Saturday, June 6, 2009

Deutschlandhalle Berlin, 1978

One of the better bootlegs out there is of the Feb. 15, 1978 concert at the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin (don't be concerned that the order of the material does not follow the show’s format). The show occurred slightly more than a year prior to the 1979 release of “Sheik Yerbouti,” and listening to the Berlin show you quickly realize that it is quite nearly a song-for-song preview of that album. This bootleg might in fact be the one Zappa talks about at the start of “As An Am” from the Beat The Boots series, when he complains about a bootlegger that essentially recorded an entire album before he was able to release it.

Even “songs” that were really guitar solos within songs played at the Berlin concert show up as separate musical entities with new names on “Sheik Yerbouti.” For example, the Berlin guitar solo in “The Torture Never Stops” may sound very familiar, and it should. That solo appeared later on the official release of “Sheik Yerbouti” with the title “Rat Tomago.” Another killer guitar solo also shows up on “Sheik Yerbouti,” and that’s from the lengthy, avant-garde Berlin interpretation of “Little House I Used to Live In.” This solo shows up as “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango.”

So, out of the 18 songs listed on “Sheik Yerbouti,” 11 of them were played and bootlegged in Berlin a year earlier, and if you include the guitar solos I mentioned, 13 of the 18 compositions from “Sheik Yerbouti” were recorded and bootlegged from the Berlin show.

And my, what a delicious bootleg it is. Even with the sub-par sound by virtue of the fact that it is an unofficial release, it is a recording of a superb show. Had this boot been re-mastered and released officially, I would unhesitatingly give if a five-star rating.

It is that freaking awesome. It is nearly two-and-a-half hours of ripping kick ass music played with expert precision that includes some of Zappa’s best live guitar solos. There is some really outstanding and beautiful keyboard playing as well and some freaky funky bass playing by Patrick O'Hearn. The show easily swings from hard rock to sweet stylin’ jazz funk, with effortless segues into avant-garde, then back to jamming arena rock.

Frank introduces the band while they play a motif from “One Size Fits All,” then launch into “Dancin’Fool,” the first of the 11 tracks this concert covered from “Sheik Yerbouti.” I find it curious that when Frank goes through the abbreviated version of the dialogue portion of the song, he speaks with an exaggeratedly slow cadence, the way people speak to someone whom they believe can’t understand what is being said because of a language barrier. He does this in other portions of the show as well. Was he intentionally mocking the crowd? Or was he just that ignorant of his German audience’s ability to be bilingual, given his experience at Amougies?

They next move into a very cool rendition of “Peaches En Regalia.” They’ve got the crowd warmed up now, so next comes “The Torture Never Stops,” which brings Frank’s guitar out. His solo is roughly six minutes of virtuosity, which was pared down to 5:15 for appearance on “Sheik Yerbouti” as “Rat Tomago.” This was a very special moment for those in the audience; this guitar solo stands out as one of Zappa’s most self-contained musical compositions for guitar. When he finishes and returns to “Torture” I get the sense that the audience was stunned by what it just heard.

The band then sweeps into three songs from “Sheik Yerbouti,” tightly and flawlessly played. Bozzio’s vocals on “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” are so viscerally ridiculous that it’s a perfect match for the shrill hysteria within the song’s content. Andrew Belew comes in for the vocals on “City of Tiny Lights,” which also presents us with another of Frank’s guitar solos. Ed Mann’s percussion work starts to get notice here as well; his playing certainly rivals, in my opinion, anything Ruth Underwood has done with Frank.

After “Baby Snakes,” the band moves into “Pound for a Brown,” an outstanding jazz and funk piece that I believe first officially appeared on “Zappa in New York.” I’ve been trying to track down what solos in the song Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf are performing on the keyboards here, but so far have been unsuccessful. I think both take turns with solos, but I just haven’t been able to confirm that. Anyone have some better information of this?

The band returns to some more “Sheik Yerbouti” material with “I Have Been in You,” which Zappa nicely sets up for the crowd (again apparently presuming the audience has no clue as to what he’s saying). It’s a brilliant set up for the song, which mocks Peter Frampton’s “In You.” The sixth release of the YCDTOSA series also has a similarly satirical setup for the song. In the next song, Belew does a nice job with an impression of Bob Dylan during the second portion of the song (the impression improves on "Sheik Yerbouti"), which then has a very cool guitar solo to segue into the final section of the song; not sure if it’s Belew or Zappa, but both are playing during the song’s climax just before what would have been the chorus finishing the song (which is omitted from the concert). Based on my ear alone, I’m guessing it’s Zappa’s guitar solo first, followed by Belew joining him. Could be the other way around, but because the band quickly moves into “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes,” which has Zappa singing, I’m guessing when Belew comes in with his solo, Zappa is putting his guitar down to prepare for the next song. Zappa admits in his autobiography “The Real Frank Zappa Book” that he can’t sing and play guitar at the same time.

