Music like mothers used to make

By Carlos Cardona

Argus, November 17, 1972

For the past eight years Frank Zappa and the various versions of the Mothers of Invention have been a leading innovative and experimental force in the world of music. Not to be confined by the narrow definition of rock music, Zappa has experimented with many other areas and styles of music. Using dissonance, polytonal and polyrhythmic techniques, more common to both jazz and modern classical music, Uncle Frank has extended the ranges of modem rock in a search for new musical expressions.

Zappa and the Mothers have even made successful entrier in the fields of absurd comedy and film. The dialogues of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, and the lyrics they and others have sung, are more like e.e. cummings’ poetry than most rock fans are used to. Their film 200 Motels is not only the most technically advanced feature film done in video to this date, but also one of the funniest and spaced-out absurdities ever seen.

With the recent breakup of the Mothers into separate musical factions came reports of a new band that Zappa was organizing. This was to be almost an orchestra, a 30-piece band using brass and woodwinds, flutes and various percussion instruments, cellos, guitars, and even a mini-Moog. They were slated for concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and the Felt Forum in New York, with Tim Buckley opening the show.

On September 23, the first appearance by the new band on the east coast, a cozy New York crowd of 4,000 was treated to one of the musical events of the year. [1]

Sporting a cast on his leg, the result of an encounter with an angry beau of a Zappaphile at the last Mothers concert, he conducted a tour of a musical area unknown to all except jazz and modern classical buffs. Zappa has broken from the tenets of stylized rock and is taking a small group of people with him into an ever-deepening exploration of other musical worlds. It’ll be a small group, unfortunately, because this music may not be commercially very successful for years to come, if ever. With the increasing interest in new musical styles, however, Zappa could be a major introductory force for many into more basic and less limited forms.

Last Saturday night at Constitution Hall Frank and Co. made their Washington debut. [2] My expectations were quite high for this concert, and personally I was somewhat disappointed with what resulted.

As expected, Tim Buckley opened the show, and as usual, he was terrible. If Buckley wasn’t stuck on this tour by a record company, then perhaps he was picked by Zappa to illustrate to his audiences the current decadence of rock and roll. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard such foul, ugly, smotheringly loud and oppressive music in my life, not even from Grand Funk. Of course the majority of music-starved Washington rock fans really “got into it.“ Like getting into vomit.

There were two major disappointments during Zappa’s performance: the size of the band and the singing. It takes a lot of money to tour with a 30-piece orchestra, and so he cut the big band by two-thirds. Ten musicians climbed onstage and tried to approximate a big-band sound.

Only occasionally did the music reach the glory of the New York concert. After the complete absence of vocals in the earlier concert, the crude entry of Zappa’s lousy voice and some of his earlier song was a rude surprise.

Occasionally throughout the evening, and particularly during an improvisational number, the crowd did get a taste of a different pudding. When Zappa wasn’t singing (and he only sang a couple of songs), his rock and roll was some of the best to be heard around these parts.

Despite the economic realities of the professional music business, Zappa managed to spread a little good culture. Our only hope is that Washington can generate enough support to get the whole cake and not just a slice.

1. Grand Wazoo concert in September 23, 1972. The setlist: intro, Lohengrin, Think It Over, Approximate (with audience participation), Dog Meat, Big Swifty (q: It Ain't Necessarily So), Penis Dimension, Variant Processional March. (FZShows)

2. Petit Wazoo had two concerts in November 11, 1972. It is not clear which concert is discussed here. Both setlists are at FZShows.