March 1988 Reviews

March 1, 1988 Muskegon

It seems that there are good tapes from all shows of the U.S. 1988 tour, except for maybe 2 or 3. Muskegon 3/1/88 is one of those, which is quite a shame - despite the echo and distorted sound on my tape, it's easy to tell that this is a great show. A very good setlist, with a couple of rare performances, and most importantly - one of the few shows from the first part of the tour to feature two monster songs (though both are disappointingly short).

"Stinkfoot" is the show opener, and you immediately get the feeling that FZ is "on" tonight. We get a long and unusually amusing lecture about why we should register to vote, and the solo is quite good too. It seems FZ uses a more distorted sound than usual, but then it might just be the distorted nature of my tape. "Peace Corps" is great as always, with a really disgusting version of "I Left My Heart In San Fransisco," and "We're Turning Again" sounds like it always does. During "Alien Orifice" and "City Of Tiny Lites," the sound gets really muffled and it's hard to tell what's going on in places.

"Pound For A Brown" starts out really promising, with a wonderful, wild sax solo, followed by a great jam session. It starts out with the usual Ed Mann solo, leading into a lovely percussion/bass duet with FZ-conducted inserts from the horn section. FZ then starts the guitar loop and adds some synclavier sounds, and it starts to get really interesting, but gets an abrupt and frustrating ending with the reggae "duh-bid-eh-dum" drums fill which leads us into "Lucille."

Before intermission we get the old OSFA power trio. "Florentine Pogen" and "Andy" are great, with a lot of energy and excellent guitar solos. The "Andy" vamp displays Chad at his best, combining his amazing preciseness with some great improvising. After the tape flip in "Inca Roads" the sound turns from bad to horrible for 15 minutes, and it's not easy to tell what happens here - sadly, because the solos in "Inca" seem good, and "Bacon Fat," which opens the second set, seems to have entirely new lyrics. (I'm not sure, but I believe they sing "drafted now" instead of "feed me loaf" in the chorus.)

Luckily enough, the sound turns back to "just bad" for one of the highlights of the show. "Stolen Moments" is probably the most unpredictable song of the tour: sometimes it developed into a full-blown monster song with really far-out improvisations, and sometimes it was merely used as a regular solo vehicle. This one is more of the latter, but a really good one at that. Walt gives us one of his beautiful trumpet solos and Bobby shines with a combined vocal/keyboard solo (I'm especially amazed by the parts where he sings in harmony with the keyboard). We also get a sax solo (sorry, I'm not good at telling the sax players from each other) and a guitar solo. Chad keeps up a steady jazz beat, while Scott plays excellent bass lines somewhere between standard jazz playing and freaky Thunes playing.

After "When The Lie's So Big" and "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk," we get the second ever performance of the "Texas Hotel Medley" - this time it's extended with the very rare "What Kind Of Girl?" - and the audience is wild about it. The first encore consists of the 50's medley, the second is an unremarkable version of "The Illinois Enema Bandit," and finally we get "Watermelon In Easter Hay" - beautiful as always, but not too inspired.

All in all, I enjoyed listening through this show a lot more than the Poughskeepsie show a week earlier, although the sound is much worse on this one. A great show, but the recording doesn't do it much justice, unfortunately. If anyone ever hears a good recording - make sure to contact me!

- JN

March 3, 1988 Chicago

This show is the source for the BTHW "Stolen Moments-> Murder By Numbers" medley - without a doubt the highlight of the show, and easily one of the highlights of the tour. Apart from this inspired combination, however, this first night in Chicago is a pretty standard affair.

The first set starts off promisingly enough with one of Frank's better "Black Page" solos, but then falls victim to some routine song choices. The third performance of the "Texas Motel Medley" keeps the middle of the set interesting, but overall, the first half of the show does not leave much of an effect.

The second set succeeds much better thanks to the opening medley mentioned above. The "Murder By Numbers" is even more enjoyable on tape, as it is complete with the third verse, some Ike/Sting vocal trade-offs, a full-length horn solo, and the complete input of Frank on guitar. The energy from this performance carries through the remainder of the set, pushing Frank's "City of Tiny Lites" solo to greater heights, and infecting a short but funky "Pound for a Brown". Bruce, Robert, and Kurt all get a chance for extensive solos, turning in satisfying performances aided by a funky underlying groove. Unfortunately, just as things get spacey and genuinely interesting, Frank pulls the plug and sends us up the "Stairway to Heaven."