One of my favorite compositions comes next with “King Kong.” The tempo in this version is much faster than in others, which normally had featured Ian Underwood on saxophone. But at this concert, Ed Mann comes in for some outstanding vibraphone playing, again at such a frenetic (and precise) pace that his skill rivals Ruth Underwood’s command of the instrument. We get a bit of audience participation here as well when the song moves into some avant-garde vocalizations and free-form styles. Patrick O’Hearn finishes up with some funky fusion bass grooves. It’s performances like this that keeps me hooked on Zappa bootlegs. He played so many times with so many different musicians that to be able to hear performances like this is priceless.

Performed in the same order as they appear on “Sheik Yerbouti,” the first CD of this bootleg closes with “Wild Love” and “Yo Mama,” the latter of which was played for the first time at this concert (details sketchy on this, but that appears to be the case based on some information from the All Music Guide entry on this song). Shall I say again, “killer guitar solo here”? Incidentally, the guitar solo on “Wild Love” was reportedly by Adrian Belew.

CD two begins with material that was officially released a month after this concert in “Zappa in New York.” These include “Titties ‘n Beer” and “Black Page #2.” While introducing the latter, Zappa chides the crowd, saying he won’t embarrass them by asking them to clap with the song. Indeed, that would have been a laughable feat, I believe, for any audience, given the complex time signatures within the “Black Page #2.”

After another brief diversion with more material that would eventually wind up on “Sheik Yerbouti,” this time with “Jones Crusher,” the band moves into “Little House I Used To Live In.” As mentioned earlier, it is from this song that the guitar solo later dubbed “Sheik Yerbouti Tango” was taken. But before that solo, there is some very lovely piano in this; but again, I’m not sure if it was Mars or Wolf that provided that delightful interlude (I’m guessing Wolf). Very different from the original version released on “Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” but still a great interpretation. The piece is constructed in a manner that could be construed to be a mini version of how “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” was constructed. The album was a sort of musical sandwich with the two doo-wop numbers at the beginning and end acting as the bread. In this version of “Little House,” the main theme of the song begins and ends the piece, with a bit of meandering avant-garde and the “Sheik Yetbouti Tango” in the middle.

“Dong Work for Yuda,” the next track, was later released on “Joe’s Garage.” But after that, it’s back to more “Sheik Yerbouti” material with “Bobby Brown.” Frank announces the song is named “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” although when it was first released on vinyl, it was listed as just “Bobby Brown.” The next song is a curious number titled “Envelopes.” Although we have this short number performed at this concert, it wasn’t released on vinyl until 1980 with “A Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” However, by the time it shows up on that album, the lyrics have been abandoned for an instrumental form. The item was also performed on the London Symphony Orchestra release.

We get a rare drum solo on this bootleg as well, rare in the sense that it was recorded. While many musicians who played with Zappa performed many solos, I really can’t think of very many drum solos. And even this one doesn’t quite qualify as a true drum solo because of the other accompanying space sounds.

The show finishes off with material from “Zoot Alures” and “Over-nite Sensation.” I’m not totally certain, but “Disco Boy” contains a vamp that I think Scissor Sisters later used. With this concert, you get both songs that Zappa wrote that explicitly deal with the disco phenomenon, the other being “Dancin’ Fool,” with which he opened the concert. “Disco Boy” is followed with “Dinah-Moe Humm,” (which has a verse skipped) “Camarillo Brillo” and “Muffin Man.” Zappa a number of times paired “Camarillo Brillo” with “Muffin Man,” starting the former out with a rapid temp that drops into a slower tempo just before it segues into “Muffin Man.”

I rate this four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Frank Zappa: Deutschlandhalle Berlin, Feb. 15, 1978.

Track List:

02.Dancin' Fool
03.Peaches En Regalia
04.The Torture Never Stops (includes Rat Tomago)
05.Tryin' To Grow A Chin
06.City Of Tiny Lights
07.Baby Snakes
08.Pound For A Brown
09.I Have Been In You
11.Broken Hearts Are For Assholes
12.King Kong
13.Wild Love
14.Yo Mama

01.Titties 'n Beer
02.Black Page #2
03.Jones Crusher
04.Little House I Used To Live In (includes Sheik Yerbouti Tango)
05.Dong Work For Yuda
06.Bobby Brown
08.Drum Solo
09.Disco Boy
10.Dinah-Moe Humm
11.Camarillo Brillo
12.Muffin Man
13.fade in
14.fade out


Frank Zappa: guitar, vocals
Adrian Belew: guitar
Patrick O’Hearn: bass
Tommy Mars: keyboards
Terry Bozzio: drums
Peter Wolf: keyboards
Ed Mann: percussion

1 comment:

Thorbjørn Andersen said...

The tune "Pound for a brown" first was released on the album "Uncle meat" You can watch it here: