Frank Zappa – Carnegie Hall

It has to be said, many of the complete concerts we’ve seen since Frank’s death 18 years ago would not have been released were he alive. Frank was very fond of cutting, fixing, overdubbing, and replacing, and generally rarely liked complete performances enough to put them out on record. Since his death, however, we’ve seen several complete concerts from the folks handling the Zappa family trust, with concerts from Australia in 1976; Philadelphia in 1976 and Buffalo in 1980, as well as a collection from several concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978.

This particular concert, though, is unique for many reasons. It’s Frank’s only appearance at the esteemed Carnegie Hall. Apparently the venue was tricked by a promoter into thinking that Frank was performing with an orchestra, which he had previously done in 1970. Instead, Frank was touring with the ‘Flo & Eddie’ version of the Mothers of Invention, and things were definitely more in a rock and roll-oriented comedy group vein. We get both the early and the late show at Carnegie, something that is possible mostly as Frank’s setlists are not as long as they would later get. It’s in mono – probably a reason Frank never saw fit to release it, as stereo was the norm for most everything by 1971. It also, uniquely for a Zappa record, features the opening act – acappella doo-wop group The Persuasions, whose first album was released on Zappa’s record label.

The makers of this CD set apologized for the less than stellar sound, and this is most apparent during the Persuasions set, which is more muffled than the main set. It’s quite listenable, though, and it’s always a pleasure to hear acappella groups. They take a tour through several old 50s and 60s classics, including many obscure records as well as some hits still beloved today, such as Tears on My Pillow and The Great Pretender. Their set runs about 25 minutes long, and features 3 ‘medleys’, the second and third of which produce acappella versions of more modern hits such as the Temptations’ Cloud Nine and Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend.

It’s then time for the early show for Zappa’s Mothers. As I noted, this band featured former Turtles Flo & Eddie, aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, on vocals and entertaining skits. Frank wrote his compositions to suit his bands, and the Flo & Eddie period was filled with lots of falsetto vocals, tales of groupies and sordid sexual situations – it was 1971, after all, where the Summer of Love was turning into the Autumn of Casual Sex. Also in the band were fellow ex-Turtle Jim Pons on bass guitar and bass vocals; Aynsley Dunbar, who would later go on to be a founding member of Journey, on drums and British sex appeal; Ian Underwood (the ‘straight’ member of the group) on alto sax and keyboards; and Don Preston on synthesizers and gong. Ian and Don were in the early 1960s Mothers; the others were unique to this band.

The first show begins, as most of this band’s shows did, with the 1967 album track Call Any Vegetable. This was one of the more straight-ahead rock numbers the band performed, and allowed Flo & Eddie to sing the ridiculous lyrics while Frank got to perform a smoking guitar solo. The second half of the song varied from venue to venue, as Frank would improvise a monologue about what to say to a vegetable; these usually revolved around the city or country they were playing in, and this was no exception. It wraps up with a quick reprise, then segues (with another NYC-based improvised monologue, this one by Howard Kaylan) into an even earlier song, the Freak Out classic Anyway The Wind Blows. This starts off similar to the album, but as we near the end, it gains speed and volume.

The next song is probably the one reason that I would recommend you buy this album only after you’re already familiar with Frank’s work. It’s well known that Frank Zappa wrote songs many people consider offensive; in fact, I have a few I consider offensive myself. Indeed, later in the show we’ll see songs about a groupie preparing to get laid, and in the 2nd show we’ll see God’s girlfriend beg a pig to screw her, and a young yuppie executive coat his thighs with syrup to that flies can surround them and lift him into the air.

Magdalena, though, is special even by these standards. It’s a song about a father and daughter living in Montreal, and the father realizing that his daughter is now grown up, and that he’s attracted to her. Now, to be fair, this is viewed in the lyrics as sick and wrong, and Magdalena herself rejects his advances and stomps off. However, the majority of the song is sung from the POV of the father, so you get lots of exhortations for his daughter to see reason and return to him. Naturally, as with many of Frank’s most offensive songs, the song itself is very catchy and you find yourself wanting to sing along, almost despite yourself. And this is also another song with an improvised monologue, as Howard once again uses the NYC area to try to seduce poor Magdalena.

After this, we’re back in safer territory, with a straight on performance of the Uncle Meat classic Dog Breath, which (as with almost all Flo & Eddie version of old Zappa songs) is more of a rocker now. This ends the first disc, but the show continues on CD2 with Peaches En Regalia, an instrumental and one of Frank’s most well-known songs. It segues right into Tears Began To Fall, the band’s current ‘hit single’ (that was not a hit), which is a standard love song about the lack of love. We then get ‘Shove It Right In’, a collection of three tunes from the 200 Motels movie. This is the groupie song I mentioned earlier, and is about a young girl putting on makeup, clothes, deodorant, etc. in order to go out and make herself attractive for the band members who are playing that evening. In the movie, it’s separated by instrumental orchestration, so never really gets going. Here, it’s just the songs themselves, and it becomes a raging beast.

