Humble Pie equals The Mothers in Fantastic Concert

By Anastasia Pantsios & Dan Cook

Scene, 3 June 1971

By Anastasia Pantsios

Sunday night’s rock concert at Public Hall got off to a racing start with Humble Pie. I have long suspected that Humble Pie’s kinship with Led Zeppelin applies not only to the groups’ music but also to the fact that their records too, are but a pale echo of the group’s actual performing impact. This was truly the case. Like Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie’s music may seem a bit dense and draggy on record, but live it is hard to find another band to touch them. This group is hard hitting, yet tasteful and controlled, with the breath-taking tensions that finally showed up on their latest record ROCK ON. They pace themselves beautifully and use contrasts in volume, intensity and tempo to build and let down their listeners. The only demerit that might be assigned to Humble Pie is that drummer Jerry Shirley and bassist Greg Ridley overplay, though both are very good apart from that. Interestingly enough, the overdominant rhythm section is also a problem with Led Zeppelin. Peter Frampton quite surpassed anything he has played on record. He is a cool and masterful lead guitarist whose interesting ideas flow easily. Steve Marriott does well on second guitar, adding body to the band’s sound without adding noise. He avoids attempting anything he cannot do and the group keeps a dramatic leanness that is sometimes lost in groups with two guitarists.

The group’s selling point, however, is Marriott: as singer and as personality. For a start, his presence on stage is magnetic. Then, he is one of the most passionate vocalists around, screaming his notes and twisting his words into hot agony, as he puts his all into his act. He is one of the few singers who actually sweats profusely. I recently read the opinion of one rock writer that Marriott was an old mod raver who had lost his touch and his audience. This was not at all the case as Cleveland hung on his every note. Cool blonde Greg Ridley and Frampton, looking prettier than ever in a mint green suit and white cowboy shirt, also project themselves well. The band has firm control on all facets of their act, holding in when they want and letting all hell break loose when the mood strikes them. It is all very exciting. May they rock on and on and on.

Head Over Heels, the band that followed Humble Pie, showed why groups like Humble Pit are so exciting. Head Over Heels presents a big wall of anonymous rock-blues, loud and heavy and unfocused, competent but without an individual stamp.

Finally came Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, after a long bout with equipment problems, necessary Zappa said “because we’re going to play some fairly complicated things for you and don’t want them to sound like ...” They did a fine and well-received set, though Zappa indulged in his well know audience put-downs. The audience left themselves open for this, however: for instance, they cheered each casual use of an obscenity, though these take far less skill or effort to say than does playing as the Mothers played.

Their set was divided into three – a warm-up section, an oratorio entitled ‘Billy the Mountain’ and a thing entitled “Duke”. Both these latter two were rich musically and laced with Zappa’s humor and occasionally bitter social comment. Unlike much music passing as ‘avant-garde’ (and I’m afraid I’d have to include much Pink Floyd and the highly touted Soft Machine), these pieces always seemed to know where they were going and to be on the way to getting there. They didn’t doodle or meander and leave the audience behind or outside. They were followable if you wanted to listen, which this audience did.

Playing and singing from all members of the band was superb, though I think the fine playing of drummer Aynsley Dunbar should be especially mentioned. Zappa put the group through an elaborate series of changes and it fell to Dunbar to direct many of these. Zappa’s own guitar work is, of course, above reproach, fine and crisp, though I find many other guitarists more interesting – he is almost too tame for my taste. Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, ex-Turtles, are the vocalists, whose voices are played as insturments. They convey emotions through sounds, as well as through facial and body gestures. In much of the music performed there were no lyrics and unfortunately, when they weret there, I think many were lost. I was down front and frequently felt like I was lip-reading. In “Duke”, Kaylan and Volman serve as actors, performing the drama of rock musician picking up a local groupie, ending with a rendition of the musician’s “big hit with a bullet”, which turns out to be, of all things, the Turtles’ “Happy Together”.

The Mothers returned to do a brief encore apparently rather against Zappa’s will since he doesn’t seem to be into short little things. Finally he gave in after insisting that they couldn’t perform anything good in a short time, saying ‘If you don’t care about quality, ok, here’s some s—t!” and they did an undistinguished little romp called ‘I’m Losing Status at the High School’. That aside, I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Mothers are one of the most creative groups around, a highly trained and polished body of musicians carrying out the will of mastermind Zappa and performing music the likes of which no other group is doing.


By Dan Cook

Mick Jagger noted on his recorded interview that some groups do all their old hits in concert, some do some old and some new material, and some, “... like Frank Zappa and the Mothers ...”, do all recently written music. While Jagger seemed to feel that this latter method left many audiences cold, he certainly couldn’t have applied the theory to Sunday night’s Mothers concert.

The new, revised version of the Mothers is as amazing and tight as the old bunch. Zappa now uses just one drummer, the talented Aynsley Dunbar, an electric piano or two, organ bass, two lead vocalists, Ian Underwood on a variety of keyboard instruments and woodwinds, and himself on lead guitar. The concert consisted mainly of operetta-type numbers, featuring the satirical lyrics that have made Zappa unique, if not universally loved.

The music must have taken months to learn. Much of it is conducted by Zappa, for it involves many tempo changes. A tune may start out in the jazz idiom, switch half-way through to rock, and wind up sounding like blues. And the band is perfectly together on every beat. Dunbar sets the pace with his astonishing skin work; he never missed an upbeat. Most of the sound’s distinctiveness is derived from the electric keyboards. With three being played at once, the variety of patterns and effects was practically endless. Of course, Mr. Zappa is no slacker on lead guitar either, with his smooth, mathematically-precise playing filling out the sound beautifully.

One of the finest treats of the show was the lead vocalists’ work. Their contributions to the music – i.e., gutteral moaning, screeches, “bops,” “beeps” and “do-wahs” – were an integral part of the Mothers’ music. As with all the other musicians, those two were perfect despite all their clowning. Not to mention their humorous antics would be unjust, because they were as grossly funny as anyone could be without being arrested. Zappa himself did, little burlesqueing until near the end of the show, when everyone joined in the visual act.

Perhaps the best thing the Mothers did was an operetta called “Billy the Mountain.” Zappa first told the story of Billy to his attentive audience. Billy was a mountain who decided to go to New York for a vacation. On the way he was drafted, but refused to go. Studebaker Hawk, the nation’s no. 1 super crimestopper, is assigned to bring Billy in. The music tells the tale in a sort of “Willy the Pimp“ or “King Kong” fashion, but with lyrics. This number was typical of the longer ones, with both the quality and precision of the band approaching the sublime.

The last song was “Happy Together,” the Mothers’ rendition of the song made famous by the now-defunct Turtles. The crowd then demanded an encore, which Zappa did not seem ready to do. However, the will of the majority ruled, and the Mothers dragged out “Losing Status At the High School” to the further delight of the audience.

Of the three groups on the bill, the Mothers did the longest show – almost two hours. But they could have gone on all night, and no one would have left. The music was all one could ask for – well executed, interesting, humorous, driving – and the act was exciting to watch. Dunbar’s drumming and Underwood’s horn and keyboard work were the highlights musically, but the Mothers are such a group effort that everyone deserves praise.