Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart at Cobo Arena
By Paul J. Grant
I never know what to expect from Frank, and for that I'm eternally grateful. The Mothers have always been just an extension of their head honcho, and he has taken them down technical blind alleys and stairways to heaven. It has been a long and sometimes exhausting job keeping up with him and his.
Some scoffers will tell you that early critical reaction to Zappa, calling him a Genius and an iconoclast, was unfounded crystal-gazing. I for one was disappointed with the type of material he had been shelling out as of late – the anal antics of Flo and Eddie were extended groupie and California plastic-mystique jokes, Apostrophe and Roxy & Elsewhere a trifle sterile, Over-Nite Sensation had the freakiness but without the free-form but carefully orchestrated absurdities that were the hallmark of the early Mothers, and without the avant garde jazz influence so heavily felt on Uncle Meat and its successors.
But it was all down to brass tacks and hard knocks at Cobo when Zappa and the '75 Mothers strode confidently on stage and played two hours of pure head-in-the-electric-light-socket music. The music was pinpointed, except for the vocals, which were poorly mixed at the outset and which never quite overcame Cobo's cavernous presence. Outside of that, every musical note was displayed in pride and sure, secure power
Zappa's band was weak only in the horn section – Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax, who is no match for the likes of Ian Underwood, and Bruce Fowler on trumpet. But the work of bassist Tom Fowler was incredibly lyrical, and on his one solo fast and frenzied. The drummer, whose name I didn't catch, was a skinny kid who played with such savagery that he reminded me of one of those Sal Mineo World War II movies – "Why, he's just a boy, Martha!" His drum set had more drums than I have teeth, and each one got a heavy workout.
Captain Beefheart appeared on occasional vocals and harmonica, sounding better than he has for a long time, especially on the encore – Willie the Pimp which he did with Zappa on the Hot Rats LP. George Duke's keyboards were varied and astounding, and his solo was a trip to places yet uncharted. And finally Frank, was his old, mean nasty self-playing guitar in a variety of tones, all in one stock still pose, placing the band around him like marker buoys. He cooked in a way that doesn't become so evident on the studio albums, and he has that uncanny knack for making everything sound so complicated and look so simple.
The floozies in the lobby would have dug it, from the grand entrance to Zappa's last burst on synthesized guitar. I know I did.
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