February 1988 Reviews

February 2, 1988 Albany

Making his first live appearance after the longest layoff of his career, FZ asks, "Did you miss me?," and the crowd responds enthusiastically. The show that ensues is a typically first show for a Zappa tour - some small flubs, a bit conservative on the whole, with some setlist elements that soon became uncommon ("Why Don't You Like Me," "Dancin' Fool"), but still more than enough to impress the Albany audience.

The setlist here would become the template for the early shows of the tour - the first set is loaded with new political songs, most of them arranged into a "Republican Retrospective Medley," while the second set includes some oldies, some improv, and climaxes with the surprise rendition of "Stairway To Heaven." Most of the arrangement details are already in place, though there are some anomalies - "Why Don't You Like Me" lacks the "Give me oxygen!" chant at the end and "I Am The Walrus" includes a guitar solo coda. Though there is not as much funny business here as at later shows, we still get some joking from Ike and a few Mario Cuomo references from FZ, and in "We're Turning Again" FZ temporarily abandons the lyrics to interact with the audience.

The band already turns out some adventurous improv on "King Kong," especially Ed Mann (with some rather reckless interaction with Scott Thunes - a sign of things to come?), while Mike Keneally attempts to play guitar, keyboards and sing all at once (as well as throwing in a snippet from "Teenage Wind" at FZ's suggestion), with rather chaotic results. As is typical at a first show, FZ is still warming up guitar-wise, but one can already hear his new, less distorted sound and Thunes and Wackerman's approach to interacting with him - more conservative and less "out," but at the same time more authoritative than the early 80's tours.

A fine show which must have made clear to the hardcore fans that this tour would be a different affair from the '84 outing.

- Pat Buzby

February 4, 1988 NYC

The NYC debut features the same setlist as Albany, save for a bit of shuffling and the introduction of "Disco Boy," "Teenage Wind" and "Truck Driver Divorce." However, as usual, there are noticeable differences. FZ's comments in the introduction of the show are less extensive (though he does provide helpful elucidation of his feelings about the Republican party), but his solos are longer and more involved. The Republican Medley has more noticeable bugs than Albany (most notably, Ike briefly goes blank in the preaching section of "Dickie's" and acknowledges it in the intro to "When The Lie's So Big"), but the side comments and transitions which appear on Broadway The Hard Way are more in place.

The rhythm section's approach in the "Torture" solos in these initial shows resembles the '81 tour, but FZ can't quite capture the aggressiveness of old, which perhaps explains why he would take a more reflective tack in later shows. However, "Truck Driver Divorce" is a highlight - FZ fires off an adventurous solo with Thunes following boldly at every harmonic turn. "King Kong" is duller musically than Albany's version, but does have the debut of the "Porn Wars" and "Going To Hell" samples, which would become important soon enough.

BTW, hardcore maniacs may wish to note the passing "Echidna's Arf" quote among the sidemen after "I Am The Walrus."

- PB

February 5, 1988 NYC

The third show of the tour, and I get the feeling that FZ is quickly getting more and more comfortable with the new band. He's in a good mood tonight, interacting a lot with the audience at the beginning of the show, and we get the first tendencies of a secret word : Ed Meese.

Again, the show starts off with "The Black Page," a good but not overly exciting solo. The show then continues with "Chawna In The Bushwop," by request from the co-author Diva. The song contains an intense, great sax solo by Albert Wing, unfortunately too short. The 1988 arrangement of "Lucille" is quite nice; wish FZ had released it. The Orange County Medley always puts a smile on my face, and this time it's got a real nice solo. Starts off rather calm, but gets more and more intense, with Chad freaking out a bit over the odd-metered vamp.

"More Trouble Every Day" and "Penguin In Bondage" are both rather pedestrian, the latter with a short uninspired blues solo. "Hot Plate Heaven" is better; its more "free" solo section spawns some pretty good noodlings from FZ. In "Montana" FZ messes up the words, singing "Get some floss" instead of "Keep the wax," and continues to sing "Get some floss, and melt it down" for some bars, to Ike's audible amusement.

"City Of Tiny Lites" is followed by the highlight of the show : "Pound For A Brown." After the theme, Walt goes first with a typically good solo, followed by Ed Mann on a selection of electronic percussion. More fine solos by Paul Carman (I think) and Mike Keneally on simultaneous guitar and keyboards (and possibly vocals?). FZ takes a short solo over tonight's loop, before Bobby proves himself worthy in his new role as lead keyboardist by playing a quite good solo (though I think his solos tend to resemble each other a bit). The whole run of improvisations is interspersed with FZ-conducted madness and "Porn Wars" samples, and makes a great ending of the first set. My only complaint is that the solos are too short; many of them end just as they're beginning to get somewhere.

Set Two starts with the Republican Medley. Though I've never found this tour to be one of the best for FZ solos, I must confess that "Any Kind Of Pain" is one of my favorite guitar solo vehicles through the years. This one is no exception; a beautiful guitar solo, which the audience recognizes. This version is also amusing for Albert Wing's "new" sax intros to the verses.