From here on out, the show is strictly routine, with a disappointing "Whipping Post" solo not helping matters. Overall, a worthwhile show simply because of the "Stolen Moments-> Murder By Numbers" combo, but without anything else worth getting excited about.

- JG

March 4, 1988 Chicago

Despite the lack of a single Monster performance, this show succeeds thanks to some interesting song choices, some better-than-average Frank guitar solos, and the first extensive use of a Secret Word.

The first set sees the tour premiere of the "Random Song/Random Year '84" medley, officially released on YCDTOSA Volume 4. While I am not a big fan of these songs in these versions ("Stick Together-> My Guitar-> Willie the Pimp-> Montana"), they are a welcome change of pace, with Frank managing to turn in a down-and-dirty solo on "Willie the Pimp." The Secret Word of the night ("llama," which actually first popped up during the 3/3 show) gets going early in the set, and keeps things interesting throughout the night.

The second set succeeds on the basis of laughs alone, containing the "Texas Motel Medley" (which has already become "World Famous" according to Frank), complete with the second and final performance of "What Kind of Girl?," and a hilarious "Torture Never Stops Medley." In both of these medleys, the Secret Word takes root, altering many of the lyrics, and spurring Frank and the others to stray even farther from the original words. The madness reaches its peak during a laugh-out-loud "Lonesome Cowboy Ronald," which finds Frank taking some extreme liberties with the lyrics of this song. He even carries the insanity into his solo, which finds he and Wackerman seriously messing with the rhythm and tempo of the song. Highly enjoyable.

To make matters all the more interesting, the encores are anything but normal, with two high-frequency songs- "Packard Goose" and "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk"- finding new life thanks to their unusual placement in the show. Even "Illinois Enema Bandit" sounds fresh this time. Frank, you did good tonight.

- JG

March 5, 1988 Cleveland

This is an example of a solid '88 show - fun and well played, with a couple of surprises. We get an all-Republican first set, with the Republican and Texas Motel Medlies sandwiched between "The Black Page" and "Sofa." Tonight's "Any Kind Of Pain" solo is the one FZ chose to release on BTHW, and this solo exemplifies his style on this tour - acoustic musing that somehow manages to incorporate both his most lyrical playing and his coarsest blues-influenced mannerisms. Aside from that, "Dickie's" finds Ike forgetting the words in the preaching section again and doing some amusing ad-libs to cover it up, and some weird low harmonies appear briefly on the "quadrophonic desperation" line. (Shades of the 1974 TV special version of "Stinkfoot.") Tonight's audience is exceptionally rowdy (at least judging from my tape), and they give the Texas songs a good reception.

Set 2 starts with the inevitable "Let's Move To Cleveland"; FZ's solo reverts to the wandering melancholy of the '82 takes (cf. "Is That All There Is?" on Guitar) rather than the free jazz extravaganzas of '84. An entertainingly jazzy but average "King Kong" (sans guitar solos) benefits greatly from Bruce Fowler's monologue, which appears on MAJNH. As Keneally once reported on the Zappa newsgroup, this was intended as the first installment of "When Horn Players Talk," but no one could follow Bruce's act.

The "Andy"/"Inca Roads" conclusion also helps make this a good second set, but the peak comes with the extended second encore. After the tour premiere of "Sharleena," FZ whips out one of the longest and hottest "Oh No" solos of '88, leading Chad on some extended chases; outings like this wipe away the memory of the brief, perfunctory solos that plagued many of the February shows. "Illinois Enema Bandit" follows with a "Chunga's Revenge" quote in FZ's solo and some early "bus ride" joking in the outro. A fine show - and you know that FZ is in good form when he manages to tie together the voter registration pitch and the panty rap.

- PB

March 6, 1988 Columbus

By now, the '88 tour is nothing if not consistent, and once again we get a high-spirited evening's entertainment. Because of a few factors, this show doesn't make the A-list for the tour : the show is one of the shortest of the U.S. dates (barely two hours), the setlist is conservative aside from the premiere of "The Untouchables," and FZ once again sits out on the Monster Song (tonight, "Pound"), though the soloists do fine. (Walt Fowler, especially, is a reliable source of sublime jazz.) Still, FZ puts together a well-paced set of standard fare and delivers the goods on guitar : the solos on "Any Kind Of Pain" and "Oh No" are cut from the same cloth as the classic versions from the previous night, and Frank turns in some sharp, convincing blues on "The Illinois Enema Bandit." This latter song also produces the only major lyric mutations of the night, regarding some horseplay among the horn section.

