Another slow starter show - the first couple of songs barely manage to keep my attention. The Trouble/Penguin/Hotel medley is the first event worth mentioning, with its usual three nice solos. The "13" solo in "Trouble Every Day" is not one of the best we've heard, yet it's intriguing and Chad is excellent. Mike plays a little ditty in Penguin In Bondage - very cool, starting out in far-out territory, but soon approaching more straight R&R style (still highly original).
"Outside Now" becomes another of those little improvised epics: it starts out smoothly, continues with some typical FZ noodles, before going totally berserk. For 30 seconds, the solo consists of frenetic little 64ths or 128ths or whatever, all over the fretboard - then just as the rhythm section begins to catch up, FZ cools down again for a little while, before squirting out another wild burst of little dots. Very unpredictable and exciting!
Soon enough, it's time for "Big Swifty." A worthy monster, with a little of everything. Good solos by Bruce and Ed, and some synclavier jamming, before FZ starts the loop : a long, complex one - too complex, it seems, since Chad evidently doesn't know how to play along with it, and Paul Carman, who gets called to solo over it, does not seem comfortable with it. So FZ shuts it off, and Paul gets the chance to shine over more traditional accompaniment.
"Inca Roads" comes with a lackluster FZ solo, but a nice surprise in form of a great trumpet solo, in the spot where we're used to hearing the sax. Walt whips out a long, energetic solo, somehow reminiscent of his brother in style. The later part of the show does not contain any surprises. "Sharleena" and "Bamboozled By Love" both keep spawning nice solos. FZ's playing in "Bamboozled" is more nuanced than usual, with both the obligatory frenzy and a more mellow part.
Okay, by now we should all know the drill. Inconsistent show, boring selection of highly overplayed songs, random Secret Word usage, but unfortunately, a highlight or two that might make the show worth getting. So, what are these highlights you ask? (I knew you would.)
Highlight Number One-> "Pound for a Brown"; We get a couple passionate horn solos, a lengthy Keneally effort, and special guest Fabio Treves blowing one refreshingly change-of-scenery harmonica solo. Not one of the best Monsters of the tour, but an oasis amongst the musical sand dunes of the evening.
Highlight Number Two-> "Inca Roads"; Walt Fowler takes a trumpet solo! No Carman again. For some reason, he seems to have been demoted as of late. Yeah, I miss him, but Walt sounds great.
Highlight Number Three-> "Advance Romance"; Did I really just type that? Yes, "Advance Romance" is quite enjoyable tonight. It is taken at a noticeably slower pace, and this lends a certain intensity to both Bobby's vocals and Frank's solo. ("It's a such a ballad at this tempo.")
And that's really about it. Frank's guitar does not do much apart from the bluesy "Advance Romance" effort, and the Secret Word usage amounts to nothing more than a couple "swatters" (as in fly). I really do not know what else to say about the show. Just kind of leaves me empty.
There is something wrong in the world today when the highlight of a Frank Zappa concert is "Bamboozled By Love." It is not that good of a concert, mind you, but "Bamboozled By Love"? I mean, look at the set list. "Stolen Moments", "Outside Now", "Cruisin' for Burgers", "Black Napkins"- these are just some of the songs competing for that all-important highlight-of-the-show honor. But "Bamboozled By Love"? I am not sure if this is a comment on the show, or a comment on the quality of the "Bamboozled." Yes, it has been a consistent highlight of the '88 tour. Impassioned solos, energetic rhythmic support, some hilarious Secret Word sabotages- but has it ever been THE highlight? Who knows? Who cares? Tonight it provides us with a typically ferocious FZ "Bamboozled" solo, and brings a shot of energy to a rather unremarkable show.