The encores begin with "Catholic Girls" and an energetic "Crew Slut." I love the 1988 arrangement of "Andy," though the guitar solos never really make it for me - I prefer listening to Chad, but he's pretty careful this time. "Inca Roads" has a decent guitar solo and a great sax solo (Paul Carman), as usual. "Illinois Enema Bandit" closes the show, a decent version, though I always get a bit bored by these 8 minutes of D minor.

All in all, a good show, but I miss the energy in FZ's playing and another Monster Song in the "Pound For A Brown" vein.

- Jon Naurin

February 6,1988 NYC

FZ's last concert ever in NYC, the town where he chose to play more shows than anywhere else. If he'd known that, I'm sure he'd have put together a more extravagant show than this. A very good show, but nothing remarkable. Again, FZ is in a good mood, and he chats a lot with the audience at the beginning. "Stinkfoot" has a nice solo, a good example of FZ's habit of utilizing every fret of his guitar. This is followed by the ever-present "I Ain't Got No Heart" and "Love Of My Life," a song that always cracks me up because of the hilarious falsetto, though I actually prefer Bob Harris to Robert Martin.

"Bamboozled By Love" has a fair guitar solo, though I've never been too fond of the "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" vamp - too "busy" and little room for the players to freak out. After "Peaches" comes an excellent "Heavy Duty Judy." Chad switches between Colaiutaish weirdness and some of the grooviest playing I've heard from him, which inspires FZ to some really great playing.

In the middle of "We're Turning Again" FZ gets showered with gifts, which causes him to stop singing and communicate with the audience while the band keeps vamping. The "Packard Goose" medley reveals that the horn players aren't really comfortable with Thunes's intricate arrangement of the Stravinsky piece yet. We get the Republican Medley for the fourth successive show, this time without "Dickie's." Bobby delivers a better cadenza than last night, and FZ delivers another great "Any Kind Of Pain" solo. I can't really explain what moves me about the solos from this song - the rhythm playing is static and the guitar playing is laid back, but somehow very beautiful.

At the middle of the show FZ seems to lack concentration, goofing on a line in "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk" and missing a cue in "Torture Never Stops," but for the "Torture" solo he regains focus. A brilliant - though unusually short - solo, with an aggressiveness that makes me think of the 1980 tours. Chad treats the cymbals with Bozzio-like frenzy, and Scott plays excellent lines underneath it all. And just when you thought the show had reached its climax, it's time for the only monster song for tonight, "King Kong." In the middle of it, just as FZ is about to start some classic audience conducting, it seems as if the show will stop prematurely : Someone in the balcony spills a drink on the mixing console, but this is fixed and the show goes on (no audience participation, though).

Nearly everyone in the band gets a chance to shine during the improvisations, while Chad and Scott keep switching moods, preventing the solo section from feeling static and overlong. Excellent - this is what I really love the 1988 band for!

"Stairway To Heaven" is not really tight yet - Ike seems uncertain about how to sing, and the ending of the song is messed up pretty badly. The first encore is the old 50's medley with Moon, Diva and Ahmet dancing on the stage. Bobby is wonderful as usual on "The Closer You Are," but apart from that, I'm rather tired of these songs. "Whipping Post" features Dweezil on a guitar solo, impressive from a technical point of view, but a bit impersonal. Finally we get a "Watermelon In Easter Hay." Good, but I find this version to be a little too quick, though the brass adds a very nice flavour.

- JN

February 8, 1988 Washington D.C.

With the initial run of New York shows over, the '88 tour truly starts to take off musically at this point. The band is much more fluent and relaxed, and this comes across immediately in "The Black Page," with the most substantial solo so far and some very adventurous backing from Chad, and the joke-infested "Dickie's Such An Asshole" (introduced by FZ as a "touching folk number"), complete with a "wrong" evening news lick from Ed that passes without a reprimand. "Confinement Loaf," a phrase introduced in this song, becomes the first true secret word of the tour.

There are still some tentative moments - the solos in "Pound For A Brown" are way too short (though FZ delivers at least the starting point of a strong "Republicans"-style exploration) and the band flubs the Stravinsky interlude in "Packard Goose" badly. But "King Kong" (for the first time on the tour, we get two Monster Songs in the same show) more than makes up for "Pound" - it's a generous version, with excellent solos all around and an especially inspired "sprechgesang" episode between Bobby and FZ. The other special moment is the "Torture" solo - over Scott's downward glissandos starting on a low A, FZ does some aggressive work in bizarre modes, as well as quoting "T'Mershi Duween." This solo stands apart from any released version, and is as worthy of attention as any of them.

FZ seems to recognize that this has been a strong show, thanking the crowd for being "jolly" and mentioning his urge to "express myself" by adding "The Illinois Enema Bandit" at the end of the encore. And yet, the best of the D.C. run is still to come.

- PB

February 9, 1988 Washington D.C.

