Mothers of Invention, un-convention provide a tremendously wild evening
By John Macfarlane
"Seeing as bow we're pandering to your lowest tastes, here it is: another piece of poop. Something you don't have to think about. You just sit back there and tell yourself you're making it at a comic level."
Frank Zappa was standing before a microphone on the stage at Convention Hall , the stage littered with spaghetti and crazy foam and colored lights and amplifiers with dolls' heads and smashed-up toy cars, with sawed-off mannequin wearing a gas mask, with kettle drums and drums and pianos and all sorts of electric machines. It looked like some sort of pop art battlefield.
Strings of white balloons were hanging from the ceiling and colored lights and weird – I suppose you'd call them psychedelic – images were swirling around on a huge white screen behind the stage, between Frank Zappa and the front row of seats, 20 or 30 hippies sat on the floor (I could tell they were hippies because they looked like David DePoe).
How It Is
And Frank Zappa was telling all the people who had jammed into Convocation Hall for this, the wind-up to this year's University College arts festival – called (B)ABEL: Society as Madness and Myth – Frank Zappa was telling all these people, all these hippies and arts students and engineers and teenyboppers and, yes, even the odd music lover, Frank Zappa was telling this audience how it is.
Frank Zappa, you see, is a Mother – probably the greatest Mother of them all – and the leader of a dirty, satiric and very musical rock group called the Mothers of Invention. The number of Mothers varies (legend has it there are 200 in all) but there were nine, including Frank Zappa (a kind of hippie Jesus figure) on stage last night.  And they made it a wild and tremendously exciting evening.
You have to listen to the Mothers of Invention with your head. Like the Fugs, who appeared at last year's Pop UC arts festival, the Mothers specialize in pop-rock send-ups, the difference being that the Mothers have a cleaner act – their satire is of a much higher order than the Fugs' – and are much more musical.
In fact, there's more musical talent in this group – which includes electric trumpet, electric tenor sax, alto sax, vibraharp, electric piano, electric guitar, electric bass, drums and tympani – than all but 10 of the groups on the Top 50 put together (10 maybe putting it too high).
As I watched last night, I could see that a few of the Mothers have a special status within the group. Zappa, for instance, is the Mother in Charge of Musical direction and Between Songs Pattern. He composes and arranges all their material, and last night he directed the whole show.
His between-songs patter?
"What's wrong with you, people? Don't you have any natural rhythm? Every time we play for a white audience it's always the same."
Another Mother (Zappa is the only Mother I can identify by name) is the Mother in Change of on-Stage Atmosphere and Vocal Presentations (he does most of the singing) . Before the performance last night actually began, and while a couple of the Mothers were doing a satire on groups tuning up, the Mother in Charge of on-Stage Atmosphere and Vocal Presentations began emptying the contents of several cardboard boxes onto the stage – bits and pieces of dolls, broken toys, all sorts of junk.
For about five minutes he walked the lower half of a mannequin around the stage making a variety of obscene gestures. And later on, he emptied a can of Crazy Foam (a substance resembling the kind of shaving cream that comes in an aerosol can on to the stage, then picked it up in handfuls and threw it at the audience, some of whom responded with handfuls of spaghetti. It was a wild scene.
A third Mother, the one who plays the electric piano, is the Mother in Charge of Mood Music and Groovy Psychedelic Sounds . During that pre-performance tuning-up jam session, he started fooling around on the piano and a souped-up amplification system attached to it, creating a collage of music and noise and music-noise – machine guns and helicopters and wild murmurs from outer space and 20,000 leagues under the sea, subways and screeching tires and searching mind-shattering sounds that made you want to close your eyes and take off.
Only if you closed your eyes you missed the light show, which was at least 20,000 light years better that the Jefferson Airplane light show at O'Keefe Centre last year.
The show lasted two hours, which was about two hours too short for me. It included six or seven excerpts from what the Mothers call Underground Oratorios (the best being a number called America Drinks and Goes Home), and a couple of big-beat, jazz-rock, highly improvisational instrumentals. To say nothing of the funniest and maybe the best performance of God Save the Queen I've ever heard. I rather like the song when it's played off-key-
These unconventional very pretentional, super-inventional Mothers – I loved them. All us Mother-swingers did.
2. These nine Mothers in this evening were Frank Zappa, Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp, Ian Underwood, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Motorhead Sherwood.
3. Ray Collins.
4. Don Preston.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net