April 1988 Reviews

April 9, 1988 Bourges

For the past week or so, I have been getting sort of excited at the prospect of sitting down and finally reliving the "good music" of the '88 tour. While the U.S. leg does have its moments, the real insanity does not ensue until Frank hits foreign soil, and I was looking forward to finally getting a chance to give this band its propers. So what happens? Pat assigns me the first two shows of the tour [Hey, if you'd sent me the tapes I would've done 'em - PB], extending my seemingly endless parade of mediocre '88 reviews. If you are looking for that long sought after rave review, then stop here.

This show is not bad, it just does not do anything to raise or exceed the expectations so far set by the U.S. leg. We get no Secret Word usage (an odd "Mr. Sting" pops up in "Peace Corps", but that's it), no mind-blowing solos (though Frank does turn in a couple satisfying excursions), and no surprising song choices (though we do get the debut of the reggae "Stairway to Heaven"). The show is really just an endless series of Medleys ("The Big Medley" followed by "The Torture Medley" followed by "The Republican Medley" followed by a "Love Song Medley" followed by the now standard "City/Pound Medley" followed by "The Medley of Standard Encore Numbers"), all of which saw better performances earlier in the tour.

There is one positive aspect of the show, however- short but positive. During "Pound for a Brown", the first soloist (horn player) takes a lengthy and casual solo, very unlike the majority of the Monster Song solos from the previous leg. While the remainder of this Monster performance would not equal the length and intensity of this opener, this does hint at the Monstrosities that would arrive later during this tour. Frank already seems to be taking a more relaxed approach to these extended improvisations, and before too long, the payoff would be huge.

One last word- the "Illinois Enema Bandit" solo may be the best IEB of the tour, especially considering the sweet "Mr. Green Genes" quote Frank throws in towards the end. Another mediocre review tomorrow, and then I get London!!! (P.S. My tape does not contain the final encore either.)

- JG

April 10, 1988 Gent

The second show of the European leg does not fare much better than the first, though, like its predecessor, it is not a complete loss. Nothing really magical happens in the course of the night- no Secret Word mayhem, no mind-blowing guitar solos, and even no (gulp) Monster Songs - but thanks to a particularly strong suite of opening songs, this show manages to reward one's listening efforts.

It is in the first six songs that the juices of this show get flowing, raising the concert to an early peak that sadly is not sustained. After the typical "Black Page" opener, we get a rare early-in-the-set "Texas Motel Medley", followed by a solidly performed "OSFA Medley" (always a winner in my book). This is capped off with "Bolero", which exudes a majestic confidence that would eventually fade into "we got this down" competence, thanks to its presence in nearly every European show. The show hits autopilot from here on out, with the not-too-interesting "Random Song/Random Year '84 Medley" and a handful of other highly repeated '88 numbers.

Again, like the previous night's show, this concert has more of a U.S. flavor than a typical European flavor. The performance is not bad, but it is not anything that makes you run out and recommend the show to all your friends. But the European leg is just getting under way, and if my memory serves me correctly, it would not be long before things would begin to get interesting. A Stairway to Berlin, anyone?

- JG

I attended both this show and the second in Rotterdam (May 4). Boy what a difference! Rotterdam was heaven while Gent was routine, nothing but routine. However this can be explained rather easily : in my opinion (and supported by the tapes) FZ didn't like the place he had to play in too much. You should know that this place has no acoustics whatsoever. It is used for indoor cycling ! It was very hard to even understand the shit he was saying so maybe that's why he didn't do the "big instrumental things".

- Ben Caudron

April 12, 1988 Berlin

At the beginning of the show, FZ tells the audience that they will play for about an hour, then they will take an intermission. When this is followed by loud cheering from the crowd, Frank draws his conclusions about the English comprehension, and for the rest of the show he keeps his talking at a minimum - a common phenomenon at European concerts throughout the years.

The songlist for the first set is a strong one. After the standard "Black"/"Goose" opening, we get "Any Kind Of Pain" with one of those excellent solos (it's a shame FZ didn't come up with this vamp 10 years earlier - would've been cool to hear what heights the 1978-82 Frank could reach with it). Next is "Baritone Women" with a messed-up segue into "The Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ." The first monster song for tonight consists mostly of horn/synclavier jamming, some of it very interesting, but it suffers from the U.S. syndrome with each section getting cut too early. The improvisations conclude with a drum solo, interspersed with FZ-conducted chords from the horn sections, and another far-from-perfect segue into The Eggman Song.

