Zappa Wires Crowd
By Andrew Willard
BERKELEY – "Let's get on with it." – Frank Zappa
The concert had already started as we zipped through a recent earth aberration, San Francisco, on our way to Berkeley, where another upheaval took place.
The Berkeley Community Theater is an ideal scaffold from which to hang Frank Zappa and the Mother's of Invention. The architecture, particularly the walls, creates a continuous and static ripple, much like Zappa's high-powered current, a spasmodic electricity that grips the audience from the moment he first gyrates onto the stage.
"It's a cozy table," he said, as we slithered into our seats.
"We're gonna have fun," she oozed.
"And champagne ... my dear."
"Mmmmm, delicious, ha ha."
"You like it? MMmmmm, hmm, ha ha."
"Hee hee, hee..."
"I like it too. Ha ha."
"MMMmmm mah ha ha "
There were no cooties in the Berkeley Community Theater as we picked our teeth with two heavy-duty zircon encrusted tweezers, waiting for the dew to hit the stage.
In the mean-time, Casey Kelly came on with, "I Wish I Knew," a two-year old song that resonated. Kelly subdued the raucous crowd and by the time Zappa descended, the theater was packed, a solid-state waiting to explode into Zappa's overactive neural space. The feeling was mutual.
Zappa's transmission began with a five-song medley that filled the theatrical synapse with a loud kaleidescope. An instrumental substrate developed early as vocals assumed an unusual (for Zappa) subordinate position. The nine musicians that comprise Zappa's outfit alternately displayed their musical precision and accuracy throughout the entire charade.
The rhythm and percussion sections, consisting of two synchronic drummers, a vibraharpist and an outstanding performance from George Duke on the synthesizer and keyboard, energized the audience and the band with a pulsating staccato that lasted throughout the two-hour performance.
The melody was obscure in two of the songs, "Inca Roads" and "Approximate." This was no surprise since Zappa announced that the rhythm section was finely tuned whereas the rest of the band (two guitars, trombone, saxophone and flute) had their choice as to melody and pitch.
Despite the individual options, the unit managed two outstanding and integrated selections. "Cosmic Debris" featured tenor saxophone, electric piano and Zappa on the electric guitar. "Dupree's Paradise Lounge" (this reviewer's favorite), located in Watts, California, is a lengthy expose of the Mother's recent exploration into jazz and barroom derelicts. Actually both tendencies have surfaced separately, but for the first time flowed together in this excellent piece that had the audience twisting, turning, then roaring and finally burning.
Other selections included "Montana" (the only song from a recent album), the story of an idle speculator who is planning on movin' to Montana to start growing dental floss; and another medley consisting of "Pygmy Twilight," "The Idiot Bastard's Son" and "A Little More Cheapness Please." This medley included some vague allusion to Richard Nixon. Generally, as Zappa said, the political implications of the concert reached all the way to Butte, Montana.
After vibrating with the Mother's cacaphony for two hours, the audience filtered out through the smoke-filled pink haze, a soft velvet that was completely still. This Over-Nite Sensation, the title of the Mother's latest album, concluded with the following lyrics:
I have taken your time, I have sung you my song
Ain't no great revelation, but it wasn't too long.
An that's awright people, I'm just crazy enough to sing to you, any old way
I figure the odds be fifty-fifty
I just might have something to say.
Finally, it should be remembered in Frank Zappa's own words, "The guru may be short, but he's bogus."
1. February 16, 1974, concert in Community Theater, Berkeley (Zappa Gig List). This concert was taped and songlist on the tape is: soundcheck intro, Andy, Florentine Pogen, Kung Fu, Penguin In Bondage, T'Mershi Duween, Dog Meat, Montana, improvisations (incl. Dupree's Paradise story), Dupree's Paradise, Cosmik Debris, Pygmy Twylyte (incl. Dummy Up), The Idiot Bastard Son (That Arrogant Dick Nixon), Cheepnis, Approximate, Inca Roads.
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