BAND MEMBERS- FZ, Ian Underwood (keyboards, saxophone, tour genius), Max Bennett (bass), Aynsley Dunbar (highly underrated drummer), Sugarcane Harris (violin, keyboards, vocals- 3/7 show only)
DATES- 2/28/70 San Diego, CA; 3/7/70 Los Angeles, CA; possibly 3/?? USC, and 3/20 Hollywood (see APPENDIX below for more info on the confused nature of the actual dates)
SHOWS- 2 (that we have tapes of, possibly 2 or maybe 3 more. See APPENDIX below))
# OF DIFFERENT SONGS PLAYED- 11 (counting both versions of "Chunga's Revenge",and "Interlude"; not including "Unknown Jam" from 2/28))
AVERAGE SHOW LENGTH- 50 mins.
AVERAGE # OF FZ SOLOS- 6 (2/28); 6 (3/7); possibly two more on 2/28
SONGS FZ WOULD SOLO IN- Blues Shuffle in Key of C, Bolero in G, Chunga's Revenge, King Kong, Pound for a Brown, Sharleena, Twinkle Tits, Willie the Pimp
COMMENTS ON FZ SOLOS- These two shows contain Frank's best solos of the early '70's (he would not play this passionately on a regular basis until '74). For some reason- the almost entirely new repertoire, the relaxed atmosphere, the insanely high quality of the musicians- Frank steps up and produces a collection of solos that all stand in the upper echelon of his collected guitar improvisations. Alternating between lyrical, jazzy outings and more aggressive, bluesy workouts, Frank runs the gambit in these two short shows, managing to thrive amongst the series of insane solos offered up by his band mates. While Frank's solos were no slouches in the tours previous to this, these two shows are the first real instance of Frank demonstrating his true guitar playing abilities. Sadly, he would retreat to calmer waters for the majority of the next couple years, but at least Frank gives brief exposure to his true skills, and helps prepare us for the onslaughts of the late '70's.
NEW SONGS ON TOUR- Blues Shuffle in Key of C, Directly from My Heart to You, Sharleena, Twinkle Tits, Willie the Pimp
MONSTER SONGS- King Kong, Chunga's Revenge; With the exception of "Directly from My Heart To You" and "Sleeping in a Jar", every song in these two shows is essentially an excuse for extended solos. In their respective shows, "King Kong" and "Chunga's Revenge" are the true monster songs, containing multiple solos from all involved, and evolving into musical beasts a ways removed from their origins.
OVERVIEW- There is not much to say about this tour, er, these two shows, other than the fact that I really, really like them. The first show is essentially one long jam, broken up by occasional pieces of previously composed music. From the opening "Blues Shuffle" to the closing jam, the first show parades before us a string of diverse, intense, always interesting solos. Not a slouch performance in the entire show. The second show is slightly more structured, thanks to the jaunty "Sharleena", and the passionate "Directly from My Heart to You", but Frank still manages to squeeze in a plethora of solos. If I had to make a complaint about either of these shows, it would be that they are too short. Two fifty minute shows of music of this caliber is simply not enough. We need a whole year's worth. Hot Rats, indeed.
BLUES SHUFFLE IN KEY OF C (6:48)- Frank had this wondeful habit in the early seventies of performing impromptu blues jams during those moments of a show when "technical difficulties" were preventing him from performing his normal routine. When Frank walks on stage for this show, he announces that some of the mics are not working properly, so instead of just standing there, the band will perform a "blues shuffle in the key of C". And so they do. The shuffle begins with a piano heavy intro, before Frank steps up and takes his first solo. Ian follows with a keyboard solo, Frank takes another guitar solo, and Bennet concludes the whole affair with a soulful bass solo. As Bennet puts the finishing touches on his effort, the band continues to shuffle along. Ian then steps up and propels us into a monster performance of...
