended up on the album You Are What You Is, which is a fantastic album, but here we have its songs in a sort of proto-version that really doesn’t hit the heights. In addition, Frank had a new band, his smallest since the Winter 76 tours, meaning the sound is a little less big than it was in 1978 and 1979.

The band itself kept Ike Willis (guitar and vocals), Tommy Mars (keyboard and vocals), Arthur Barrow (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) from the 1979 tour, and welcomed Ray White (guitar, vocals) back to the fold. Ray had not toured with Zappa since the winter of 1977, and is one big reason this band is still good to hear – he and Ike work well together, and he fits right into the band seamlessly. The band rehearsed a bunch of new songs in January and February, planning to begin the tour towards the end of March. They also recorded a single, I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted, in February. Then… well, then Vinnie asked for a raise. Those who know the history of Zappa bands know what happens to band members who ask for a raise. So now the band needed a new drummer, with very little time before a tour that couldn’t really be delayed or cancelled.

After the usual auditions for Frank, most of which lasted an average of 15 seconds, he settled on David Logeman. David’s actually a better drummer than his reputation has led us to believe. He plays on this tour as well as the studio sessions for You Are What You Is itself, and is a perfectly good drummer, managing to keep up with Frank’s insane rhythms and Arthur Barrow’s bass fine. However, he does not really have a personality. Zappa fans were spoiled by Terry Bozzio and Vinnie Colaiuta, and the idea of a drummer who was simply there to drum probably felt kind of boring. (Ironically, 80s Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman was also a fairly sedate personality, but fans warmed to him quite fast, most likely due to the interplay he had with bass player Scott Thunes, who managed to be interesting enough for both of them.)

Thus prepared for combat, the band went out on the road, playing in the US from March 25th to May 11th, and then flying over to Europe and playing there from May 23rd to July 2nd. The setlist in March was very different from the setlist in July. Let’s look at the ‘typical’ setlist for the early part of the tour.

Opening Solo – Actually, for the first two shows Frank opened with a short run-through of Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow (just the first part of it), but that vanished in favor of the traditional “warm the audience up with Frank’s guitar” that we’ve gotten used to since 1978. Depending on the show this could be Treacherous Cretins, Watermelon in Easter Hay, The Deathless Horsie, or Chunga’s Revenge. The first 3 are all familiar from the 1979 tour; Chunga’s is an old FZ guitar vehicle that we hadn’t seen him play since 1975-1976, and it always made for great solos.

Teenage Wind – Our first debut this tour, this is an amusing song mocking the immaturity and impatience of the typical teenager, who defines ‘freedom’ as the ability to do whatever he wants and get away from the eye of his parents. Its chorus may strike a chord for anyone who’s argued with those who are ‘fans’ of anime via scanlation and bittorrent: “Free is when you don’t have to pay for nothing or do nothing, we want to be free! Free as the wind!” This would become the first song on You Are What You Is.

Harder Than Your Husband – This one is a flat out Country and Western parody, with Frank playing the part of a typical ‘cowboy’ trying to tell the girl’s who’s seeing him that he’s not a great catch and that she should leave him and return to her husband… except of course he keeps hammering the double entendre from the title home as the song goes on. “I’ll be HARDER THAN YOUR HUSBAND… to get along with. HARDER THAN YOUR HUSBAND every night…” This would also end up on You Are What You Is.

Bamboozled By Love – Performed as on the 1978 and 1979 tours.

Pick Me I’m Clean – Another in a long list of sexist Frank Zappa songs with awesome guitar parts, this is a highlight of the tour from a solo perspective. The vamp Frank ended up using is very similar to the one he used the previous tour on Inca Roads – and as that was the guitar highlight of 1979, there’s no doubt that this is a guitar highlight of 1980. As for the lyrics, they deal with the many foreign groupies who came around during the tour, trying to hook up with members of the band despite their poor grasp of English, poor hygiene and generally poor outlook as a sexual partner. As you can imagine, they are fairly sexist. “I speak good English, I can say Thank You!, I think I like you, do you like my Band-Aid, I hope you do!” This would appear on the Tinseltown Rebellion album.

