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12 December 1973
© 1998 by Lewis Saul
I had come to LA to visit my brother who was going to Cal Tech that summer. We ended up taking a house together in Altadena after I got a gig and decided to hang around.
We went to a *lot* of clubs and concerts that year. One that particularly sticks out in my memory is some swank joint by the ocean where we heard Mingus wail for three hours. Don Pullen was doing things that my eyes and ears just couldn't believe!
It was right around this time that we rushed out and got our tickets for FZ at the Roxy -- 12/12/73....
The Roxy was pretty new at that time, as I recall (or maybe it was old and had been refurbished)...it was a *very* pleasant environment -- we were seated at these very long tables -- not squished in -- but very neighborly...
Now, I have to be honest. 25 years later, I don't recall a lot of details -- I'm sorry, dammit -- but, you can be absolutely certain that what I *do* recall made a pretty vivid impression on me!
First mention must go to the intimacy of this gig. The place could not have held more than a few hundred people, max...we were seated 15 or 20 feet from the stage -- just remember we had a great view of the whole band, particularly Napoleon...
I thought maybe the [incomplete] tape listing from Jon Naurin's set list might have helped jog my memory -- but it only reaffirmed what I remember most -- this was a VERY LONG concert....this guy's tape ran out before the Sun Village Medley -- so by reconstructing what's listed on that setlist, along with Sun Village Medley and the Dickie encore -- well, like I said -- this was a LONG show!
Second mention: Although I wasn't yet the FZ nut case I am now, I was pretty darn familiar with what had been released up to then -- and the impression I remember is that -- damn -- this was pretty much ALL new music!
I distinctly remember Cheepnis. Could barely understand one word -- but FZ was getting off on this! I remember that he cracked up frequently -- usually in response to some little thing or inside joke from Napoleon;
I remember the prologue, because I remember thinking, 'jeez, isn't this cool -- he's sharing his late-night tv viewing habits with us!' .....
After that -- my memory fails me. Until
The Sun Village Medley
This I was NOT prepared for! As soon as VOTS started, without having any idea what was going to follow -- I had a feeling something special was happening! Unlike Cheepnis, we could hear every word and the nostalgia that Frank was expressing was VERY evident (at least to me) in the "attitude" he injected into the song. Unlike 90% of the oeuvre, there seemed to be no sardonic subtext here, no biting remarks about how stupid we are -- just a song about THE GOOD OL' DAYS!
But when the song "segued" -- I don't think any of us were prepared for what followed.
During this section (Echidna/Don't You Ever) you could hear a pin drop (the recording is proof -- there are empty bars where you can hear how quiet it was!).
I remember being completely transfixed. I had never ever heard fast 5's and 7's played -- not only with such accuracy and precision -- but with such ease and joy -- (I distinctly remember Tom Fowler looking completely blissful -- smiling, and sort of bouncing along while his fingers were flying up and down) -- Ruth, too...
As a composer, I was trying to focus in on the details of this composition -- I just remember how amazed I was by the switching back and forth between 5 and 7 -- and the "overall" impression created by the smoothness at this incredibly fast tempo -- but eventually I acquired some wisdom and just sat back and let the music wash over me! My brother sat across from me, equally transfixed, and when it was over, we looked at each other -- too stunned to applaud -- really in a zone that most of you can relate to -- but is all too rare at most concerts or club dates!
Bebop time and the lights went on and we were all told to stand up. Enforced Recreation right here in Hollywood. Well my brother and I were probably the last to stand up. We were determined, I suppose, not to have as much fun as the people who *were* standing up.
Again -- incredible music blasting through the dense atmosphere -- only (and I know this sounds wimpy) it WASN'T THE SAME anymore -- the house lights sort of ruined the effect of this magical Godlike band up there in their black t-shirts and "aren't we playing the shit out of this music?" attitude....
And everybody was clapping and making noise and it was just the opposite of the Sun Village section.... Of course, by the time the LP came out, I could listen to the piece in the dark if I wanted to!
After that my mind dulls. Here's the story on Dickie's Such An Asshole...
When this was released in 1988 on the YCDTOSA Sampler, I vaguely recall saying to myself -- "oh yeah, I remember him doing that now!"
It was on the 10th or 11th listening that I had a stunning and shocking realization! Frank was responding to my screaming, "Play Dwarf Nebula Processional March and Dwarf Nebula" -- I had forgotten all about that!
My brother was looking at me like I was a lunatic (the idea of shouting out encore requests disgusted him!)...
And I wasn't just shouting, "Play Dwarf Nebula" -- I kept shouting out the whole ridiculous title (so Frank would be certain that I knew the "correct" title!)...
When I listen at very high volume with headphones I think I can make out my screaming, right before he responds....
I still don't know what on earth he meant by, "Have you been there too?"
Perhaps we were all hangin' in the Dwarf Nebula that night, who knows? Everything everywhere is happening all at once, anyway. What the fuck.
I really wanted to ask him about this when I met him in '89 -- but it seemed like a stupid thing to bring up during a job interview so I didn't bring it up...
Bruce's trombone playing captivated me all night. Only Bill Watrous had ever demonstrated such a command of the ridiculous extreme high end of the t'bone's register -- I could only gasp in amazement as he negotiated a lot of very tricky changes -- while managing to continually make fresh, original statements in his improvisations.
His brother also blew me away with 1) the beautiful sound he achieved -- remember the state of live PA set-ups back then -- they usually turned the bass into a low frequency thump that you felt more than heard and 2) his obvious mastery of the chart. This music is so very special (I think we can probably almost unanimously agree on that!) because the musicians are able to put on the "eyebrows" -- Tom's perfectly flowing bass, his playing oozing self-confidence, was a solid, smooth underpinning for all the gorgeous interplay between George, Ruth and the rest...
Any comment on Ruth is superfluous -- everyone knows what she did! But again -- there seemed to be a lot of joy in that band! I can still see her smile!
Chester and Ralph. When I first saw the set-up, I couldn't believe it -- two drummers in this tight space? I thought it would overwhelm the rest of the band and/or they'd be competing with each other with doubled backbeats, etc.
Instead, it turned out to be just what Frank wanted it to be -- a very powerful STEREO drum image -- they complimented each other perfectly, and one could solo while the other kept a groove going -- a most unusual thing to hear!
I heard FZ four times after that. All in the mid-70's -- 3 times in NYC and once in Pittsburgh....
Nothing as memorable as 12/12/73 -- and at the Pittsburgh concert, I got very grumpy early on in the show when they did Broken Hearts Are For Assholes.
During the "you're an asshole" part -- he'd go around pointing at everyone as he sang -- I wasn't quite clued in enough not to take it personally. I think we were all looking at each other like -- "well, if the shoe fits....."
While technically not a Frank Zappa concert -- I was living in NYC then and went to the Victoria theater for the very first show of Baby Snakes (and saw it five more times in the first month after it opened)...
It might as well have been an FZ concert -- the amplifiers were stacked high to the left and right of the screen -- the sound was AWESOME!
It freaks a lot of people out when I say this is my favorite movie of all time (yeah, even beats out Citizen Kane :]) --
but it was definitely the greatest "MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE" I've ever had!
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