Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Zappa Live

I recall an interviewer once asking Frank which he preferred – recording or playing live. Paraphrasing his answer, Frank said that while he had fun in the studio, it was live performance that he really liked. He has said that he very much enjoyed making the instant compositions of his guitar solos, and as we know, Frank was always one to interact with the audience on a very risky and spontaneous scale few other artists would attempt.

And yet at times Frank spoke almost disparagingly of touring, talking about playing "Muffin Man" over and over just to pay for his Synclavier explorations and symphonic events. I didn't necessarily like that characterization of the live shows being something mildly mercenary and a means to a different end. I thought that was our communion time with Frank. But maybe I read it wrong.

I go back and forth. When I hear some genius studio song (as one example, anything off "One Size Fits All"), I think that's best. But when I hear the guitar solo on "Pick Me, I'm Clean," or "Any Kind of Pain," I think that's the best. Call it situational ethics. Hey, it's all Frank; it's all good.

Frank's shows were mindbending in terms of the musicianship he and the boys would perpetrate, but also for the surprises – fresh interpretations of old material, plus new affronts. I heard "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" for the first time at Stanford on Nov. 19, 1977, and Bozzio's impossibly brilliant drum solo that night. People were walking out of Maples Pavilion in a daze, and not all of them had utilized dope-fiend devices at the show.

Because the most amazing thing about Zappa shows was the way he took control of the situation. From the first notes, or even before them, you knew you were in Zappa's weird but perfectly internally logical space. It was a fun place to be. Sometimes, in the last few minutes before the show, his unmistakable guitar would peal off a flurry of naughty notes from backstage over the pre-show music as he tested the PA out. You might even hear a the chords of "Louie, Louie." It always got a rise of excited recognition from the audience. Then Frank would come onstage, redefine reality and you were off to the races.

One of the tunes that smothers me in Zappatude is "Variations on Sinister #3" on disc 2 of Guitar. I might have my guitar genius friend Mike McLaren explain to me what that bizarre harmonic climate is all about, the scales Frank is using, etc. All I know is that it's disturbing and embracing all at once – everything we love about Frank. It's its own reality, and it makes perfect sense.

So, I'll go ahead and play exclusively live material on the June 29, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber. Just for fun. I'll also try and do the Jay Brown interview that was techno-stymied last week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin, I just don't know what to say about this elixir!

You just keep on deepening my education about FZ and his works.

We got to see Frank at Circle Star Theater. He changed one song to "Moving to Modesto Soon".

I felt personally touched. If I ever do time travel, I'm gonna see all his shows!

Ron in Richmond