Frank Zappa / Wembley

By Charles Shaar Murray

New Musical Express, 22 September 1973

FRANCIS VINCENT ZAPPA came to Wembley, played a two-hour set to a near-capacity audience, went down a storm and did two encores.

The music ranged from the exhilarating to the actively annoying, with a little tedium here and there just to enliven matters.

His programme was mainly instrumental, practically continuous and comprised principally totally new material.

He prefaced the performance with a short rap to the effect that “in accordance with our long established policy that ‘the hits just keep on comin’ atcha’ we will be presenting material that you have not heard before (loud applause). However, in the latter half of the programme we will be referring back to the first half. In fact, we’ll leitmotif our fukin’ brains out up here.”

He then introduced the band and simultaneously sound-tested each instrument by having each member of the band play a short lick as his name was called off.

Everything worked instantly except Zappa’s own guitar.

For the record, the ensemble consisted of Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Ian Underwood (flute, alto saxophone and synthesizer), George Duke (keyboards, synthesizer and vocals), Ruth Underwood (vibes, marimba and assorted percussion), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Tom Fowler (bass) and Ralph Humphrey (drums and cowbells).

Despite the fact that all the musicians present had played on the Mothers’ new “Over-Nite Sensation” album, none of its songs were featured, which was a personal disappointment since I think “Over-Nite Sensation” is perhaps Zappa’s best work since “Hot Rats”.

The only familiar stuff we heard was “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue”, a medley of themes from “Uncle Meat,” “The Dog Breath Variations” and the encores of “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” “Chunga’s Revenge” and “Son Of Mr. Green Genes.”

The already notorious “Penguin In Bondage” raised some applause when announced, but since Zappa’s vocal was less than crystal-clear, it emerged as basically a blues distinguished only by the solo work.

Indeed, the most enjoyable passages in the show came when one of the soloists (Ponty, Duke, Underwood or Zappa himself) was blowing against a relatively uncomplicated structure.

Anyway, it was fun to watch ol’ Frank doing his conducting bit, and nice to see him jumping up and down to cue in the numbers, not to mention playing some truly exceptional guitar. But what he was playing was a bit much for a simple soul like me to absorb at one throw.

One member of the audience compared the show to being “bludgeoned into catatonia”, while another just thought it was “horrible.”

Me, I dug about half of it. Still, that’s ol’ Frank for you. I just wish he could find a happy medium between the Flo ‘n’ Eddie slapstick stage and what he’s doing now.


Note. The concert was in 14 September. According to the FZShows the taped set includes: soundcheck intro, T'Mershi Duween, Be-Bop Tango (q: Holiday In Berlin), Cosmik Debris, Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue, Kung Fu, Penguin In Bondage, Dog Meat, RDNZL, Inca Roads, Echidna's Arf, Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?, Be-Bop Tango Reprise, T'Mershi Duween reprise, impovisations, Dupree's Paradise (q: Holiday In Berlin, T'Mershi Duween, incl. Nowhere riff), Brown Shoes Don't Make It (q: Sweet Leilani), Chunga's Revenge, Mr Green Genes