Zappa: Weirdly Great
By Arch McLean
The crowd of about 5,000 sat patiently through the opening act and the short time needed for equipment changes. When the house lights dimmed for the second act, applause filled the stadium. Dressed in unusual costumes, the Mothers (minus Frank Zappa) marched onstage and began to play. First game a solo by Andre Lewis on synthesizer, then Napoleon Murphy Brock took over on sax. The mood was funky as Zappa nonchalantly strolled into the spotlight, stopped to light a cigarette, and shot double peace signs at the cheering crowd.
Along with Lewis, Brock, Roy Estrada on bass, and Terry Bozzio on drums, Zappa launched into the infamous "Stink Foot," much to the delight of the audience. Slightly altered from the album cut, the song featured an extended solo by Zappa. Following this with another crowd pleaser, "Dirty Love," the group set the stage for a typically unusual evening inside Frank Zappa's mind.
Brock commanded the spotlight with his vocal in "How Can I Be Such a Fool," a satirical rhythm and blues song about unrequited love. Dancing around the stage, falling on his knees, and screaming the lyrics, Brock was the epitome of the Mothers' theatrical side.
An instrumental (unnamed as of yet) came next, featuring an almost virtuoso performance by Zappa, who, along with Andre Lewis, soloed again in the following set. Lewis did some excellent clavinet work in this number, but the volume began to bother the audience, many of whom could be seen holding their ears closed.
Bozzio provided a funky backbeat on drums in "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me," another satire on Playboy types and the affairs they try to manipulate. Theatrical and tightly disorganized, the song drew special applause from the audience. This was the Zappa they had come to see.
The crowd sat fascinated through the next two songs, but then, from out of the past, came "Peaches En Regalia." This familiar song from the "Hot Rats" album included solos from just about everyone. Lewis drew special applause with his impressive electric melodica work, but Brock stole the show when he pulled his pants down to reveal a pair of American Flag drawers. Everyone, including Zappa, stopped and watched Bozzio during his powerful drum solo near the end, then the mood turned mellow as Zappa employed special effects in his solo.
The second best song of the evening, entitled "Swallow My Pride," came next with its obvious sexual connotations. Brock did some burning sax work while dancing all over the stage and Estrada, also dancing, provided the driving bass lines necessary for the beat.
Any Zappa concert would be incomplete without some sort of song about drugs and the audience was not disappointed in this respect. Saying that he was tuned into "God itself," Zappa gave the reason as being that "God likes rock and roll a lot better than he likes going to college."After stopping to meditate in mid-song, Zappa allowed Brock to inject some weird chemical into his guitar. Brock then proceeded to inject the chemical into Estrada's forehead. The resulting music and theatrics satirized a drug trip and proved very entertaining.
A long standing ovation followed the group's last number and they came back for one encore. The heavy backbeat and funky vocals of "The Slime" had everyone moving and clapping, ending an interesting evening with the Mothers.
It's hard to adequately describe a Zappa concert because his music does not lend itself to words. But to see him perform is to partially understand his satire. Zappa seems almost to hate the audience and what it represents. He does not play for a crowd, but rather, for himself. The result is often a mass of brilliantly composed noise which is too complex for many listeners to appreciate. In addition to this, the volume levels of this particular concert were oppressive, as evidenced by many people who grimaced in pain during high notes.
The concert was, for the most part, a good look at a curious figure in the music world. The performance was always tight and often humorous. Judging from the crowd's reaction, Frank Zappa is well-liked in the Triangle area, and deservedly so.
1. This article is about the Mothers' concert in Duke University, in Friday, October 17, as it is written under the photos. This article is the first formal source we found describing this concert. The concert was not taped, the exact songlist and who was the opening act are not known.
Another review of this concert is "Zappa in concert—unfulfilled potential", The Chronicle, October 20, 1975.
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