KING KONG (19:14)- These two shows represent in my mind Frank's version of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" period- concerts consisting of simply structured songs which essentially serve as vehicles for extended jamming. While Frank (because he is Frank) ends up with a more structured whole, this performance of "King Kong" represents just how exciting his music can be when he allows himself and the others to just play (Frank would adopt a similar attitude during the two '72 Wazoo tours, but those shows took on an even more structured atmosphere than these two shows.) After Ian ushers in this monster performance with the hastily played theme, he takes off on his first of many solos. It is a short one, but it allows the song to pick up momentum before Frank steps up and delivers his first effort of the song. This is a good solo- melodical and uplifting- yet with that typical Frank intensity. Ian's second keyboard solo emerges out of Frank's guitar composition, before we get an abrupt tempo shift that changes the musical landscape. Ian continues to solo over this new, slow blues vamp, returning to the main "King Kong" theme and basing his solo on many variations of the theme. Frank gives Ian lots of room here, and is content to sit back and play rhythm. As the keyboard solo progresses, Frank's rhythm work heightens in intensity, challenging Ian and pushing the solo to greater heights. The rest of the band follows Frank's lead, and eventually swallow Ian's solo, leading to several minutes of a solid, full band groove. Underwood's saxophone soars out of this musical stampede, with Frank answering this new challenge by taking his rhythm work into a more jazzy, "Chunga's"-esque direction. Frank finally steps forward, and whips out his second solo of the song. This second one is harder edged than the first, with a hint of "Transylvania Boogie" running through his angular lines. Dunbar gets a little once Frank is finished, giving all involved a chance to rest before returning to the main theme and ending this affair. Nineteen minutes of pure improvisation, and not a second wasted.
BOLERO IN G (Chunga's Revenge) (7:04)- Having first appeared late in the '69 tour, this is the second performance of what would one week later be "Chunga's Revenge". While the "Chunga's" theme is easily recognizable, here it is slow and slightly tweaked. Sounds like the album version with the pitch and tempo misadjusted. Interesting, and competent, just a little jarring. Frank plays the main theme, followed by the abrupt intro (meaning the riff that opens the album version), while Dunbar plays much more actively than in your typical "Chunga's Revenge". Frank takes a solo- nothing great but not bad- before returning to the main theme. Riffing off the main theme, Ian takes a short solo which is abruptly interrupted by Frank's guitar heavy intro to...
POUND FOR A BROWN (3:47)- This is your typical "Pound for a Brown", performed as it is essentially performed from the '60's up through the Fall '71 tour. We get the head- the two thematic sections surrounding the "avant-garde" middle- before heading off into Frank's solo. This is also your typical "Pound for a Brown" solo, lyrical and calm, with occasional flourishes of aggression. And, as is always the highly enjoyable case with the shows of this era, Frank leads us into....
SLEEPING IN A JAR (2:22)- This is essentially performed as on "Ahead of Their Time", with occasional guitar embellishments throughout. Always a treat.
UNKNOWN JAM- On the end of my tape for this show, there is a jam [consisting of a guitar solo (joined in mid-flight), a sax solo, a bass solo, and a second FZ solo] that sounds as if it could be from this show. The sound quality is nearly identical, and the band sounds like this band. The track is unlabelled, which I assume means the trader I got it from believes that the track is part of "Sleeping in a Jar". It most definitely is not. Fred Tomsett's "T'Mershi Duween", in its "Touring Can Drive You Crazy" series, lists the track as "Guitar Solo". There is more to the jam than just a guitar solo, with traces of both "Willie the Pimp" and "Chunga's Revenge" throughout the many solos. Whether this is an actual song, or simply a post-"Sleeping in a Jar" jam, is unknown to me. (BTW, this entire jam is sweet. Loose and carefree, but with a tight enough groove to lift the solos to another level.) [David Lynch adds: "After "Sleeping In A Jar": It doesn't sound like there's a splice in my copy. At the end of "Sleeping" the band goes on to jam and Zappa starts up a solo, followed by a sax solo by Ian that heavily quotes the "Chunga's" theme (further evidence that this is part of the same tune), followed by about three notes of a bass solo before my tape cuts."] This, of course, only adds to the confusion.
SHARLEENA (9:31)- This premiere performance of this eventual guitar solo classic appears essentially as it would on "Lost Episodes". This version, or at least this recording of this version, has a harder guitar edge, but nevertheless bounces along at the same frantic pace. Harris and Frank both take solos, with Frank contributing some heavy rhythm support during Harris' violin workout and during a short full-band jam in the midst of these solos. Harris takes the longer of the two solos, though Frank's wah-wah tinged effort still satisfies. This is a worthy performance, and just as enjoyable as the revelatory "lost episode".
