Concert Review: Zappa

By Teresa Garland

Fifth Estate, November 10 -13, 1973


You can tell how many new albums have been released by the number of concerts slated on the major concert hall circuit (Cobo Hall, Masonic, etc.). Record companies push groups to travel around the country and promote their new albums. The November 2 concert at Masonic was a Warner Brothers Show.

First act on the bill was a female vocalist, Kathy Dalton. Kathy has a pleasant voice with little conviction. Her song lyrics, written by the rhythm guitarist in her back-up band (and the producer of her album) were mostly bland. She made an effort at sounding smooth and confident with occasional sexual overtones in her voice and movements. Her hype didn’t come off and instead seemed a bit pretentious. The six songs she sang all came from her just-released album, with nothing new and very little innovative material.

ARGENT

While the audience howled for Zappa, the second, less plastic group came on. Argent, an FM top-40 group from England wasn’t as obvious about promoting themselves or their new album. They played only a couple of tunes from their latest disc and a lot of older material including “It’s Only Money” and “Hold Your Head High”. A flashy group of good musicians, the four men executed their songs with flair on guitars, keyboards, and drums. Each person knows his instrument well, the vocals are tight and the solos flow well. One member of the group is a former member of the Zombies and that influence is evident in their sound.

In spite of their commercial techniques, clothes and lyrics, musically, they are a good group to listen to. ( “They ’re good to dance to; I’d give them an 82’’).

Between each of the acts, we were bombarded with tapes of groups that record with Warner Brothers; keeping a constant flow of music gave no relief to the mind. Now I know why so many people arrive at concerts an hour late – it saves the eardrums and mind from being frazzled too early.

ZAPPA RETURNS

Three times I’ve seen Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and each time, I’ve been impressed by his stage presence. He is calm and without hype. His confidence with the audience is such that in the past he has been known for walking out on bad audiences and this tactic has given him the upper hand. In quieting unruly Detroit-type crowds by intimidating the audience, he does earn their respect.

On his part, Zappa figures that his music is real and not some plastic bullshit. He doesn’t play his radio hits, and is constantly updating his material giving the audience something new every show. He feels that they know what they’re paying for and he’ll give them the best that his band can produce.

It’s rumored that Zappa is hell to work for. He’s a perfectionist, and in concert, if the music isn’t sounding together, he will stop playing and start over (and over) until it’s right.

STAGE SCOLDING

He is not above telling a member of the Mothers that they’re playing pretty lousy tonight. He did that on Friday night to Ruth Underwood, the percussion. Doing so, he shows he cares about the quality of each performance. In other words – “Your bad performance makes me look bad, so get it together” and at the same time, letting the audience know that it’s not personally his fault when the sound isn’t perfect.

The Mothers performed some old material like “The Idiot Bastard Son”, “Uncle Meat”, and “Dog Breath Variation”, and some brand new songs like “The San Clemente Magnetic Deviation” (dedicated to Tricky Dicky). One exceptional performance was their rendition of “Creepy Carrodes” (I swear Zappa spends his spare time reading the Thesaurus.)

“A lot of people are just in a zone on some chemical or another. People don’t talk about much except dope or cars or sex,” our friend said. “Dope causes a lot of accidents, too, when people can’t run the equipment right”.

There were some technical mishaps and the vocals didn’t always come out clear – which for Zappa music, can be tragic. Often there was a stage enactment of the lyrics, though, so the basic ideas usually came through.

The group isn’t into flashy dressing and gimmicks and came across as being performers more involved with their music than their image – a professional, confident attitude.

The Mothers played for over an hour and then came back for a twenty minute encore. That’s a long time to sit and listen to them after three hours of commercial rock & roll, already tired before the encore – saturated by rock & roll and dope (anyone at the concert who wasn’t stoned had to be wearing an oxygen mask.) By now, Zappa should have enough pull to demand that there be only one other act on the bill, but then, Kathy Dalton is recording on his label and he’s trying to hype her. And there’s probably something similar to that going on with Argent. Money, money, money.