Hail the not so hippy sheik

By John Wishart

Record Mirror, February 24, 1979

Hammersmith Odeon London

OVER TEN years ago I first nursed a desire to see Frank Zappa perform live. Unlike most vinyl heroes of the late sixties Zappa has continued to exert a strong fascination, one which I'm glad to say has lasted through and beyond his non-stop two-hour set at the weekend.

However, the 20 minute jamming and soloing encore was a minor let-down after such meticulous craftmanship, outrageous hamming and musical panache. His wit, often submerged by his wall of sound eight-piece band, is predictably fey and the knowing lewdness seems to have become reflex after so long.

Revelation of the evening was Zappa's ultra cool stage manner. (Reliable sources tell me it has not always been so pronounced.) His spidery fingers stab the air in perfect time to the most fiendishly complex runs. Conductor's baton finds its way into his grasp briefly but is discarded during one of his innumerable cigarette or drink breaks.

Could he be the world's most accomplished poseur? The answer would be "yes" if only his brilliance were not so clearly in evidence. His own guitar solos were kept remarkably brief, perhaps due to his evident admiration for his punk-attired female lead guitarist.

Zappa standards there were aplenty. 'Jumbo', 'Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me', 'Easy Meat', 'Sofa' and 'Inca Roads' all ran together seamlessly. His seemingly effortless style, indeed a surfeit of it, gives the Zappa sound a diamond cutting edge. A cut and paste dream world which teases the mind tweaks at the grey hairs of boredom. Zappa is to rock what Robert Altman has become to movies ... except that Zappa swings, the other doesn't.