Frank Zaps in for a fine concert
By Bob Fox
A Winterland full of fanatical fans welcomed Frank Zappa back to San Francisco this month after an absence of more than three years .
The Chief Mother came on with his hair cut short but with the same familiar freaky mustache (very much like Fu Manchu's) just in time to sort out a hassle developing between sitees and standees who seemed to have little use for each other.
Zappa came on wearing a plaid shirt which flapped loosely over a tee shirt that he hadn't quite bothered to tuck into his chinos. (You couldn't help wondering - could this be the same Zappa who was responsible for pumping so many teeny-bopper heads full of multi-track visions of mondo bizzaro? Was this the multiply fractured mind behind "200 Motets" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh"?
After a quick audience warm up, Zappa instrumentally proved that this definitely was the same man. He brought a large group (nine pieces) with him for the Dec. 15 performance and they quickly launched into the first number, a long instrumental containing some of the most flat-out rock lyricism I've yet heard from him.
Zappa has been curiously overlooked as a guitarist which is a shame because he's· fine ... very inventive technically and always tasteful.
The music he produced for this concert was both highly sophisticated and complex not only in the use of instruments (like the pygmy trumpet and the inclusion of a lot of jazz interpolations) but also in the kind of horn dissonances and variegated rhythms which kept showing up at the beginnings and endings of his selections.
Zappa also has a talent for taking what amounts to gratuitous intellectual graffiti and propelling it into an effervescent and highly ironic art form by means of his extremely sophisticated music. So much of what the lyrics say is just plain inane but you end up not really caring. The disparity between words and music ends up driving you to examine both more closely, in fact. The tension between them is brilliantly contrived.
Altogether Zappa did seven numbers at the Winterland concert including "Chunga's Revenge' which is outright jazz rock. Sometimes Zappa led by playing his own guitar (and squeezing out the riffs with thoughtful skill) and sometimes he conducted his group with short, practiced hand movements.
As I watched him, I became aware that Frank Zappa has always been a serious musician but it was not so apparent before he abandoned the ultra-theatrical and grotesque stage trappings of his earlier endeavors and made a more serious attempt at uncluttered communication. His music integrates a wide variety of forms and styles. It reflects the cultural oddities of this time. It is about us. Zappa is a great cosmic parodist and, while opinions .about him vary, no one is able to deny his obvious genius. He is definitely a Mother superior.
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I arrived too late at Winterland to hear the group called Weather Report (who opened the show) but I've heard their excellent Columbia LP "I Sing the Body Electric" and, on that basis, would recommend them. I did catch Copperhead's set and very much enjoyed them. Copperhead is the new San Francisco group which has generated more excitement than any local amalgam since Santana (with the possible exception of Malo.)
John Cippolina is a compelling force behind much of the flash Copperhead exhibits. (His distinctively tremulous guitar style was also a motive force for the Quicksilver Messenger Service.) Despite the departure of pianist-bassist Pete Sears – whom I believe to have been the group's most outstanding member but who never seems to stay on one scene for too long – Copperhead is still a cooking band with power and energy to spare. They began their Winterland set slowly at first but then they did one fuck of a song and, from then on, they were fine. I felt that all in all it was a fine show.
1. Concert on December 15, together with Weather Report and Copperhead. Last concerts in San Franciso were in November 1970.
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