Zappa And The Horse

By Allan Eastman

The Manitoban, July 14, 1971

It is Thursday[1] and a high blue prairie sky hangs over us, a harbinger of good things to come. We walk towards the Arena, a squat and formidable monument to 'practical' architecture, across the black and dead asphalt territory of brave new world. We are going to a rock concert, an evening of life to distract ourselve's from the hurried classrooms of summer and the death of life in the wasteland. It should be a great show, we think hopefully. Zappa. At last we get to see the insane impresario of rock. A man with a Ph.D. in music whose defecatory prowess has graced a million bathrooms. With him, his group – The Mothers of Invention: musical prodigies united under Zappa's zany leadership. We've heard the records and know that he is weird and good but to see him in concert is bound to be something else totally again. My friend remarks that it never ceases to amaze him that Frank Zappa's real name is Frank Zappa. I murmur in agreement and pass him a smoke. What a show! The other act is Crazy Horse, a group that kicked around San Francisco for years, then catapulted to fame as Neil Young's superbly competent backing group. They helped ol' Neil to be a super star. It should be great.

We moved in through the side doors in the company of North America's children. They are longhaired and arrayed like a renaissance fait crowd-leather and brightly coloured flowing garments. It is like a pageant, knights and their ladies at an outing. They are expectant. We all move off towards our places.

The Arena is cavernous and already filling with smoke. It is a small crowd, maybe four thousand and the far off shouts ring hollow and wispy, like the cry of ring wraithes. Our seats are up front, below the stage. Already Crazy Horse's roadies are setting up the equipment for their act. There are two banks of eight or nine amplifiers to each side of the stage. People are mad at the promoter because the amps obscure the stage from the side. There is not much time left – time to get a drink, or get a few words in with friends not often seen, but it is soon. Back to the seats. We are starting to get off as the lights go out and there are shadowy movements on the stage.

( Crazy Horse's part. Omitted. )

Intermission. Weiner [Frank Weiner, the promoter] walks on to stage to make an announcement but he is booed off before he can get a word out. People wander around talking and smoking. Crazy Horse has done it's job. The crowd is warmed up and expectant, waiting for Zappa. They are back in their seats soon and waiting.

Again, the lights dim, out walks Zappa and the mothers. They are as freaky as we expected. Zappa, the supreme leader, looking like a shaggy wolf plugs in. The two singers, one outrageously fat, the other tye-died and grey haired, two rejects from the bubble gum world of the Turtles, prancing around and making obscene movements. The drummer is slick with shoulder length hair and fast wrists. Behind, Ian Underwood, a child prodigy, skinny, stripped to the waist, barricaded behind a double tier of electric pianos. The organ player, chubby, with a blank and stoned look on his face that never changes throughout the show. Finally, the straightest looking cat you ever saw in a rock band, strapped into his bass.

The band starts playing "Call Any Vegetable", a classic on how those alienated from their friends and loved ones can find true meaning by developing a full relationship with a vegetable. It is a typical piece of Zappa chicanery, a composite put-on which blends every genre of past 1955 popular music with snatches of classical, big band and other musical themes. The singers are incredible, their voices soaring up into the upper register and down to the bass. Zappa directs the band like a symphony conductor leading the voices and instruments through their paces with a jabbing middle finger. He goes to his guitar and rips off a heavy, acidy solo in wah-wah. It is all so very tight. The music scales down to a background and the singers execute motown choreography singing shoop-shoop as Zappa goes off on a long discourse about how vegetables should be your buddies. . . "grooving together, maintaining your cool together and worshipping together in the church of your choice. . . only in Manitoba". The song ends with Frank suggesting that the vegetable kingdom may even be right here in Manitoba.

Without stopping, the group goes right into "Studebaker Hawk", a heart warming song before a disgruntled and mean cop who becomes a flying super hero when he pours Aunt Jemima syrup all over his crotch and traps all the flies of New York in his B.V.D. shorts and is lifted into the sky by fly power. The song is punctuated by dialogue from "Return of the Fly" and each of the musicians goes off on an extended solo.

This was followed by a golden goodie love song, 50's style, called "That's when the tears began to fall". It is more of the same incredible Zappa. His precision in putting down every type of music at the same time as he is playing so well is almost mathematical. The crowd is up on their feet and jumping around. The sound sweeps back from the decked amps and flattens everyone. You can only lovingly submit.

Into KING KONG, an instrumental. The high point of the piece is the famed Zappa freakout when all the instruments build into a riotous cacophony of sound – a fire at the zoo – and the group goes nuts. Zappa is on the floor, flat on his back with his feet in the air kicking. Underwood is jumping around on his pianos like an ape, beating them with a bone. The others are moving like spastics caught in an earthquake. Everyone in the Arena is yelling except for the cops who cover their ears and grimace.

It finally quiets down and the singers are into a riff about groupies. The fat one is the girl who will do it if the other will sing his hit record. Howie squirms because Zappa has never had a hit single. He is getting very horny with all her enticements. . . "Wanna do it in the trunk of my Gremlin?" It goes on for a long time, incredibly funny, until Howie can't stand it any longer and he attacks her. The band breaks into "Happy Together", the Turtle's big hit and everyone is up, singing and clapping. It goes on and on and stops on a monster major chord. They run from the stage. The crowd roars for more and after a minute the group is back. They do a short version of "America drinks and goes home" and then they are gone for good. The lights come up and four thousand people sit stunned in their seats for awhile, unable to move.

Finally, the crowd straggles out, urged on by the rent-a-cops. Everyone is saying that it's the best show they've seen since The Band, the Dead, Mountain, et al, were here. They're right, of course. It was the best show Winnipeg will see for a long time. Blair sums it all up through the eyes of a child. . . "God, Zappa is more stoned than the rest of the world is straight". Yeah!!

1. Thursday, July 8, 1971. Zappa's concert at the Arena, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. No tape of this concert is circulating and exact setlist is not known. According to this review the setlist was: Call Any Vegetable, Billy The Mountain, Tears Began To Fall, King Kong, Do You Like My New Car? (incl. The Groupie Routine), Happy Together, America Drinks. The band was FZ, Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Jim Pons, Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar, Bob Harris (#1).

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