A Bizarre Night At The Shrine

By Pete Senoff

Open City, December 15, 1968

BIZARRE: Odd, extravagant; involving sensational contrasts or striking incongruities.

That's how Webster defines the word.

Last weekend, Frank Zappa and his Bizarre Productions defined it visually ... quite visually ... in a two night Shrine Hall engagement. [1]

Sharing the bill with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was the rest of the talent from the Bizarre stable including Ethiopia [2], Wild Man Fisher, Alice Cooper, the GTO's and Ruben and the Jets.

Ethiopia, which came out first, displayed more talent than the next three succeeding attractions. It's a four-man group from Seattle which specializes in rich, clear, slow-tempo harmonies [much like H. P. Lovecraft].

Although nobody stood out as a soloist, the band is quite tight instrumentally. The lead vocalist bears a striking resemblance to Jerome Ragni of the musical "Hair" and, unfortunately, uses this to good advantage as his face and body run the gamut of the clichéd guitar-playing movements.

Wild Man Fisher seems to be Bizarre's answer to the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Only worse! He gallops on stage, screams, grunts, jumps up and down and sings his original tunes - stuff like "Merry-Go-Round" ["Merry Go-Round, Merry-Go-Round ... boop, boop, boop, boop. Merry-Go-Round, Merry-Go-Round ... here we go up and down ... boop, boop, boop."]

Other tunes by Ole Legendary include "Some People' Think I'm Crazy," "The Free Press" and his magnum opus which is called "The Story of Wild Man Fisher" which is reportedly autobiographical and recounts the details of how his mother had him committed twice to some of the grimmer mental institutions.

A reviewer in "Rolling Stone" recently commented that Blue Cheer would be a better group if it added a couple of extra members.

If that writer would like to hear what such an augmented Blue Cheer would sound like, he should catch a set by Alice Cooper, the group which immediately followed Ole Legendary onto the Shrine Stage.

"Alice," the group's leader, is a blond, Tiny-Tim-like little thing who tip-toed through the amplifiers while the rest of the group aimlessly assaulted their instruments.

The lead guitarist did his version of "Spoonful, substituting a spoon for a pick ... of course. The drummer, meanwhile, stood up, turned his back to the audience and did a two-and-a-half- minute, one-handed drum solo.

The GTO's are a reincarnation of last year's Laurel Canyon Ballet Company. The Girls Together Outrageously are seven in number [you've probably seen most of them freaking out on the Whisky's dance floor]. They perform a complete musical stage show. The emphasis is very much on production numbers.

Finally ... at 11:30 ... the Mothers of Invention took the stage. And the audience.

Two new Mothers have been added since the group's last Los Angeles appearance [there are now 10] and their presentation is even more powerful.

The Musical Anarchy Society [my name for Our Nation's Foremost freaks] began its set in the traditional way. Frank Zappa projected his outstretched middle finger over the microphone in his most loving "Fuck You" manner and drove the band into a selection from the Mothers' Soon-To-Be-Completed [or Started?] movie called "Uncle Meat."

Here Zappa demonstrated his best Leonard Bernstein-like conducting techniques, leading his musical charges with all the grace of an angry orangutan.

The next song, "The Idiot Bastard Son," was humbly dedicated to Governor Ronald Reagan.

Before it could begin, Zappa stopped everything and proudly displayed a sign which he had spotted in the audience. "MGM SUCKS" it said.

"This is an unsolicited testimonial," said Zappa referring to the record firm which the Mothers recently pulled away from.

As "The Idiot Bastard Child" unfolded, Zappa explained some of the lyrics.

A numie is a booger ... burning 'poots ' means igniting your own rectal gas, "he expounded with obvious glee.

It really broke up the heavily teenie audience ... most of whom had never before been exposed to the Mothers' very special brand of funky madness.

The next tune was a long [45 minutes] production number called The Return of the Son of the Hunchbacked Duke." It was a really smelly masterpiece.

The effects used were gorgeous ... stuffed animals fucked merrily amid whipped cream and balloons ... a giraffe gave birth to a Barbie Doll.

There were some fine solos from saxman Bunk Gardner, from Ian Underwood on electric sax with wah-wah and finally, from Zappa himself, doing some really fine Claptonesque guitarwork.

A slow waltz followed. It faded into the Los Angeles debut of "Ruben and the Jets" [an alias cleverly cooked up by Zappa to cover the kind of numbers the Mothers do parodying the worst pop/rock of the late '50s.

The concert was nearly flawless. Zappa's drive for perfection was most evident. The PA system was even good ... something that I haven't been able to say about Shrine concerts since the LAST Mothers appearance there in the spring.

There was almost no boring time lapse between sets and the light show [done by Edison-Castle] worked quite well with the musical program.

1. December 6 and 7, 1968. (Frank Zappa Gig List : 1968)

2. Jeff Simmons' band, better known as Easy Chair (Easy Chair: Seattle's '60s psychedelic sons).

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