Zappa Gives UCLA Audience The Bird

By L. Roy Goldberg

Daily Trojan, September 25, 1975

Up Against The Wall, Mothers

Frank Zappa hired himself an orchestra for the serious music listeners of Los Angeles. The Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra did what their boss told them to do. What Zappa told them to do was play some of the finest, most innovative concert music written.

The concert at U.C.L.A.’s Royce Hall Thursday [1] began with Zappa’s Bogus Pomp conducted by Michael Zearott. Zappa was at the mixer board, mixing the heavily miked 37-piece orchestra. This piece was similar to other of Zappa’s classical compositions and contained themes from 200 Motels, including the Semi-Fraudulent/Direct from Hollywood Overture and This Town is a Sealed Tuna Sandwich.

Early in Bogus Pomp there is an electric, wah-wah viola solo. Zappa explained before the piece that the rest of the orchestra would musically attack the viola player later in the piece because the viola got the first solo and because the soloist was a woman. [2]

Zappa’s classical music pieces have a place in the discography of modern music alongside of Holst, Varèse, Stravinsky, and others who have influenced and been ripped off by Zappa. It is very different from his rock works.

The next piece, Pedro’s Dowry, is a ballet. Since a stage production of a ballet would have been too expensive, Zappa read us the storyline: A woman waits at the window for her lover. He arrives with an inexpensive guitar. She puts on some more lipstick. The woman mixes him a stimulating drink. An ashtray is overturned in the midst of their heated love-making.

The orchestra not only plays the complex, constantly evolving score, but also performs the added stage directions such as “brass section waves hankies,” “orchestra lights cigarettes during rest,” and “lead violin rips off bow tie, tears open shirt, plays blistering three-note solo, bows, and is presented with flowers by harpist.”

The presentation is very theatrical and much more interesting than the standard orchestral performance which it parodies. This piece was also conducted by Zearott with Zappa at the mixer. Again here, Zappa quoted from past works such as Lumpy Gravy and 200 Motels. Parts of the romance/ballet were acted out by the viola player who flirted with the trombonist. [3] He responded by suggestively pumping his slide back at her. To celebrate the end of the piece, the entire orchestra whipped out noisemakers and streamers. Zappa made them do it.

Next, Zappa conducted a revised version of Music for Low Budget Orchestra. It really was a pleasing sight: Frank Zappa with a pony tail and no shirt conducting a 37-piece orchestra.

One of the cellists, a bearded and balding serious-looking musician, had a solo. He did it standing up, playing his cello as if it was a violin, tucked under his chin. Zappa made him do it. [4]

Zappa finally brought out his guitar for The Puffed Up Son of Rollo, based on a piece of St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast. He played an extended solo while Zearott waved a stick at him. The solo was hot and jazzy and finished with a few loud bars of Wild Thing.

Zappa’s theory of conceptual continuity is the reason themes and songs that may have been written for other albums or people were used again at this concert. Each album and performance contains elements from each other. Ideas and lines of music and lyric appear at different times in his musical career. You could listen to all of Zappa’s records from Freak Out in 1964 to One Size Fits All in 1975 and they would form one smooth, interconnected web.

 Other pieces performed include Naval Aviation In Art, a short and quiet composition, and Dog Meat, a synthesis of Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague and Uncle Meat.

All of this was, by Zappa standards, more or less previously explored territory. The end of the concert, however, was when he went outside and challenged even the hard-core Zappa freaks.

Zappa felt like playing some more guitar so he showed the orchestra a few pedestrian chords to vamp on for his solo. He began a long improvisation that evolved into a rock-orchestral jam. Now to some Zappa is not the hottest guitarist around; he is known mostly for his writing. In this solo he was clean and simple. The dissonant, suspended chords the orchestra was composing on gave Zappa a chance to stretch out. He played both with and without wah-wah and incorporated the sounds of the orchestra better than any other fusion of rock and classical music.

Next began an experimentation which brought to mind the innovative Zappa of Freak Out. He conducted a piece which he said they hadn’t worked out yet. They began it and after a while Zappa waved them to a halt. It wasn’t going quite right. They started and stopped again, three or four times. They were just trying things out in public, feeling it out, while we were able to see the frustrations in Zappa’s movements. It was like being in on a rehearsal or the creation of a new piece of music. Here Zappa was publicly exploiting an opportunity to conduct an orchestra through its changes. It wasn’t very structured or well rehearsed – just raw, new, avante-garde music.

The improvisation showed off the talents of Tommy Morgan on harmonica, an innovation for symphony orchestra to be expected when you’re dealing with Frank Zappa. The harmonica was also heard on an interesting arrangement of Duke of Prunes and the Steno Pool section from Greggery Peccary. Morgan's playing fit right into the scheme of the evening.

One of the tunes near the end of the evening had the first section arranged and the rest improvised under the baton of Zappa. His conducting is very much like his guitar playing: angular and sharp. When Zappa jabbed his upraised middle finger at the orchestra, they blared a single note. He then turned and gave the audience the finger and we all screamed in unison. He began to mix his conducting of the audience with the orchestra. A finger that spiraled down told us to scream lower and lower. He pointed to different sections of the audience, then the orchestra. He shoveled handfuls of the audience sounds into the orchestra and back again, mixing the musical screams with human ones. Without any instruction, we knew what he wanted and contributed to the piece.

And then there was the finale. It was the Strictly Genteel underture from 200 Motels. The tune swelled and built and hardened until the musicians jumped up with their instruments and began parading into the audience. The crowd was on their feet, screaming and stomping. The orchestra slowly took their places again as Zappa introduced the Mystery Horn Player (I couldn’t hear his name over the screaming) [5]. The man made a screeching, honking, wailing solo until Zappa led him offstage to close the concert.

In an interview on KTLA’s Calendar the Sunday before the concert, Zappa explained why this concert was taking place. He said that while the Mothers were on a European tour, some disc jockey in Philadelphia cut Zappa’s Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow down to single length. The tune began getting airplay and turned into a modest hit. Zappa decided to put the unexpected revenue from this hit into a concert for the serious music listeners in Los Angeles. He emphasized both on the TV show and before the concert that this was not going to be a rock concert. He hired the orchestra, paid for the rehearsals, got one of the finest halls in this area, a great sound system, and lighting people, all for us. A true feast for Zappa freaks.

1. Frank Zappa and The Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Orchestra performed twice, on September 17 and 18, 1975. This article is on the second concert, Thursday, September 18. (1975 09 18 Royce Hall UCLA, Los Angeles CA 121.54 Aud 2nd (Yojimbo-flambay) ZTLS#335 ). Another very good source on this concert is Bill Lantz' site.

2. Pamela Goldsmith.

3. Pamela Goldsmith and Bruce Fowler.

4. Jerry Kessler.

5. The Mystery Horn player was Captain Beefheart.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)