Frank Zappa and The Mothers. Akron Civic Center. November 27

By Mark Kmetzko

Scene, 29 November 1973

Akron Civic Theater
November 27

If for no other reason, the Mothers were worth seeing Tuesday night just to witness a tight and well-disciplined band put through its paces. Zappa rules his group with an iron hand and the result is one of the tighest groups I’ve ever seen.

In actuality, Zappa and his Mothers have probably reached the ideal mixture of planned and unplanned music. Because of the complexity of some of the passages, it’s obvious the band works from charts; yet there is room within this highly organized music for soloing.

The music performed Tuesday night was drawn from the several sides of Zappa we have seen over the past several years. Comedy tunes mixed with pieces of intense beauty and imagination to make an always interesting, but never quite enthralling set. I think the reason for this was that the band performed mainly new material. This wouldn’t have been bad, but I often couldn’t hear the words of these songs, hence I could only appreciate the instrumental aspect.

And while I’m on that subject, it should be mentioned that the Mothers have gone through a major personnel change since the last tour. Saxophonist Ian Underwood and violinist Jean Luc Ponty are gone, something which I think is hurting the band’s performances this time around. Now that they are gone, there is really not a super-strong soloist in the band. Pianist George Duke could be if Zappa would give him room, but if Tuesday’s show is any indication, Zappa likes to have Duke play second fiddle to good of Frank himself. Zappa’s guitar leads were good, especially the one on “Montana” (the only song they did from their most recent album), but he over-used the wah-wah pedal and often became just a source of sound effects.

Of the remaining members of the band (two drummers, a bassist, a sax player, a trombonist and a vibes/marimba player), I was most impressed with Ruth Underwood’s work on vibes, marimba and various percussion. She never soloed, but her strong back-up work showed she is worth her weight in gold. Not once in the course of Zappa’s insane ensemble passages did she falter; not even when as part of an encore the band did Zappa’s famous “King Kong” in a blazing double-time.