Only a week into the tour, and we get what may be the pick of the "Republican Medley" shows from February. FZ seems fired up from the beginning, urging the audience to check out a couple of radio and TV interviews he'd done earlier in the day before signalling an abrupt segue into "Hot Plate Heaven." The first set offers both the BTHW songs and the first complete set of the One Size Fits All epics, all well done. Set two starts with the first and only attempt at "Black Napkins" as a Monster Song (to use Foggy G's phrase), replete with meter shifts and free jazz interpolations - patchy, but at least they tried to do something new with this warhorse. (According to concertgoer Eric Prosser, this came about because FZ's guitar wasn't working, prompting him to cue these surprise horn solos in frustration.)

"Pound For A Brown," though, is what makes this show. It's an unusually compact version for 1988; since the horn players got their turns in "Black Napkins," the only soloists are Bobby Martin and FZ. This "Pound" should need little description, since FZ chose to release its second half as the ending of "When Yuppies Go To Hell" and "Fire And Chains" on MAJNH. For this listener, this is one of the most perfect onstage improvisational moments of FZ's career, ranging from the sublime looniness of Bobby and FZ's interaction with the Swaggart and PMRC samples to the majesty of the guitar solo; it's enough to make one understand why FZ subjected himself to one more road trip rather than staying at home with the Synclavier.

Though nothing else approaches this peak, the inspiration doesn't end there as FZ pulls out all of his tricks for '88 in "City Of Tiny Lites" and "Bamboozled By Love" - moving from booming low notes to the most rapid fretwork and the coarsest blues licks he could produce, throwing in some Middle Eastern passages and quoting "Hall Of The Mountain King," and pushing the rhythm section into a frenzy. Even "The Illinois Enema Bandit" demands attention, as FZ's soloing causes Thunes and Wackerman to move into the "Crusing For Burgers" vamp [a glance at Keneally's diaries reveals that he too deserves credit for this], injecting a taste of one of the most profound songs of '88 into one of the more banal ones. A show to remember.


February 10, 1988 Washington D.C.

This is your typical '88 show. Some good song selections, some good (but not truly great) FZ guitar solos, and some good performances from the band; in essence, a good show. But as with most of the tour (especially the U.S. portion), this show never manages to transcend being merely "good," leaving the listener with that "what was that?" look on his face. Instead, the show simply impresses the listener, but in the way that all Zappa shows usually (and easily) impress.

Starting things off right, the highlight of the show arrives with the first notes, and consists of the first ten minutes. The band opens with - get this - "It Ain't Necessarily So," which we eventually find out is due to the appearance of special guest Daniel Schorr, a newscaster and journalist most known for his work on National Public Radio here in the states. Both Frank and Daniel give their polictal spiels, before Frank coerces Daniel to sing "It Ain't Necessarily So," with a taste of "Summertime" thrown in for good measure. Daniel is not the best of vocalists, mind you, but the crowd loves it, and obviously Frank does too as he leads the band through a near complete version of the tune. In the mood for classics, Frank follows this with a medley of "Aida -> Lohengrin -> Carmen -> 1812 Overture" (see MAJNH's "Big Swifty," which has this same medley minus "Aida"), before starting the show proper with a tight and energetic "Peaches En Regalia." Ten minutes into the show, and things are smoking!

Sadly, the show hits autopilot at this point, and save for a couple of nice FZ solos, nothing all that special occurs in the remainder of the set. The Republican Medley is fairly standard, with little secret word usage (a couple "loafs," and an unexplained "Idaho") to lighten things up. Frank does turn in a couple worthy solos, though; one in "Dickie's," which has a nice "It Ain't Necessarily So" quote, and another in "Any Kind Of Pain," which may be the most consistently excellent part of the tour. This performance may even top the near-perfect Cleveland solo released on BTHW. The OCLT Medley closes the set, a song choice which, for me, has fallen victim to the "I have too many tapes I'm sick of this medley" syndrome.

The second set begins promisingly enough with "Sinister Footwear II," but as hindsight will prove, this turns out to be a poor choice of openers. We get a nice run of solos during the performance (including a mild train wreck during a transition between soloists), but this introspective instrumental fails to work the band into any kind of frenzy. The monster tune of the night (why only one in these early days, Frank?) is "Stolen Moments," one of Frank's better cover choices, which here consists of several too-short solos which fail to make any lasting impression (though Keneally turns in one of his best solos of the tour). Finally, one last bummer, before Frank steps up and takes control, is the "What's New In Baltimore?" horn solo. An excellent idea in theory, but the result sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song ("Blow, Clarence, blow!").

At this point, things take a turn for the better with a series of guitar solo vehicles. In both "More Trouble Every Day," the setclosing "Hot Plate Heaven," and the encore "Whipping Post," Frank turns in some low and dirty fretwork. He quotes "Big Swifty" in "More Trouble" while getting some excellent support from Thunes, forces the rhythm section to take action in "Hot Plate Heaven," and then almost loses the spotlight thanks to some insane bass drum work by Wackerman during "Whipping Post." And to top it all off, "I Am The Walrus" ends with a somer and somewhat evil guitar coda. The majestic "Strictly Genteel" eventually sends us home, leaving me with the thought - "Why am I now thirsty for Hawaiian Punch?"

-Jason Gossard

Ahead to the next February reviews.
Back to the February '88 setlists page.
Back to the main FZ '88 page.