Town Hall Rocks To A Zany Group

By Robert Shelton

The New York Times, December 23, 1967

Mothers of Invention Also Offer Serious Music

What began as the equivalent of an underground office party at Town Hall last night [1] soon developed into both a very serious and experimental new-form concert, an equally irrevelent and satirical musical evening.

On stage was a nine-member pop-classical-rock-chamber orchestra called the Mothers of Invention. The Mother Superior, Frank Zappa, is a sort of compositional wizard turned zany who suggests a mix between Stravinsky and Groucho Marx, with a touch of Rasputin thrown in for flavor.

The Mothers of Invention made their debut a year ago here at the Balloon farm, known to new generations as the Electric Circus. The orchestra appeared later at the Garrick and has completed two record albums and a tour of Europe in this busy year. Each “act” in this series must be considered separately, for the Mothers and their tour guide, Mr. Zappa, are if anything, spontaneous, eruptive, auto-propulsive creators who must be judged anew each time out.

What resulted at Town Hall was some wild burlesque, a bit of carnival, a touch of Edgard Varèse, some improvisation that made the Beatles sound conservative, and some pop burlesques that made one challenge the whole pop movement. It was splendid to this listener, and apparently to the 1,000 of super-hip listeners who turned out in mod splendor.

The first half-hour of the program was totally improvisational nonsense brought about by a dispute about setting-up time, because the Mothers, with so much electronic equipment (and so much built-in anti-uptown hostility) were only afforded a brief time to arrange their complicated equipment.

They let the curtain go up for the rest, and brought in a juggler, contortionist, clown and a supplementary music trio for this inspired bit of dada madness that worked as well as any concert opener. The audience roared its acceptance of the whole improbable scene.

This “mangled media” episode yielded to a 35-minute work by Mr. Zappa, “King Kong,” which had its premiere at Royal Albert Hall in London earlier this year. Using concepts from modernist classical composers, plus the exciting guitar, alto sax and clarinet, the work built fluid walls of sound and sinuous canalways to Mr. Zappa’s inventive mind. Some sort of an ultimate fusion of modern music was there. This adventuresome work that commands further hearing.

After intermission, it was the satire hour, with nearly every cliché of pop music being torn asunder. Mr. Zappa and his men are as brilliant at destruction as they are at creativity. Their concert tonight can be announced only vaguely as being along the same general lines.

1. The Mothers of Invention had two concerts at Town Hall, NYC, December 22 and 23. The concerts are listed in Zappa Gig List, but no tapes are circulating.

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