Frank Zappa. Front Row. November 14

By Bill Camarata

Scene, 21 November 1984

Front Row
Nov. 14

Frank Zappa brought his band into town just a few short months ago to play at Blossom Music Center. Since then he’s toured Europe, released a new album called THEM OR US and made a swing back into the States for a return engagement in Cleveland. Of all places, he played the Front Row Theatre, an unusual venue for him. He even said as he walked onto stage that “we don’t usually play in the round,” because of all of the hassles involved in getting good sound. That obstacle was overcome that evening, and even Zappa said that it turned out to be a pretty good place to work. It was one of the best shows I have ever seen him do.

He opened up with “Zoot Allures,” an instrumental from the album of the same name, just like his last show here. His guitar solos were, however, much more improved over last time, and extended guitar solos were the order of the night.

Zappa’s band consisted of: Ike Willis and Ray White on guitar and vocals; Allan Zavod and Bobby Martin on keyboards with Martin doubling on sax, french horn and vocals; Chad Wackerman on drums and Scott Thunes on bass. A tighter band you can’t find anywhere else. Zappa’s bodyguard, John Smothers, sat on a folding chair onstage watching his employer and keeping things under control when too many people came up to the stage to get Zappa’s autograph. Running jokes were also rampant throughout the evening, including references to a “wail bar” and a “rubber dickhead” given to Zappa by one of this city’s regular Zappa concertgoers.

But enough about the acrobatics, let’s get onto the music. Highlights consisted of “Truck Driver Divorce,” a re-arranged version of “Bamboozled By Love” with the guitar solo riff resembling Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and a new instrumental that isn’t on any record yet. There was a long composition that had Zappa playing melodies and fill-ins as well as the regular solos on his guitar. This haunting, cryptic melody was also spiced with an extended piano solo by Allan Zavod who, in duet with Wackerman, incited the crowd into near-frenzy proportions with a standing ovation.

Other tunes of sheer delight density to Zappa fans were “Advance Romance”, “Penguin In Bondage”, “Nigger Biznis,” “You Are What You Is,” “He’s So Gay,” “Bobby Brown” and “Mudd Club.”

I’ve left plenty out, but after two hours, 21 songs, two sets and one encore, a mere review can’t do justice to what happened that night. Zappa was clearly better at this show than at most of his latter day shows.