Freak no more

By Daryl Nugent

Go-Set, July 7, 1973


After two fifteen minute sets from Albatross and Glenn Cardier the Mothers of Invention roadies began sorting out and assembling a vast array of instruments and equipment in preparation for Frank Zappa and his eight-piece Mothers of Invention.

After a two and a half hour set – including an encore – the Mothers left an audience that had undergone a mixture of reactions concerning the performance of Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Nobody doubts that Zappa wasn't brilliant or that his band weren't first-class musicians. But as well as being farewelled by deserving applause for their fine musicianship, Frank Zappa and the Mothers left behind yawns and moments of boredom.

Perhaps sections of the audience invested their four, five or six dollars expecting "the world's greatest super-freak" to dazzle them with vocal insanities and nifty little musical exercises that boost an "up" in one's rather stoned head. Yes folks, the local dope man must have had a good week whilst the Mothers were in town. How many were seated in this acoustically poor, converted sport stadium to see Frank Zappa ... the name?

'The Mothers Live at the Fillmore' and 'Just Another Band from LA' were released late last year – recorded in June and August of 1971 – so obviously someone was there to hear and witness the vocal harmonies and insane narration of 'Mud Sharks', 'Willie The Pimp' or even ' Billy The Mountain '. However, Zappa being a rather progressive musician wasn't going to dish out works that were already two years old.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention have been the only band in the last two years to 'ever tour Australia and primarily presented new – thus, unheard – material. Except for excerpts from 'Uncle Meat' and a song from 'Hot Rats' – and their encore – Frank Zappa performed his material to virgin ears.

On their opening night the band began with 'Montana', a song about obtaining dental floss, how to cultivate it and what to do with it. Zappa delivered his lyrics in his singing voice – distinct from his narration vocal style – as the audience grinned, laughed or yawned in response to Zappa's tale.

'Dupree's Paradise' followed. George Duke displayed his keyboard dexterity with a long intro. The rest of the band joined in as Zappa stood with his back to the audience and conducted tones and runs from his guitar. Jean-Luc Ponty performed one of his many solos, often leaving the audience spellbound with the beautiful sounds that he sent shooting out of the band's loud – yet clear sound system. An incredible player, one of the Mothers most outstanding assets.

Excerpts from the 'Uncle Meat' album followed. Again the band worked around complex arrangements and central themes intermixed with 'various solos. Before those familiar sounds of 'Dog Breath' came blasting out to the audience in glove-tight proportions, Zappa conducted a tranquil and soft passage featuring Ruth Underwood's gentle marimba notes and Ponty's violin. During 'Dog Breath Variations' Zappa left his guitar to provide percussive drum sections to his music.

Whilst back on guitar, Zappa would simply add a chord or two as the band worked around his arrangements. The Mothers concluded this medley with 'Uncle Meat' itself. Duke pumped moog into parts of this composition while Zappa's right hand conducted the band. Throughout their performance, Zappa would point to a player indicating that he play a certain piece depending upon what hand signal he gave. Often he'd point to other players to add a short burst of trombone or to harmonise with trumpet.

Some of Zappa's newer compositions were 'Cosmic Debris ', a story revolving around a Guru trying to win over Zappa's unwillingness to give this Guru his soul. The instrumentation featured Ian Underwood on sax, his orchestra the superb Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Ian Underwood (sax, flute, clarinet), Ruth Underwood (marimba, vibes, timpani and small percussion), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Tom Fowler (bass), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Sal Marquez (trumpet and vocals), and George Duke (vocals, electric piano, grand piano, clavinet, mini-moog, Hammond organ).

'Dupree's Paradise' featured a violin, trombone and guitar solo. In Zappa's solo he kicked, clicked and pushed his electronic gadgets in order to produce unusual ophone and a wailing guitar solo. Duke added clavinet passages that sounded like thick guitar chords. Throughout their performance, Bruce Fowler utilized wah-wah pedal on trombone solos. Often a few instruments harmonised together, each sounding similar to the others.

Other new songs include a long narration medley, a-la-' Mothers Live'-type saga, called 'Don't Eat Yellow Snow' and 'St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast'. This hilarious, comedy spot was finished with what Zappa described as "a song to prove that jazz is dead", 'Father Vivian Oblivion '.

This medley contained a three part chorus that sang phrases such as "yellow snow", "lead filled snow shoe" and "peek a boo". Very much the Mothers music similar to their two live albums. Between Zappa's vocal narrating sections, he cut savage and fast guitar licks. The audience quickly sensed Zappa's satire when he uttered "evil" after one of these short guitar bursts . This part of the band's performance was met by perhaps the audience's peak of vocal involvement and applauded approval.

As an encore the Mothers returned with 'Son of Mr. Green Genes', 'King Kong' and finally 'Chunga's Revenge'. Conclusion: Zappa, a brilliant composer and musician plus an entertaining performer. His band, especially Jean-Luc Ponty, were superb musicians.

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