'Mothers,' Hip Style

By Stephen MacDonald

Wall Street Journal, May 26, 1967

One bewildered critic to another during the intermission of "Absolutely Freee," a new offering by The Mothers of Invention: "What would you call that? Is that what they call a freakout?"

He has a problem, all right, trying to describe the improbable sights and sounds at Greenwich Village's Garrick Theater. For the Mothers, which we might loosely call a rock and roll group of seven males, are wildly hirsute, sartorially shaggy and arrogant of posture. (If that brings to mind the Beatles, try to think more in terms of the Hell's Angels without their bikes.[1]) Visual chaos is compounded by the projection of throbbing patterns on a huge screen behind the ensemble and by such distracting (and annoying) on-stage antics as smearing a banana on a dismembered doll torso.

As for sound, it would be easy enough to say simply that the Mothers are deafeningly loud. And loud they are: Lyrics are often sacrificed to cacophony. But musically they are expert, if rough. And the content that does emerge is a better-than-average sample of the "underground" message the hip generation is begging the rest of the world to listen to. Though the attitude is sarcastic, ironic, alienated and supercool, the Mothers are talking about your social values and a lot of people believe what they say.

The Mothers apparently have their roots in the West Coast rock and roll of the 50s, and their best numbers are nonpolitical, affectionate parodies of those days. For anyone who recalls that era with anything approaching fondness, it's a pleasure to know someone is still playing goodies like "The Bristol Stomp".

If you have tried 1967-style pop music and are horrified by it, or if you're horrified even thinking about it, The Mothers of Invention aren't going to change your mind. But they are part of a social phenomenon, they are good at what they do, and an evening at the Garrick is emphatically instinctive. Maybe more.

Many thank for the text above to zappateers Steve Hecht, Drew51 and Gwonam.

1. The same evening at the Garrick reviewed here, but according to Jimmy Carl Black:

 And one night these girls had given us this giant giraffe and so we ran this tube up this giraffe's leg and underneath the tail and stuck it out. We got behind this keyboard; Zappa didn't even know we were going to do this. Myself and Ray Collins, we were bored at the time so we got about ten cans of pressurized whip cream and in the middle of 'King Kong' or one of those songs, the audience was all intense and all of a sudden we started squirtin' this whip cream right under the tail of the giraffe and sprayed the first three rows of the audience. (laughing) I think the Wall Street Journal was there reviewing the show that night and they called us, 'Hell's Angels without their bikes.'

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net