Society Pages – The first of a 6-song suite, which would be reduced to 4 for future tours (and they all end up on You Are What You Is), this is a takedown of shallow preppie suburbia, specifically the sort of white bread middle-aged housewives who try to get into the papers by running every single charity event they can possibly find. It segues right into a song about the housewife’s son…

I’m A Beautiful Guy – …who is your typical whitebread preppie jerk, who goes around playing tennis, jogging, and making sure to look his best so that he can get noticed by the girls. Who are also trying to look their best, but have a harder time of it, because…

Beauty Knows No Pain – … because the standards of female beauty in the eyes of the media have become completely ridiculous, but hey, you had better CONFORM if you want to get yourself a man at all. Probably the best song of the four, its biting satire is just as relevant today. “Beauty is a bikini wax, and waiting for your nails to dry. Beauty is a colored pencil scribbled all around your eye. Beauty is a pair of shoes that makes you wanna die. Beauty is a lie.” Wrapping up the analysis of shallow vapidity, we have…

Charlie’s Enormous Mouth – This was apparently originally written as Carly’s Enormous Mouth, as in Carly Simon, but Frank apparently didn’t want to worry about getting sued. The song is about a young woman who is trying to stay hip and get noticed – she puts out for the guys, she takes drugs like the cool kids do, and by the end of the song winds up in a coffin from “taking an extra hit”. One of Frank’s more anti-drug songs, albeit one with a bit of a sexist overtone in the first verse. The song segues into…

Any Downers? – This actually debuted as an instrumental in 1974, and later gained words for the Fall 1975 tour, when Napoleon Murphy Brock would freak out as he sand about a man begging for drugs. It’s adapted here as an epilogue for Charlie’s funeral, with all of her friends standing around the grave not really caring about the dead girl but wondering if anyone has any more drugs. The tour usually featured quick solos by Tommy Mars and Frank Zappa here, and Frank’s in particular could stretch out and get quite good, being more “heavy metal” than usual. Finally, trying to recover from Charlie and her stupid friends, you turn on the television and find…

Conehead – This is performed as on the 1978 tour, but now has the second half of the lyrics instead of a guitar solo. Somewhat of a shame as I enjoyed Frank’s Conehead solos – especially when he dueted with L. Shankar on violin – but it’s now essentially what it would be like on the album, with a lot more references to the SNL skit itself.

Easy Meat – The start and end of the song are performed as on the 1978-79 tours, but Frank and Tommy are starting to add the “Classical Bridge” that would become a staple of the song for future tours. And the solos are freed from the confines of the prior tour’s repetitive vamp, and start to stretch out. Another good guitar vehicle for Frank.

Mudd Club – The Mudd Club itself was an underground music nightclub that opened in 1978, and quickly became a HOT AND HAPPENING spot, especially once Studio 54 became uncool. Frank, of course, looked at the club and merely saw a bunch of people trying to look cool, dancing like idiots and attempting to get laid. Which is more or less accurate. I’m quite fond of this song, which contains one of my all-time favorite Zappa lyrics: “And all the rest of whom for which to whensonever of partially indeterminate bio-chemical degradation seek the path to the sudsy, yellow nozzle of their foaming nocturnal parametric digital whole-wheat inter-faith geo-thermal terpsichorean ejectamenta!” You can hear a version from this tour on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 4.

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing – As played in 1978-79, only without Denny’s slide guitar, which makes it sadly less awesome.

Heavenly Bank Account – One of Frank’s first, and possibly best, takedowns of TV evangelists, this is a classic, with great vocals, cutting satire, and some interesting polyrhythms in the middle. The tale of a TV preacher who seems to have influence over his viewers, congressmen, the governor, and manages to do all this while still wearing an incredibly expensive suit. Funny how money to God seems to end up going to his wardrobe so often…

Suicide Chump – As performed on previous tours, although the solo section is now more of a rotating blues “everyone gets a turn” thing, with the guitarists and keyboardist taking 12 bars each to show off their stuff.

Jumbo Go Away – As performed on the last tour. Still don’t like it. It has a new outro written to better segue into the following song…

If Only She Woulda – I looooooove this song, which sadly would only last part of this tour and part of the next. As a song it’s just a shell, mostly a way of shifting from the disparate subject of Jumbo to the song that follows up. But as a jam vehicle this is THE highlight of the 1980 tour, even if it only featured two soloists. The first is Arthur Barrow, who took a rare keyboard solo to show off his parody impression of Ray Manzarek, with Doors-sounding keyboards. The second is Frank’s, and though he starts off pretty tame, by the time the tour rolls into May he’s completely on fire with his solos.

I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted – As I’d mentioned at the start of the post, Frank had recorded this as a single before the tour began, and it was released to radio stations (who didn’t play it). There was a rumor that Jimmy Carter was discussing reintroducing compulsory National Service, and this was Frank’s response, which managed to mock both the Draft *and* the whiny young teens who wanted to do anything to avoid it.