After this it’s time for one of the band’s finest – King Kong. Frank played this instrumental piece for almost his entire career. It was in some of his earliest known performances in the 1960s, and it features prominently on the final tour in 1988. This is where the other type of Zappa fan, more in love with the music and soloing than the vocal shenanigans, sits up and gets excited. After the main theme, Don Preston gets to solo on his keyboard synthesizers. It’s worth noting that synths in 1971 were still fairly new and surprising, and that hearing what Don is doing with them must have been startling. Don enjoyed starting from a drone and building up swathes of noise, rather than playing straight ahead melodies. We then get Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar, and Frank himself, all playing long and involved solos that extend the piece to just over half an hour. (Flo & Eddie, being vocalists only this tour, did not get a chance to solo. And Jim Pons either did not want to or was not asked to solo in any of their shows.)

We wrap the main set up with a piece first seen in the 200 Motels movie as part of the ending to ‘Strictly Genteel’. Frank separated it from the classical portion of the song and took it on tour with just the rock band finale, which he called, appropriately enough, 200 Motels Finale. It’s a great way to end a show, with the band telling everyone that they’re all exhausted and that after the show they’re all going out to get wasted. Before they do that, however, they need to come back for an encore. This is one of the big treats of this whole release: we finally have a nice version of the Flo & Eddie rewrite of Who Are The Brain Police?, Frank’s scary Freak Out classic. He noted at several other shows that he rewrote it to ‘make it sound like Canned Heat’, and it is fantastic, with a long and energetic Zappa guitar solo, and a strange vocal coda that will give you the shivers. And thus ends the early show.

The late show starts with Frank once again making fun of the fact that they actually managed to get booked at Carnegie Hall, before starting into one of their two big ‘skit’ sings from the Fall 1971 tour. The piece as a whole is called Divan, and most of it has been heard on official releases, but not as one piece. It’s the story of a fat maroon sofa which sits in the middle of a vast emptiness. The Lord sees this sofa and demands some flooring be put underneath it. The band then plays Sofa, as heard on the One Size Fits All album, complete with the lyrics in German. (Frank explains that much of this song is in German as that’s the way the Lord talks whenever it’s heavy business.) We then go back to Frank’s monologue about the Lord, who by now has brought along his short girlfriend… and Squat the Magic Pig. (Yes, when I called the band a rock-oriented comedy group, I was not kidding.) They then move into a big surprise for casual Zappa fans – the song Stick It Out, which would not be officially released by Frank until the Joe’s Garage album in 1979. It works better here, where the girlfriend screaming at the pig to screw her in German is contextualized within the sketch better than Joe and his roto-plooker. And yes, I do think that a girl demanding a pig screw her in German while the Lord films it with his home movie camera is less offensive than Magdalena, if only due to its sheer ludicrousness.

Divan ends with a piece we’ve heard before with that title on the Playground Psychotics album, which is vocal-oriented, quieter, and also in German and English. By the way, don’t actually try to learn German from this song. Then we hear another of Frank’s most beloved instrumentals, which also appeared from his first few concerts to his last, Pound for a Brown. For this tour, it wasn’t the giant solo vehicle that it could be on other tours, but a straightforward vehicle for Frank to play a guitar solo. As with all Pound performances until 1975, it then segues into another piece from Uncle Meat, Sleeping In A Jar – though this version is an instrumental. After this, we get a three-song medley of pieces that all lead into one another. Wonderful Wino was written for former Mothers bass player Jeff Simmons, and now that Jeff is gone Flo & Eddie share vocal duties. It’s, well, about a wino. Sharleena is another love song where the singers exhort the heroine to return to their loving arms. And Cruising For Burgers is pure 50s nostalgia, though as always with Frank’s nostalgia there’s a bit of wry tongue in cheek there as well.

Next comes, for me, the highlight of the entire release. In the spring of 1971, Frank wrote a huge musical comedy number titled Billy The Mountain. The story involved a California mountain getting a royalty check for all the postcards he’s posed for over the years. Deciding to use the money to take a vacation, he and his wife Ethel (who is a tree growing off his shoulder) head off to New York City, stopping along the way in Las Vegas and other touristy attractions. This naturally causes untold destruction, as Billy is a MOUNTAIN. Things get even worse when Billy is drafted, and refuses to report for his induction physical. The government decides to send a superhero to stop him – Studebaker Hoch, whose voice may not match up to his image but who is plenty badass in his own right.