Incidentally, near the end of the show FZ tells his Ohio fans that he will be coming to Cincinnati in the summer. Alas, what might have been.

- PB

March 8, 1988 Pittsburgh

Tuesday, March 8, 1988 found the band in Pittsburgh, PA after a day off. The Syria Mosque is a historic building in the area and has played host to many classic rock shows over the years.

The show kicked off with "Stinkfoot," and Frank gave it a nice solo and afterwards told the mixing desk (Marqueson maybe?) about the lack of monitors up front. This must have been quickly taken care of and Frank proceeded to introduce the band - including Bob Rice on panty picker-upper. "Peaches en Regalia" followed in the slot it occupied in the 77-78 band. The band nailed the new big band version and moved into the revived 84 medley of "Stick Together"/"My Guitar"/"Willie the Pimp," the latter two featuring nice solos by FZ. As usual, this segued into a rather straight, short version of "Montana" with no guitar solo. but Ike sounded great on all the fast vocals in the middle tiny horse section. Jump start into "City of Tiny Lites" where Frank cranked a monstrous solo out including whisps of the Zombies "She's Not There" ala Paris 1980. Interesting to note that Frank stopped the band during the first verse and seemed to be berating someone - but it's unintelligible on my source tape (Pat's set lists page indicate that Frank was chewing out security for over securing).

"City" segued into "Pound For A Brown", the big improv song of the night. My ears hear this: a nice sax solo (Albert or Paul) into a real nice solo by Ike, then some weird synclavier patching by unknown members of the band, probably Ed. It's hard to tell when they start doing that. Guitar loops were engaged at that point, probably by FZ. Frank often created these loops during soundchecks to solo over but instead of him taking a solo, we get a sax solo over the top of them! This was followed by a really nice Mike Keneally solo, which the crowd showed their enthusiasm for, and then Frank and Bruce soloed at the same time over a heavy riff supplied by Scott and Chad reminiscent of a "Filthy Habits"-type dirge. Finally we get just FZ soloing over some loops which then segued perfectly into "When The Lie's So Big." Beautiful. "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" closed the first set and Frank encouraged everyone to get out into the lobby and register to vote.

Set 2 opened with Mike doing the cool piano intro to "Eat That Question," which is so fun to hear this band do. "Black Napkins" is the partner piece on this tour and the solos went as follows: Sax (Paul?), Walt Fowler, sax (Albert?) and then a big, long solo by Frank. The Beatles Texas Motel medley followed with all the Swagertized lyric mutations and "Sharleena" followed that with yet another really nice solo by Frank that got everybody going in the audience. This closed the regular portion of the show.

The encores began with the long version of "Joe's Garage" into "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee," always a crowd favorite. "Cruising For Burgers" was next and Frank played a very long, melodic solo. He seemed to be definitely into playing tonight and having fun too. What turned out to be the last of the few appearances of "Uncle Remus" followed. It is so cool to finally hear this live and with a five piece horn section no less. Finally, the show closed with the Orange County Lumber Truck medley with Frank taking his final, blazing, long solo of the evening. A nice way to close the show - and may you never hear surf music again.

On to Buffalo - and America the Beautiful.

- Bill Lantz
(he made me do it)

I saw the two shows at the Mosque (now torn down, alas, and replaced by a parking lot) and I consider them the finest performances I've ever seen. Aside from the Swaggart revisions of Beatles' tunes, at which I laughed as I never have before, what I remember most clearly is the sense that this truly was something special. It was as if FZ was trying to get around to everything the dedicated fans had wanted to hear for years, and hadn't. "Willie the Pimp," "Eat That Question," the Orange County medley that ended with the main theme from, of all things, Lumpy Gravy -- so many similar moments over those two nights. Something special, indeed. The '88 was capable of playing such a wide range of styles that FZ was able to revisit a variety of periods. I left the second show believing this band could play anything. Ten years later, I still believe that.

Zappa was simply irreplacable. No one else could work at the intersection of politics, broad humor and impeccable musicianship, and make it all work. Music and human culture are diminished for his loss.

One final note: Stand-up comic Billy Connolly performed in Pittsburgh some time after the concert and said this: "America is such a powerful country that everyone in the world ought to be able to vote for President. But you'd never allow that because you know that if that happened, the next President of the United States would be Frank Zappa."

- John Wylam

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