While we're on the subject of segues, "Walrus" -> "Ain't Got No Heart" is brilliant, while going into "Andy" from a song other than "Florentine Pogen" feels weird. Anyway, the shortened OSFA medley ("Andy"/"Inca Roads") is grandiose. We get two great solos from Frank at his extremes: one nasty, high energy workout and one soft, melodic excursion. "Inca Roads" is topped off with an - as usual - splendid sax solo.

At the beginning of the second set, FZ uses an interpreter to explain the background to the Texas Motel Medley. It's very well recieved (as is every song tonight - this crowd is wild!). One thing I've always wondered about the "Torture" solos from this tour : did FZ give the band orders not to vary their playing during the solos? With very few exceptions, all solos sound like the rhythm section was playing a loop, and this might be one reason the '88 "Torture" solos don't really make it for me. Here we get a 5 min solo, and FZ's playing isn't bad at all, but when Chad and Scott sound like they're playing on downers, the end result is far from great.

"Pound For A Brown" leaves me with mixed feelings this time. Finally, we get to hear some solos that are allowed to build up to a climax and continue for a while. But it's too short - two horn solos + one drum solo (the second for tonight!), and no real madness - hardly reaching Monster status. Walt goes first, with a very good solo over the usual funk vamp, this time spiced up by the other horns, playing a pattern that might be FZ-conducted, but nearly sounds composed. Next, FZ triggers a loop, the band joins in with the old reggae vamp, and Albert Wing plays one of his typical amazing all-over-the-place solos. After a Chad/Ed duet it's right into "Stairway To Heaven."

The rest of the set and the encores contain no surprises. "Strictly Genteel" becomes a good show closer to a good concert. The first set nearly reaches greatness, maintaining high energy all the way through, while the second set is a bit bit more pedestrian. Two monster songs is of course a great initiative, but though they both contain their highlights, I'm once again a bit disappointed. No lengthy loop jams, no Chad/Scott-driven rock sections, well - just too little of everything. Maybe my expectations on the '88 monsters were too high?

- JN

April 13, 1988 Frankfurt

The show started with a nice solo by Frank during "Stinkfoot" and proceeded to the band introductions which included :

"The unbelieveable, Ike Willis;
The marginally incomprehensible, Mike Keneally;
The incredibly stimualting, Walt Fowler;
The... 'Bruce Fowler,' ladies and gentlemen!;
The incredibly piquant, Paul Carman;
The disturbingly jolly, Albert Wing;
The constantly appropriate, Kurt McGettrick;
The looking too young for his age, Chad Wackerman;
The nimble, yet highly evolved, Ed Mann;
The spandex bereft, Robert Martin;
And everybody's favorite bass player, Scott Thunes."

Frank's inability to come up with an adjective for Bruce led to Bruce Fowler being the secret word of the night. Out of the intros and into a barrage of older tunes which was not untypical for many of the European shows. The 88 political stuff was usually saved for some of the better English speaking stops and multiple nights in the same city.

"Ain't Got No Heart"->"Love Of My Life"->"Heavy Duty Judy"(zooming FZ solo)->"Disco Boy" (sounds so cool with the horns)->"Teenage Wind" and a real nice, short and sweet solo during "Truck Driver Divorce" by Frank->"Orange County" medley with another strong solo by Frank. "Advance Romance"->"Bobby Brown"->"Bolero"->and the 'event' portion of the show during "Big Swifty" which I'll slightly break down:

Head->Bruce Fowler and synclavier solos->Ed Mann vibe solo->synclavier madness (some written out?) including Sammy Davis Jr. and Sam Kinison->Chad solo->Frank conducting some samples->back to head.

This led directly into "Bamboozled" (another nice FZ solo)->"Chana In De Bushwop" (great sax solo)->"Sharleena"->"Sofa#2"->outros.

The encores were hard to beat: "Stairway To Heaven"->"I Am the Walrus"->"Illinois Enema Bandit" and a beautiful final ending with "Watermelon in Easter Hay." Frank knew how to say goodnight in any language. Fun show.

- Bill Lantz

April 14, 1988 Köln

Firstly, this must be one of the 3-4 best FZ audience tapes ever made, which might influence my opinions a little. I try to keep as objective as possible about the musical content, but it's not easy to judge this concert equally to one of those preserved only on low-quality tapes. Either way, I'll try.

