I just wanna be an all-round entertainer
Frank Zappa. Hammersmith Odeon

By Charles Shaar Murray

New Musical Express, 4 February 1978

"Frank Zappa is the leader and musical director of the Mothers of Invention. His performances in person with the group are rare. His personality is so repellant that it's best he stay away... for the sake of impressionable young minds who might not be prepared to cope with him. When he does show up he performs on the guitar. Sometimes he sings. Sometimes he talks to the audience. Sometimes there is trouble... " – Extract from liner note to "Freak Out" by The Mothers Of Inventions, 1966.

FRANK ZAPPA used to be the outside edge of weird – sometimes he was even as weird as he pretended to be – and even now, as he steps out in front of his all-new, all-young and mostly-pretty band at the Hammersmith Odeon, his appearance indicates that there's something about him which is not ... quite ... normal.

Consider: here's a guy with shoulder-lenght hair, but it's greasy and matted and generally horrible, falling around a meat-cleaver nose resting on a Groucho 'tache in face that's a living definition of "sallow". He's wearing a black'n'white striped rugby shirt, baggy ice-blow jeans and brown platform shoes. He's such a misfit that you'd rather take Sid Vicious home to have tea with your mum.

At last Sid looks ... well, normal.

Zappa pacing the front of the stage singing into a handmike – and for him that's definitely not normal, but then he slings his guitar over his shoulder and gets stuck into "Peaches En Regalia", which is. But then he takes the guitar off, removes the rugby shirt, ties his hair back and returns to the front of the stage to leer his way through "The Torture Never Stops".

It's a real nostalgibuzz to think of Frank having a "repellent personality", though. The man who used to threaten the world with dangerous ideas, bizarre, ugly music, a carload of screaming mutants, brutal saxophones, odd aleatory noises and psychotic conversations is now friendly, pleasant, entertaining and eager to please. Nowadays, Frank Zappa is about as offensive and evil as Eddie And The Hot Rods.

Where once he trained his satiric cannons on such targets as the U.S. military-industrial complex, concentration camps and the hippie hoax (and please remember that Frank Zappa was firing nerve-gas pellets onto Haight-Ashbury at a time when the rest of the world was still singing along with "All You Need Is Love", so don't call him a hippie unless you want a Nargument), he is now content to spend several minutes (about 15, to be precise) demolishing Peter Frampton with a long rap (delivered from a stool at the front of the stage) and a song entitled "I Have Been In You", which is in the grand tradition of Zappa jibes at anyone who is more attractive to pubescent girls then he is.

He used to take the piss out of Jim Morrison back in '68, but that's another matter.

It was a far cry from Wembley a few years ago, when FZ played two hours of straight jazz (well, as "straight" as anything he ever does) with an encore of "Who Are The Brain Police?" to keep the natives from outright mutiny. This time around, Frank's into Entertainment, and it's very good Entertainment. I mean, I was Entertained. Didn't get bored or nothin' laughed at the jokes, tapped me foot to the music, didn't even look at me watch but once or twice during the whole thing.

Due to FZ's invidious position record-wise, large particles of the set consisted of material written since his last album "Zoot Allures", which came out in '76, but therefore not released and thus unfamiliar to the audience at large.

Such new delights included "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" and "I Wanna Be Dead", both sung by drummer Terry Bozzio – also the subject of the whole "Punky's Whips" megajoke described by suave young Paul Rambali in his Zappa feature last week – which I presume are some sort of Frankish comment on The Entire Phenomenon Of (Ahem) Punk Rock.

The songs would imply that FZ has a greater understanding of punk rock than the safety-pin jokes during the "I Have Been You" monologue would have implied.

Frank's avuncular jollity even extended as far as bringing up members of audience to dance on stage (Jesus popped up – natch – and was only induced to leave the stage with the greatest reluctance). The result of all this was that he performed most of his encore with a girl named Gloria wrapped around him. He sang "Camarillo Brillo" from the floor with Gloria's hand down his pants, but a good time was had by all.

The band were better than okay, even though the sound was on the weedy side – in fact, the only instrument on the stage that was decently miked and sounded okay was Zappa's own guitar.

Bearing in mind the vagaries of the P.A. system, Zappa sounded as if he was announcing Adrian Belew (guitar and Bob Dylan impressions), Patrick [O'Hearn] (bass), Terry Bozzio (drums, shades, vocals and jock-strap), Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf (keyboards) and Ed Mann (percussion, marimbas, vibraphone and assorted etceteras). They all sound like fine lads who'll do very well with their own bands.

In short, fine entertainment from one of the great all-round entertainers of our time.

Frank Zappa is the leader and musical director of Frank Zappa. His performances in person with the group are the only reason anbody shows up ... for the sake of the wonderful kids who respond so warmly to Frank's warm and wonderful personality.

When he does show up he performs on the guitar. Sometimes he sings. Sometimes he talks to the audience. Sometimes he sits on a stool smoking cigarettes and tapping his foot while the band perform. There is never any trouble ...

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