On the whole, this is one of the shows that succeeds solely on the basis of the set list (haven't I written that before?). Nothing spectacular happens- no outrageous Secret Words, no breathtaking Monster jams, no inventive or original song pairings. Just 24 songs performed competently and consistently by a highly trained band. Some of the songs are nice to hear. "We're Turning-> Alien" returns after what seems like a long time. The shortened "Republican Medley" is a nice change of pace from some of the other overplayed medleys of late. The middle of the show "Stolen Outside Burgers" is a nice three-song set. The encores even provide some rare excitement with a "Loops solo" and an always-satisfying "Crew Slut." The problem is that apart from the songs themselves, there is nothing that lifts the performances higher than our normal expectations. Frank does not turn out any memorable solos, "Stolen Moments" is pathetically un-monstrous, and the Secret Word abuse is kept to a few "don't drink the waters" and "diarrheas". Your enjoyment of the show pretty much comes down to how much you enjoy the particular songs being played.
So apart from the "Bamboozled By Love", that's about it.
One's enjoyment of this show rests pretty much on how well one likes Frank's '88 guitar playing. There are no Monster songs, no outrageous song choices, no Secret Words that deserve mentioning. The meat of the performance, therefore, lies in Frank's guitar solos. Nine of them tonight, none spectacular, but all of them consistent in that '88 manner of playing.
"The Black Page", "Let's Move to Cleveland", "Willie the Pimp", "City of Tiny Lites", and "Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel" serve up the more standard of the solo fare. "Marqueson's Chicken" gives us the what-a-horrible-segue "21" vamp, with Frank managing to redeem himself with an interesting though not stellar solo. "More Trouble Every Day" gives us the now-this-is-a-segue "13" vamp, though Frank really does not hold up his end of the musical deal. "Penguin in Bondage" sees Frank stirring things up quite a bit, with a Loops solo inserted into the break. Again, this ruins the flow of the song, but the change of scenery is welcome. Unfortunately, in this solo and throughout most of the nine, Frank relies too often on his bland lightning-fast riffs, and fails to say anything interesting or fresh with his guitar. After two or three of these solos, you get the feeling that Frank is not even listening to the rhythm section, and just going through the motions. The only solo that really impresses me is "Sharleena", which while not being all that different, receives an extra charge from the rhythm section which propels it to new heights.
Other than Frank's playing, there is really not much going on in this show. The only other highlight worth mentioning is the AWESOME segue from "Let's Move to Cleveland" into "Find Her Finer". This is a one-two punch that should have been thrown more often. And did I mention that the show- the whole thing, including all encores- is only 90 minutes. Sheesh.
Listening to my fourth Italy show, I can't help finding it a bit tragic that FZ's last 11 days of touring didn't turn out better than this. All of these shows are far below the Europe '88 standards - quite possibly caused by the ongoing rifts within the band. One might think it's natural that a band would run out of inspiration after more than 4 months on the road, but most of the earlier tours have proved the opposite - the last run of shows have become the highlight of the tour.
OK, the show's not a complete disaster: the first part is saved by a strong setlist. "Alien Orifice" is always nice to hear, though this is not the MAJNH version as the liner notes claim. Everyone's favourite medley, the Green Genes/OSFA one, spawns some nice solos, including the great BBYNHIYL "Florentine Pogen." The "Inca" solos are not too hot, though Paul Carman is back in the second solo spot. "Advance Romance" features another solo that ended up on CD, though I can't really see why. We get one of the resurrected-towards-the-end-of-the-tour songs, "Easy Meat." The solo is OK, but it sounds as if FZ is in his own little world both rhythmically and harmonically, and it doesn't come anywhere near the heights this song reached in 1980-82.
Tonight's Marathon solo comes in "Oh No," and together with "Sharleena" it actually becomes the highlight of the show, possibly tied with the OSFA songs. The "Sharleena" solo is truly great, switching between high levels of passion and energy. But the rest of the show becomes a bore for those of us who have heard many '88 shows, with songs we've heard way too many times by now. OK - honestly, I cracked up once towards the end of "Illinois Enema Bandit," when FZ surprises everyone by saying "Mike Keneally says..." on one of his Bobby cues. Mike, totally non-plussed, gets another chance, and screams something unintelligible.