As usual, the German audience [or at least Dirk, Tom and Tommy - PB] is craving a secret word, and FZ tells us that he's working on it. In the meantime, the band delivers "The Black Page" and "Inca Roads." The latter becomes triumphant, with FZ at his melodic best, yet unusually aggressive and inventive for a "clean-sounding" solo. And the sax solo in the 7/4 part has yet to disappoint me. Next, we get a near-complete Republican Retrospective medley, which is unusual for the European tour. In "Baritone Women," FZ comes up with the secret word for tonight: "Sheep." The rest of the show is filled with sheeps, shepherds, "Baaah" and sodomy - whatever happened at the German countryside? The clean guitar sound makes a glorious return in "Any Kind Of Pain." FZ mixes noises on the lower frets with the usual chord and melodic playing, interspersed with some really odd phrases. Great! "Shut up 'n play Any Kind Of Pain some more" - I'd buy it!

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about "Tiny Lites" from this tour, but the song is easily excused as long as it segues into "Pound For A Brown." And, wow - now we're talking Monster Song - this is what I've been longing for the whole tour! The old funk vamp forms the basis for a long (yes!), cool trumpet solo before we get a drum solo, leading into "The Dessicated Number" (a.k.a "When Yuppies Go To Hell"). After the majestic theme, we get a little synclavier/horn section jam, which doesn't seem to go anywhere, but then Chad whips out one of those rapid, twisted 3/4 grooves. Kurt (I think) delivers a great solo, while the rest of the band changes styles at FZ's whim. All of a sudden, it's Mike's turn - a very funny little solo, where he, among other things, starts to play along with a loop. Finally, FZ and Ed have a little "dialogue" of synclavier noises. 15 minutes of excellent, organized chaos - probably the highlight of the shows I've reviewed so far!

The Torture Medley gets very amusing with lots of secret word usage - I'm especially intrigued by the thought of a sinister little shepherd with a bucket and a mop, where the sheep go down the drain. And of course, Burt has become a shepherd with a taste for the bizarre ("I keep on plooking, 'til my sheep puffs up and turns red"). FZ's guitar solo is inspired, but not very memorable.

The rest of the show becomes a standard towards-the-end-of-the-show run of songs, with the exception of the Orange County Medley, which oddly enough closes the evening (on request). "Bamboozled" comes with a good, high-energy solo, and "Enema Bandit" contains the expected lyric mutation/muttonation - and for once, a guitar solo which succeeds in keeping my attention. And "Oh No" once again proves to be one of the most reliable vamps to provoke good solos from Frank, as well as excellent rhythm work from Mike, Chad & Scott.

This was easily the most enjoyable review I've done so far. As I said, the sound quality might have influenced my opinions, but the show had everything I ask for: a Real Monster, many great guitar solos, amusing secret word usage and some fine songs in between.

- JN

April 16, 1988 Brighton

Celeberating a temporary return to English-speaking terrain, FZ offers up a "Stinkfoot" opener. This time he stretches out the spoken parts to the point where the band comes in out of synch with the "python boot" and "stinkfoot" musical cues. That, combined with Bobby's persistent piano clams in the Bartok section of "Packard Goose," reveals the Best Band's sloppy shadow side - something that most likely would seem minor to anyone not indulging in the obsessive analysis typified by this site, but also something that would cause real trouble at a few '88 shows in the not-too-distant future.

That aside, we get a straightforward, well-performed first set that takes a sharp left turn with the only stand-alone performance of "Dessicated." Too much of a left turn for tonight's audience, evidently - FZ curtails this number after one soprano sax solo, some random noises and a failed attempt at crowd conducting. The second-set "Pound" returns to "When Yuppies Go To Hell" territory, allowing Chad and Bruce to stretch out a bit over some bizarre effects. This, too, could have been explored at greater length.

In addition to these Monstrous excursions, this show offers a nice selection of '88 favorites (including the Republican Medley, minus "Dickie's") and some aggressive FZ solos. (Not surprisingly, his best moments come in "Zoot Allures," included on Best Band, and "Oh No.") A good show, all in all, but the series of improvisational and Secret Word-driven epic nights to come leave the likes of this one in the shade.

- PB

There was one extraordinary moment at the show which for me will be the most amazing thing I ever heard Zappa play. Right at the peak of the solo on "Sharleena," a string broke with a tremendous bang over the PA - and FZ played the rest of the solo entirely with hammer-ons and feedback. I once heard a bootleg of this which lived up to the memory.

- Tim Summers

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