Concert review : Mothers Of Invention

By Joseph Fernbacher

The Spectrum, May 7, 1969

A sweating body of students sat through the first lecture of a new science course Friday night in Clark Gym. The visiting professor was Frank Zappa – accompanied by his nine mothers. The course was electronic sociology – Prerequisite: a basic knowledge of the musical "meat" of such tunes as "Earth Angel" and "Louie, Louie."

With all the subtlety of U Thant picking his nose and anal passage at the same time, the Mothers of Invention taught an over-appreciative audience just what type of musical crap they really "dig." They did this by playing some of the most progressive and engrossing "modern" music which fell somewhere between the John Cage and Bill Haley and the Comets idiom.

Kicking off the evening were a pair of aspiring young singers called "Tom and Jerry." A few of their songs have been aired locally: Sounds of Silence, At the Zoo, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and most recent release "The Boxer." They seemed best suited for the folk idiom. Yet their obvious struggling with several early Everly Brothers' tunes and a sloppy version of "Earth Angel" enhanced the evening before Professor Zappa and his entourage of United Mutations made themselves noticeable to the audience.

Actually this group was none other than those fantastic leaders of the folk world, Simon and Garfunkel. They just happened to be in the area at the time and decided to visit Dada Frank and Company. To say that one's mind almost stammers at the sight of lanky Art Garfunkel and pudgy Paul Simon weaving their way between Frank Zappa and his music is an obvious understatement.

After doing a set Simon and Garfunkel gracefully left the stage to the Mothers of Invention.

Uncle Meat

The Mothers began with a heavy piece taken from their latest lp entitled "Uncle Meat" – so is their new lp. Catching a lot of the audience by surprise, the Mothers let loose with one of the most amazing musical performances I have ever seen.

The combined talent of Frank Zappa on lead guitar and the nine other Mothers, whose musical talents encompassed all of the woodwind instruments; the electric organ and piano; a remix machine; wa-wa pedals; xylophone; tamborine and Chinese Gong, led to a sizzling display of musical daring rarely seen in rock concerts these days. Unlike most concerts in which a group is set up on a stage with amplifier banks set on full volume and let loose to do what they will, the Mothers had a method to their madness.


This was Frank Zappa. His ability as a band leader could be the subject of a textbook. His music comes from a mind steeped in all forms. It is taken from his mind and thrown out through his guitar and body.

He whips his band into whatever shape he wants it, reshapes what he gets, and starts all over again. Zappa is a taskmaster and this is what the Mothers of Invention are all about.

All eyes are on Zappa as he is giving his non-verbal commands. Laying down beat changes that would drive an ordinary band up the wall, he demands his band to change from a 2/4 up to a Hemi-Demi-Semi-Quaver at a 64 and back again in the span of a few seconds. His ability also shows through when he manipulates the volume of the group in order that all he has to say is heard by all.

Playing the meat of the Mothers, Zappa displayed his talent at taking hold of an audience by the throat and keeping it in a death grip.

One of the Mothers' best songs, "Hungry Freaks Daddy," displays Zappa's social commentary. It is a song that tells of American youth and just where its at and [has] been:

"Mr. America walk in by,
Your minds they do not reach.
Mr. America wait on by,
Your schools they do not teach,
Mr. America try to hide,
The emptiness that's you inside...

Underlying this is the fantastic work of an extremely tight horn section and the mean guitar work of Zappa himself.

King Kong

In one of the best sections of the entire evening, the Mothers did their version of that American classic, "King Kong."

"This is the story of a gorilla. A big gorilla. He was living on this little island doing what gorillas do. Some Americans heard of him, got up an expedition, caught him, put him on a boat and brought him back to the States. While here he escaped. Grabbed a chick from a window and all that. In the end the Americans do what they always do to something they make money off of – they killed it..." So explained Zappa in his foreword to this 30-minute jam.

The jam included a sax solo that was astonishing – astonishing in that it was the first time I had ever seen a sax hooked up to a wa-wa pedal. As a matter of fact their entire horn section was amplified, yet it was controlled amplification.

After "King Kong" they slipped into another social commentary on the news media and its coverage of the racial tensions in Watts. The song was entitled, "Trouble Every Day" and it was the best put down of the news media I have ever heard. An outstanding segment of this song was a harmonica solo much in the style of old blues man Sonny Boy Williamson.

Heavy 50's

Taking the audience on a musical journey into their pasts, the Mothers then commenced to lay on some heavy, heavy '50s stuff.

They started with a typical song about a teen who falls in love with this chick named Valerie, loses her, goes out and gets lonely and desperate and wants like hell to get into Valerie's pants and can't. The song came complete with swaying horn section and enthusiastic guitar solo by Zappa. It ended with the pre-pubic teenager saying in a semi-husky voice, "Valerie – you pig."

After picking myself off the floor, the Mothers brought back Tom and Jerry, who did some more Everly Brothers' tunes and wandered about the stage looking lost. They did do a stirring rendition of "Sounds of Silence," circa 1950, complete with shu-bops and dong-dongs, and "Oh, baby let's do it once in silence."

Obviously tired and sweaty, the Mothers wanted to split. The audience didn't like this. So Zappa put us into a bind. If we clapped and jumped up and down, we made asses out of ourselves and if we didn't do anything, they would leave.

So we made asses out of ourselves. Zappa came back, but was obviously angered.

He directed his Mothers into a song which, without much of the audience's knowledge, completely cut down the people who had clapped and jumped. During the song, which was all about plastic people with plastic balls, Zappa inserted a line which said in effect that if you thought this song was bout someone else, you were wrong – it was about you.

To display his utter contempt for us, he did an old time favorite, "Louie, Louie." Stepping up to the mike, Zappa said: "O.K. boys girls, now we are going to give you the "meat" of this song." The meat is a constant repetition of three banal chords. "We are going to give you it as loud and as long as you want it." This he did. The majority of the audience, not knowing they were being insulted, loved it.

After this the audience became totally obnoxious. They didn't want the Mothers to leave. The stamped, clapped and yelled. Zappa again walked to the mike and said: "You know last year we were in Berlin and you act just like they did. I didn't think it could happen here."

I have never been told to go screw myself more subtly in my life.