TWINKLE TITS/INTERLUDE (9:57)- This one-time only performance- a waltz!- resembles a light-hearted version of "Little House I Used To Live In". While actual pieces of "Little House" are found in this extended instrumental, new pieces of music are found in the opening theme. After the short intro, Frank takes a one minute solo, after which the song begins toying with the borrowed themes as noted above. Approximately two and a half minutes into the song, we enter the solo zone, with Harris, Underwood, and the rhythm section getting an opportunity to display their chops. Again, Frank's rhythm work is awesome throughout (this is the great fault of FZ shows from the mid-70's on-> no Frank playing rhythm). Frank eventually takes a second solo, during which there is an interesting cut in the tape. At 7:29 into the song, the tape edits out of the solo into a composed piece of music known as "Interlude", previously performed by the '60's Mothers. This tune is reminscent of "Little House" but is an entirely new piece of music. After the cut, the remaining portion of this track consists of "Interlude", without returning to the "Twinkle Tits" theme. While these are definitely two different tracks, it is possible that they were joined together here as a medley. [David Lynch, who helped with info on this track, writes: "The coda was performed by the '69 Mothers under the title "Interlude". I have two separate '69 recordings of this piece, which is more or less complete on the Hot Rats recording. That having been said, they may still have been performed together during this concert, as the Hot Rats were wont to run together tunes in medleys, and Zappa mentions the Hot Rats band knowing "three tunes, maybe five" at the beginning of this concert."]
DIRECTLY FROM MY HEART TO YOU (5:40)- Without a doubt, the greatest cover song Frank ever performed. There is honest emotion in this piece (a Frank rarity!), thanks to some impassioned playing and singing by the why-couldn't-he-have-stayed-around-longer Harris. This is essentially performed as on "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", with an intesity that only comes with performing live. Excellent.
CHUNGA'S REVENGE (24:12)- In seven days, Frank took a mangled piece of music known as "Bolero in G" and transformed it into the instrumental powerhouse known as "Chunga's Revenge". This performance is as powerful as always, with the strong opening theme, followed by a series of equally strong solos. Frank extends this early performance beyond its solo-vehicle expectancy, and churns out some thoroughly exciting and spine- tingling music. The first series of solos runs about 13 minutes, containing an Underwood saxophone solo, a Harris keyboard solo, and a jazzy, melodical Frank solo. These solos are all great, and made even more so by Bennet's ever-shifting bass lines, and Dunbar's thunderous drumming. After the obligatory drum solo, Bennet returns to the "Chunga's" theme with a slow, death march take on the main riff. Frank abruptly enters the scene, with a full-blown psychedelic mangling of the theme. The bass player continues with his methodical plodding, leading the jam with a slow, walking bass line, gradually building in intensity thanks to the impetus of Frank's rhythm. Over this, Harris whips out the violin solo of his life, producing musical blasphemy for four exhausting minutes. The sounds Sugarcane wrangles out of his violin must be heard to be believed. The whole band eventually coalesces back into one, before Frank takes off for yet another solo, exploring the stratosphere for three more minutes. Finally, 24 minutes after the insanity began, the music stops, and everyone scrambles to find their minds. Heaven.
WILLIE THE PIMP- Unfortunately, my tape of the 3/7 show does not contain this song; thus, Charles Ulrich will describe this for you-> "My copy of 3/7/70 has "Willie The Pimp" after "Chunga's Revenge". There is no edit between the songs. FZ introduces the song as "Willie The Pimp", regrets that Beefheart isn't there to sing it, and recites some of the lyrics. Sugar Cane Harris plays violin on it. There's a guitar solo, an organ solo, a bass solo, then an edit to the ending. The whole thing is about twelve minutes long (plus whatever has been edited out, of course)." David Lynch adds: "I have a tape of the March 7 show that DOES include Willie the Pimp. It's an instrumental run-through of the tune, comparable in quality to the rest of the recordings of this band, that lasts 11 and a half minutes- after the opening theme, Frank lets loose with a 2 1/2 minute solo, followed by a 2 minute 21 second violin solo, followed by a three minute keyboard solo, followed by a bass solo that lasts for 1 minute 21 seconds before there's a splice to the closing theme. The "Willie the Pimp" vamp is heard prominently throughout the performance."