One thing can be said in defense of the Italian run: FZ chose to release a great deal of material from these [Mainly from this show and Modena - PB], which I guess means that the level of playing accuracy was high. This might come from the fact that the musicians weren't busy laughing or inserting secret words too often. I think I heard some lyric mutations here and there on this tape, but the echo-ish conditions make it hard to distinguish them.
Oh well, I have a feeling that it's actually upwards from here, that the two remaining shows are a bit better. Read all about it below...
P.S As you all probably knew, this concert was played on the Swedish National Day.
"Looks like you're already in a good mood so we wont have to work so hard." Well, maybe FZ was right as this is kind of a "coast" show. No real monster section tonight, but the show does offer some great individual soloing and reasonably tight performances.
The show starts with "The Black Page" and a very mediocre solo by Frank considering the stage of the tour and the enthusiasm of the crowd. Band intros follow with our mystery Italian harmonica soloist being introduced again. " Packard Goose" follows and Robert Martin hits a major clam at the beginning of the Bartok section. Full recovery and into "Trouble Every Day" with the insertion of one of tonight's secret words/themes "Home Shopping Network" (a US based cable station for in-home buying of anything and everything imaginable). As usual in Europe, we get a 13/8 solo, with roots in the 1978 "Thirteen" jams, and Frank pulls off a nice solo with notes charging and echoing everywhere. I'm sure the acoustics of the sport hall didn't hurt. But he uses this to great effect and the band gives him every chance to be heard.
"Penguin in Bondage" segues with more secret themes : "..and if you call this number now, this figurine can be yours for 29 cents!" and "advertising." The usual 24 bar solo follows, cool solo. "Hot Plate Heaven" serves up another interesting solo section in a meter I can't count (probably means 4/4) and a real tasty solo by FZ. Maybe this show is picking up steam! However, next comes what must be the shortest version of "Dupree's Paradise" that I've ever heard, but it does feature a nice solo by Bruce(?). It's either Walt sounding like Bruce or Bruce sounding like Walt but I think it's Bruce. Amazing either way. A very average "Find Her Finer," "I Aint Got No Heart" and "Love of My Life" follow. The sound quality of the tape gets better during "Love Of My Life," but thats not saying much because this audience tape requires a great deal of perseverance to follow closely. Which is to say that it's a D.
It's my guess that there is a rare European leg of the tour break at this point. My tape cuts and starts again with "Zoot Allures"->"City of Tiny Lites." Frank absolutely cranks his amp and wails significantly during the closing bars of his solo. Anybody who was sleeping was now fully awake and led into "Pound For A Brown" and the first extended improv of the night. The improv started with a funky sax solo into a composed horn section piece. Or at least it sure sounds that way. Robert follows with a very cool jazz piano solo introducing "Arrivederci Roma" as another secret component for the evening. A trombone solo melts into a strange spoken story by Ike about it being someones birthday (Harry Andronis?) and his cruising around looking for a woman who would, " go aaalllll the waaayy". Then Frank stepped on his guitar loop button and another really rocking sax solo was played over the top of it. This wound down into "Bamboozled By Love" - all in all a nice but short monster section. FZ's "Bamboozled" solo only really hits its stride during the last 30 seconds.
"Stairway to Heaven" closed the show and injected a lot of secret word usage "shall we be networked to heaven", "doilies", "Home Shopping Network from Heaven", "dont forget, call before midnight", "of course thats real gold!", "cubic zirconia". Pretty funny. On the closing lyrics "And she's buying a stairway to.." a big guitar loop was engaged for a few seconds and then stopped for "heaven."
The encores included "Eat That Question"->"Black Napkins" which has FZ soloing over an extreme reggae beat set to the usual "Napkins" vamp. My tape starts to worsen even more but "Closer You Are"->"Johnny Darling" follows with "Fix it Harry" being used instead of "Johnny Darling." "Bolero"/"Aida"/"Arrivederci Roma" closes the first encores sending everyone bonkers and begging for more. They get it with "Crew Slut" (this just has to be for Harry) with "call before midnight" and "take a little ride on Harrys face" stuck in for good measure.
One to go.