The Mothers Are Something to See

By Charles Champlin

Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1966

Maybe because school has resumed, the Sunset Strip seems marginally less a-crawl with young pedestrians these nights. Indoors, the pandemonium dial appears to have been eased back a notch or two from Flat Out.

Indeed, at Whisky a Go-Go, where last week a quartet called The Factory and a septet called The Mothers of Invention were in residence, still another socio-musical phenomenon was observable.

The goodly crowd ceased its madcap dancing when The Mothers took the stand. As their elders used to in the swing era, the audience crowded the dance-floor, but only to stand and watch and listen.

Much to See

There is much to watch: leader Frank Zappa of the goatee and long, lank hair and dressed in what seemed to be bib overalls cut from flowered chintz curtains; one of the two drummers in a flowered dress shirt and a top hat. Your normal group attire, in other words.

There is also much to listen to Zappa, a largely self-taught but thoughtful musician, has come up with that rare thing, a distinctive group sound. The mix last week was three guitars, piano, two percussionists and blues vocalist Ray Collins, a veteran of the blues scene. Zappa does all the music, lyrics and arrangements and for some appearances has backed the basic group with a dozen strings.

He makes very interesting use of sudden shifts in rhythm and dynamics, working as a conductor in a way that is rare among the groups. Zappa's use of tympani in addition to and usually in preference to standard drums makes for richer and more complex effects than is the norm.

Instead of the usual start-stop succession of tunes, Zappa weaves them into single, continuous works that are somehow more complex than straight medleys.

Light Use

The Mothers are also a "light show," rather limited in the confines of the GoGo. But an ingenious lightman, using an opaque projector and some glass plates of viscous, colored liquids throws what look like tissue slides on a large screen. These move, pulsating in time with the sound. The effect is intriguing, and not as horrifying as it might seem.

The songs, like "Plastic People," have flashes of biting wit and the effect overall is in fact of considerable invention. As a matter of fact, the thundering crescendos associated with the light shows and the familiar note of protest seem less interesting than the straight musical innovations.

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