Zappa saves his show from shambles

By Judy Sims

Disc and Music Echo, May 30, 1970

FRANK ZAPPA and his Mothers joined with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zubin Mehta at UCLA’s enormous Pauley Pavillon (sold out, 10,000 people). The first half of the programme was an embarrassing shambles, saved from disaster by Zappa himself.

It seems that the orchestra’s first number was a composition for electronic tape and orchestra by Mel Powell. Fine and good. Midway through the first few bars, a voice came from the audience. “Zubin, Zubin, ZUBIN,” Zubin stopped the orchestra and turned round.

“Can you hear me, Zubin?” asked the voice.

“Yes, I can hear you. Say something.”

“The tape isn’t working, Zubin.”

There were a few more minutes and words, after which Zubin shrugged his shoulders and dismissed the orchestra, which tramped off stage helter-skelter. That number would have to wait until someone could figure out how to make the tape work …

This debacle was followed by an ensemble doing an Edgard Varese piece, followed by Zappa and the Mothers, who loped on their stage (which was above and behind the orchestra stage), looking as unkempt and weird as ever.

The Mothers then did THEIR version of the Varese piece, but first Frank did a long monologue about the unhappy vicissitudes of teenage life in America that was priceless. He is the consummate master of parodic descriptions, especially as they relate to “teenagers.”

He even did a brief take-off on Jim Morrison’s famous soliloquy from “The End,” all about the teenager walking on down the hall to the room where his mother lived (pulling plastic goo on her face) and then walking on down the hall to the room where his father lived (indulging himself in an erotic adventure with Playboy magazine).

Zappa managed to poke fun at himself, the audience, and life in America in general, by simply reminding us that there is humour everywhere if we care to look for it.

It was just the reminder we needed, since we were all dutifully reverent about being in the presence of a real orchestra, for heaven’s sake, all the teenagers sitting quietly and no one jumping up and down because, well, it wasn’t just another rock concert, you know.

The second part of the show was devoted to Frank’s composition called “200 Motels,” so named because it was written in fragments during two years of touring. The Mothers and the orchestra traded off, rarely performing together, and the first part was slow and dull. Toward the end it got considerably livelier, until it ended with a huge whomp and a standing ovation.

Then came the best part of the show – the two encores. The first encore featured a few of the musicians from the orchestra who climbed “upstairs” to jam with the Mothers, whereupon the cello player stole the show (he sat to one side and just sawed away, brilliantly).

The jam was followed by dancing in the aisles (but not rushing the stage) and one more encore, which was all for the Mothers (they did “Plastic People”).

The concert wasn’t recorded, unfortunately, but I understand that Frank and the group will be performing the same programme soon in Amsterdam, which probably will be recorded.