Frank Zappa. Music Hall. March 5

By Bill Camarata

Scene, 10 March 1988

Music Hall
March 5

I have never left a Zappa concert feeling less than impressed. This one was no different, but that’s where the similarity ends. Sporting an 11-piece band that includes a five-piece horn section, Frank Zappa stormed through an incredible evening of music that lasted nearly three hours.

The beginning of the show was centered on Zappa’s nationwide voter registration campaign, which included bringing promoter Michael Belkin onstage and, upon his registration, Frank said that all donations of women’s underwear that evening would be given to Belkin in order to make a newly registered voter’s life more interesting.

Most of the rest of the first set was devoted to Zappa’s “Republican Retrospective Medley,” which started with a song about the Watergate years, and included new songs about Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Bakker, and a hilarious trio to Beatle covers with new lyrics to commemorate Jimmy Swaggart’s latest exploits. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” for example, lyrically twisted into: “Let me take you down/’cause we’re going to/The Texas motel/don’t mind the smell...”

The first set easily explained the show’s theme, “Broadway The Hard Way.” The second set and encore, which lasted long enough to be called a set of its own, was where the band and Zappa really stretched out. Frank’s guitar solos were once again amazing, but more flbid than in recent years. Many fans are grateful that he’s picked up the guitar again. “King Kong” was highlighted by a percussive/electronic dialog between percussionist Ed Mann and Zappa pressing buttons on his Synclavier computer, as well as various horn solos built upon random repeating patterns and Frank’s baton. Ike Willis’ lead vocals were featured throughout the evening, including “Packard Goose” which had a middle section of Stravinsky and Bartok.

One section of music that was particularly impressive was the new arrangement of songs from WE’RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY, “Let’s Make The WaterTurn Black” and “Harry, You’re A Beast.” In these new instrumental versions, the melodies took on a completely new cover or wondrous proportions, leading into “Oh No” and the ever-overlooked “Orange County Lumber Truck.”

Also blasted out in fine form were “Andy” and “Inca Roads” from ONE SIZE FITS ALL, “Peaches En Regalia,” and “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” which was not only a highlight with the crowd, it was the end of a long evening with no compromises, even when numerous audience members were screaming out for “Dinah-Moe Humm,” Zappa would glance at the mike, baton in hand, and say, “No!”

 For any Zappa fan this was a good show. It had large hunks of all of the things that he’s known for, like long guitar solos, funny songs, complicated instrumentals, improvised ensemble playing, and even something that was entirely unexpected: A straight-ahead cover version of “Stairway To Heaven,” with screaming guitar interjections and bassist Scott Thunes playing the parts of Robert Plant, Hitler and Ronald Reagan simultaneously. Now that’s entertainment.