'Mothers to modern' – Zappa concert revives old, reveals new

By Joe Tougas

MSU Reporter, August 15, 1984

If Frank Zappa intended on recruiting new fans to his camp by way of his band's performance at Northrup last Wednesday [1], he'd probably have rushed out and printed up more tour T-shirts.

On the other hand, it the intent was to give fans with a background of Zappa savvy a chance to hear – at a fiendishly impolite volume – a vehicle of songs riding from 1967's Freak Out to a yet-to-be released double-album set, it was a success.

Climbing the Northrup’s stairs to the third floor during the band's opening number was, in essence, right up there with the decision to enter the dark innards of a banging, clanging house of horrors at the neighborhood carnival – hot summer night and all.

Even the ushers appeared apprehensive as to the sound coming from the speakers and filling every air molecule in the place with electric insolence.

Settling in our seats, we gazed at the source. Standing under the bright spotlight at center stage, humbly decked in baggy black pants, blue muscle shirt and white high-tops, stood Zappa. His body as stiff as a statue, while his hands disciplined the living hell out of a Fender Stratocaster. The tune was "Heavy Duty Judy," a guitar composition from the Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar album set.

It was one of at least 10 lengthy guitar solos of the night, – by far the brightest spots of the show. If Jimi Hendrix painted portraits with his guitar, Zappa opened a museum Wednesday night, with each piece created and signed especially for the audience.

As is typical of Zappa concerts, the performance was in the mode of one song, that is, there was no space between numbers. As one would end, the six tightknit musicians behind him would sling right into another.

The range of vocal numbers went from toetappers ("Joe's Garage") to fifties odes ("Sharleena") and to narratives with hard rock backing like "Dumb All Over," a rock and roll essay on the link between violent societies and televised religion:

"Whoever we are, wherever we're from/
We should have noticed by now/
Our behavior is dumb/
And if our chances expect to improve/
It's gonna take a lot more than tryin to remove/
the other race, or the other whatever/
from the face of the planet altogether ...

Later in the song, "humble TV servants with humble white hair and a nice brown suit and maybe a blonde wife who takes phone calls" catch the blame for implementing violent solutions in the name of religion.

Lighter shots were taken at Minnesota's favorite son, Prince, as well as the popularity of Boy George, as the band interrupted "Tinsel Town Rebellion" to dance in circles while singing "I'll Tumble 4 Ya."

Zappa's ability to offend is still alive. My date, in fact, voiced disapproval of sexist overtones in songs like "Baby Dont'cha Want a Man Like Me?" during which a large Raggedy Anne doll was dragged and twisted by the hair during lyrics like:

"She was the lonely sort/
just a little too short/
Her jokes were dumb/
and her favorite sport was hockey in the winter.

Offerings from the new album, "Them and Us," were strong, but an unbalanced sound system distorted the intricacies one looks forward to, and left uninitiated members of the crowd wondering what was being said and sung.

Called back for two encores, Zappa closed the night with a dynamic version of The Allman Brothers' "Tied to the Whipping Post," a standard concert-ender that Zappa and his band executed flawlessly and straight-faced.

At 44, Zappa's energy and impromptu imagination on stage put new life into songs that could seemingly accept no more.

In a phone interview Saturday night, Zappa confirmed that "Them or Us" will be released in September, and that re-mixed editions of early Mothers of Invention records will be available in boxed sets of seven albums, by mail order only, from Barking Pumpkin Records.

If you're looking for a breath of fresh air in a musical genre epitomized by Quiet Riot, grab a Zappa album, brace yourself, and enjoy.

1. Concert in August 8 at Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN. The band was FZ, Ike Willis, Ray White, Scott Thunes, Chad Wackerman, Allan Zavod, Bobby Martin. The setlist was Heavy Duty Judy, Joe's Garage, Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?, Tinsel Town Rebellion, Trouble Every Day, Penguin In Bondage, Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel, Dumb All Over, Cocaine Decisions, Nig Biz, Outside Now, Be In My Video, Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me?, Carol You Fool, Chana In De Bushwop, Let's Move To Cleveland, Dinah-Moe Humm, Cosmik Debris, Sharleena, Whipping Post. (FZshows)