As you can imagine, this plot takes a while to sing. Especially as, as with many songs in the first show, Frank, Flo & Eddie take the time to localize the song for its audience – so we get a news reporter from WNEW telling us about Ethel’s communist tendencies. It first appeared on Just Another Band from L.A. – edited, with the solos and a few of the more litigious parts removed. (Halfway through the tour, Frank and company changed the name of “George Putnam, the right-wing fascist creepo newscaster” to George Pontoon, possibly as the real Putnam might get upset. Given they stated “And it is this reporter’s opinion” – a Putnam trademark – it wasn’t hard to figure out anyway.) On Playground Psychotics, we got a half-hour version that left in the solos, but was also lacking many of the extended improvisations from later in the tour. This is the latest version we have officially released, and it’s by far the longest – over 45 minutes! There’s 13 minutes of solos, and we also have the full uncut production itself, including the ‘Tibetan Memory Trick’ which Flo & Eddie inserted into each Billy the Mountain from about this time onwards.

A brief interlude, as some may not be aware of the awesome Tibetan Memory Trick:
One hen
Two ducks
Three squawking geese
Four Limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alverzo’s tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery of the quarry, all at the same time.

As you can imagine, it was fun to hear in concert, delivered at an extremely fast pace. We then get the end of the piece. Studebaker Hoch has come to reason with Billy by going into a phone booth and getting the flies within to take him to New York by the method I mentioned above. Once there, he foolishly threatens Billy, who just laughs. And when a mountain laughs, you’re in trouble. Studebaker is knocked 200 feet into the rubble below. Billy The Mountain is almost a time capsule of a song, being so 1971 it hurts. It’s filled with puns (Studebaker Hawk, anyone?), and though a lot of it isn’t as funny as the band seem to think it is, it’s carried along by pure mood. A joy to hear. The solos are once again by Don, Ian, Aynsley and Frank, though Frank’s is quite short. (His guitar is low in the mix for both concerts, which may be why his efforts weren’t as long as usual.)

This is the end of the main set, and it’s after midnight. Frank comes out and tells the crowd that he’d have to pay $600 extra before they’d let him play an encore. The crowd is clearly upset, but Frank is setting them up. “So I said of COURSE I’d pay an extra six hundred to play for you!” Frank spends a couple more minutes mocking the inflexible union rules that lead to such arrangements, and then gives us The Mud Shark. This was originally part of the extended “Groupie Opera” piece performed by this band, much of which can be heard on the album Fillmore East – June 1971. They’d mostly dropped this by now in favor of the new, equally long Divan. Audiences loved the Mud Shark, which was the story of a band (most folks know it as Led Zeppelin, but Frank always told it as being Vanilla Fudge) who stayed at a hotel in Seattle where you could fish out of your hotel room. There they caught a Mud Shark (aka dogfish) and proceeded to use it on a young groupie. We don’t really get into the sordid part of the story, however, because the “Mud Shark Dance” (which mostly involves pretending to swim like a fish) gets extended out more and more. This version is thirteen and a half minutes long, and includes the band trying to get the audience to leave the hall and Mud Shark their way down Broadway. The last 7 minutes or so are pure groove, and makes you want to see what it must have been like visually.

There are a few moments during the concert where the sound quality gets degraded, likely as they were changing reels. However, for the most part this sounds excellent, even in mono. Fons of drumming in particular will enjoy Aynsley Dunbar being right up front in the mix, and his skills are quite underrated compared to later, more famous Zappa drummers such as Terry Bozzio or Vince Colaiuta. There’s also a booklet with details of the shows and some liner notes by Zappa fan Al Malkin and Gail Zappa. There’s also a few photos of the band, though oddly Don Preston does not get an individual photo. It’s possible he refused permission or that the ZFT removed him – they don’t get along at all these days – but given he is in the group shots, we must resort to speculation.

If you’re a casual Zappa fan and have never heard Flo & Eddie before, you might want to start with Chunga’s Revenge and work your way in slower. For those who want more, though, these two sets are a great example of this particular band hitting on all cylinders. Carnegie Hall never knew what hit it. Sadly, two months from this date, Frank would be playing in London when a crazed fan pushed him off the stage and into the orchestra pit. He had several fractures and a crushed larynx, and the band went its separate ways while he recovered. The Flo & Eddie Mothers can be an acquired taste – Frank made fun of his own band in 200 Motels, having the band complain about “only playing comedy music”. Many Zappa fans agree with the band. Still, I’m very happy to hear any new Zappa, and this one in particular is a stellar release, warts and all.

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…

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…