Joe’s Garage – The debut for the title track from the Joe’s Garage album, this is (as with all tours except for 1988) the first half of the song, missing the 2nd half meltdown ending from the album. It’s a nostalgic look at Garage Bands, and you’re never quite sure if the song is celebrating it or mocking it – something you can say about a lot of Frank’s songs. It segues into…

Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? – This closed the regular set for most of this tour, and is performed as on the 1979 tour.

Encores followed, usually consisting of some variation on the following:

Dancin’ Fool – as performed on previous tours.

Bobby Brown – Ditto.

Black Napkins – Ditto.

The Illinois Enema Bandit – Ditto.

Nite Owl – This is a doo-wop cover that Frank liked to perform, mostly as he loved doo-wop covers. It was originally recorded by Tony Allen and the Champs in 1955, and Frank and the band pretty much perform it as straight-up doo-wop.

By the European tour, Frank had changed much of the setlist. A lot of the tour’s debut songs dealt with North American 80s culture, which may not have played as well to the Europeans. Also, several of the songs, being works in progress, had to be worked on to make them sound better. Here’s an example of a typical setlist from the end of the tour, with comments on songs that weren’t there to start with.

Chunga’s Revenge

Keep It Greasey – As performed on previous tours, without the 2nd half ‘xenosyncrous solo’ that appears on the Joe’s Garage album.

Outside Now – The arpeggio that makes up the bulk of this song debuted last tour, as part of the City of Tiny Lites solos at the end of the tour, but the lyrics debut here. This is one of the few songs from Joe’s Garage where the words make little sense outside of the context of the album itself. The lyrics are about Joe (the main character) in prison, having little to do all day but sit around and pretend he is playing awesome guitar solos. The solos from this song do tend to be pretty good, especially at the end of the tour, where this replaces Pick Me I’m Clean for a time.

City of Tiny Lites – As performed on previous tours, though the vamp that backs Frank’s solos is getting more open and less repetitive, allowing him to stretch out. At the end of this tour Frank and the band would get obsessed with the song She’s Not There, which had just been covered by Carlos Santana – Santana and Zappa were fans of each other – and frequently during Tiny Lites either Frank would quote the song briefly or the whole band would go into a full blown performance of the chorus (instrumentally). After If Only She Woulda, the Tiny Lites Santana solos are my highlight of this tour.

Pound for a Brown – As performed on previous tours, with solos from keyboard and guitar. A welcome presence in any tour, the Pounds here weren’t quite as wild as they had previously been, but are still quite a treat.

Cosmik Debris – As performed on previous tours.

You Didn’t Try To Call Me – Frank revived this 60s-era piece for the European part of the tour, using the Cruising with Ruben & the Jets doo-wop version. Like Nite Owl, it’s pretty much done straight up. You can hear a version of it from this tour on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1.

I Ain’t Got No Heart – As performed on previous tours.

Love Of My Life – Another one from the 60s, this again from the Ruben and the Jets album, and another great doo-wop classic.

You Are What You Is – Making its debut here, sort of, this is the first half of the song as heart on the album that bears its title. The second half, featuring Ray White singing counterpoint over the top of the vocals, would not debut until 1981. The song itself makes fun of white people who pretend they’re black, and black people who pretend they’re white, and says people should just accept who they are. It also features Frank using a certain 6-letter word beginning with N, which makes it rather hard to sing aloud.

Easy Meat

Mudd Club

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

Joe’s Garage

Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?

Encores consisted of the same as the previous tour, but also added:

Ms. Pinky – A song from the 1976 album Zoot Allures, this is about a sex toy Frank’s band had found while touring Europe, consisting of a rubber head with the mouth open for various parts to be inserted into. Frank found the lameness and patheticness of this hysterical – especially since it cost $69.95 -and naturally wrote about it in a song.

Stick It Out – This is a holdover from the old days of the Flo and Eddie tour of 1971, but was never recorded for an album until Joe’s Garage. The version performed here is similar to the first half of the album version, lacking the rave-up of the second half (you must be tired of me saying this by now). The song itself is a plea for sex, in both English and German. It’s quite catchy live, if you can get beyond its coarse lyrics, and Frank would encourage singalongs.

I would not recommend trying to go out and get every concert tape of this tour you can find. But one or two would be very nice, and would give you a sense of both how a band takes songs on the road to test them our before recording, and what a difference a small band can make when you’re used to a large one. Plus some excellent guitar work by Frank, as always. After this tour Frank would record several songs for You Are What You Is, and then go right back into rehearsals for the NEXT tour, which ran from October to December of 1980…

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