So exactly how many shows did this band play? We will let Charles Ulrich, Biffy the Elephant Shrew M.D., and Bill Lantz sort this out (and further confuse y'all)->
Biffy writes: Charles Ulrich sent me two quotes from a Max Bennett interview at http://www.pd.nettuno.it/lama/dk/benuk.htm (this is the dog talkin' now):>> ... gradually the music changed at rehearsals to the point that it was too avant/garde for my tastes and taking up too much of my time so I had to leave the group...(That didn't sound like a band that played two gigs a week apart)... we played for several months in and around L A and rehearsed at nite ... (That *really* doesn't sound like two gigs a week apart.)
Biffy continues: The book "The Art Of The Fillmore" shows a poster for a Berkeley Community Theatre show on 4/19/70 advertising "Frank Zappa and the Hot Rats." The $64 Question is, was this really a late Hot Rats show, or could it have been the pre-Contempo Mothers lineup incorrectly advertised under the previous band's name? Bill Lantz thinks it was an MOI show. I'm not so sure. (Bill's rationale is that there was hardly enough time to regroup and rehearse the Mothers between 4/19 and the known 5/8 show. But since the band contained only two "new" members, Duke and Simmons, both of whom already had experience playing with FZ, I don't find this a strong objection--20 days seems like plenty of time to get 'em up to speed for the tour, and the tour itself was just "rehearsal" for the Contempo '70 show.)
So Bill Lantz writes: I think my line of reasoning extends to the material that the re-formed Mothers were doing, even though it was basically the same each night, was so vastly different that the material being done by the Hot Rats lineup. The reformed MOI unit was doing a Call Any Vegetable/Duke of Prunes medley, Stavinsky's Agon, Lumber Truck, several old Mothers tunes so Ray could sing - it just seems hard to imagine 2 weeks being enough time to rehearse these and do them segue like Frank had them do it. Many of older songs were seeing new arrangements for the first time as well. To complicate (or possibly clarify the existence of the poster Biffy saw) the matter even more, there was apparantly a power quartet around right before this time too. It was Frank, Jeff Simmons, Ian Underwood and ArtieTripp. This is according to Tripp who also stated that they played only one show. He said that he hated Jeff and stopped going to the Zubin/rehearsals in April for the upcoming Philharmonic gig in May because of him. Duke had only played with Frank before on the Ponty King Kong sessions and this was also Jeff's first time in the Mothers even though he had worked with Frank on Lucille. I have to doubt either of them were like Keneally and walked right into the material. I'm sure it took some time - more than two weeks anyways. So, I guess if I had to really make a SWAG here, April was spent rehearsing for the May 1970 New York, Philly and Chicago mini-tour with time-out forone power quartet gig billed as the Hot Rats on 4/19 in Berkeley.
I added, further complicating matters, that I have run across a tour list that includes a 4/26 show in London, 12 days before the known Mothers' show in NYC. Huh?
Biffy later writes, in a valiant effort to further elucidate matters: "Rolling Stone announced the Contempo '70 concert in their 4/16/70 issue,stating that FZ would "collect his disbanded Mothers" for the performance. The next issue states: "Frank Zappa and the Mothers, reconvening for the May 15th concert with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, have announced a couple of other gigs--'obscure warm-up engagements,' Zappa calls them, 'strictly to get our chops up to the LA concert.' The extra Mothers concerts will be at Fillmore East May 8th and 9th and at the Philadelphia Academy Of Music on Mothers' Day, May 10th." This only further confuses the issue of who exactly played the 4/18/70 "Hot Rats" concert, as that would have taken place at leasta week and a half *after* the news item was written (printing date 4/8/70 for issue dated 4/30/70). Unsupported theory time: could that "power quartet" with Tripp and Simmons (thanks, Bill, I'd *never* heard of that!) have been an ad-hoc jamming ensemble put together specifically to honor a booking made before the MOI reunion?