Finest display of musical talent

By Mary King

Daily Kent Stater, November 29, 1973

It seems no matter how many changes Frank Zappa makes musically or how many people drop out of or join-up with his group, he still offers, probably, the finest display of talent and musical individualism in the music world today.

I know of no other band of similar size which can compare with the complexity and refinement of Frank Zappa’s Mothers.

Their performance at the Akron Civic Theatre on Tuesday night [1] was, as usual, very well-prepared and very professional. Zappa and his band played old standards and new compositions, but even the old songs offered new arrangements. Zappa, always the musician, does not believe in playing his older music in constantly the same way.

But, and I hate to say this because I’ve been a fan of Zappa’s for several years, I think Zappa is trying too hard. His compositions have become so complex, with their frequent rhythm changes and bizarre instrumental harmonies, that they are monotonous.

The music has become too intellectual. It seems to have lost all of the old Zappa feeling. The lyrics which were always so important and so powerful, are now so diverse and run together that many of the words are inaudible and meaningless.

The social comment which prevailed in older Zappa compositions like “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body; Oh No, and Your Mouth,” has been replaced with themes of perversion and absurdity, which may have meaning to the band but are difficult for the listener to digest.

The talent is still obviously there, probably even more so in today’s Mothers. Bruce Fowler on trombone and George Duke on piano are extraordinary musicians, Fowler does more with a trombone than most musicians can do with a more versatile instrument.

Talent, however, is not enough for a band which is giving live concerts and producing albums as frequently as the Mothers do. If the talent is lost in the structure of the music, then it is useless.

I would much rather see Zappa cut down on his complexity and start composing music which communicates with his listeners.

I don’t think Zappa should write along the same lines and themes as he did with his earlier music. I do feel he should try to capture the feeling which was so obvious in his older music, though, not only with vocals but also instrumentaly.

If I compare the guitar solos of “Hot Rats” with the guitar solos of Tuesday night, I can say the older solos are more lyrical and meaningful then the more recent ones.

I don’t think Zappa can make his compositions any more diverse than they are now. As I see him and his group now, they are, ironically, stagnating in their own complexity.

1. November 27, 1973. No recording of this concert is known. The band was FZ, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Tom Fowler, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Bruce Fowler, Ralph Humphrey, Chester Thompson. (FZshows)