If I had to pick one word to describe this show, it would be "Dragonmaster". More than just a Secret Word, Dragonmaster is the all-pervasive Secret Theme of the night, terrorizing the show much like the winged lizards of ancient folklore terrorized those helpless medieval villages. Referring to a heavy metal parody the band sound checked earlier in the evening, Dragonmaster becomes the evening's lyrical point of departure, resulting in the standard dragon substitutions, plus references to medieval villages, huts, fire, dragonfood, heavy metal, and a curious "Yoikes!".
It all starts off innocently enough, with the second word out of Frank's mouth being "Dragonmaster." During the band introductions, it is obvious what kind of night it is going to be as each band member is introduced as a Dragonmaster- Ike "Dragonmaster" Willis, Bruce "Dragonmaster" Fowler, etc. For the first 90 minutes of the show, not a single song escapes the wrath of this lyrical beast. In "Any Kind of Pain", our heroine "dines with actors and those Dragonmasters". During "More Trouble Every Day", we discover that "there is no way to stop that Dragon every day", which is unfortunate, because during "Dragon in Bondage", he has our singer "trembling like a medieval villager". Things start to get even worse for "Bobby Brown", because thanks to Freddy, "he's a medieval spastic", so "watch him now, he's Dragon down."
Of course, being in Sweden, no show would be complete without several Volvo, Fernando, and ABBA references, and sure enough, once the Dragon well appears to run dry, these start to pop up. Finally, as the early culmination to all this madness, "The Torture Never Stops" gets outright ridiculous. The Secret Word now becomes "butt-ugly," as in "Tom Petty is the butt-ugliest human being ever to be involved in Rock 'n' Roll." All decency is now gone, but the laughs keep coming. "If you sit on my face I might burn you", warns Lonesome Cowboy Jim, before declaring "Opal, You Crispy Little Bitch!"
And then....they hit a brick wall. The Secret Words disappear. The inspired performances disappear. The song takes on a whole new conservative, standard, rather dull feeling. Musically speaking, the first 90 minutes are not that spectacular, though there are some interesting moments thanks to some rather dramatic Frank guitar solos. Due to the outrageous Secret Word usage, however, the music takes a back seat to the vocal antics of the band. But an hour-and-a-half into the show, when the laughter suddenly dies, one can only help but notice the music, and one quickly wishes the laughs would resume. Oddly enough, even through some ripe-for-Secret-Word-usage encores, nothing happens. Only a single lyrical mutation for the remaining fifty minutes of the show.
Sadly (for the band, not for us), the best part of the show (musically speaking) comes from the two guests. Swedish musicians Mats Öberg and Morgan Ågren come out during a quite dull "Big Swifty," and whip out a keyboard/drums jam highly reminiscent of the Mars/Colaiuta '78 jams. If you didn't know any better, you would swear you were listening to a '78 "Little House". Mats even throws in some Tommy-style scat. This is easily one of the highlights of the tour. To top it off, they perform "T'Mershi Duween" (just the two of them) and it is Sweet!
Only the first 100 minutes of this show are worth hearing. Up through "The Torture Never Stops", the laughs never stop, and the music serves as the perfect breather between chuckles. When the laughs finally die down, the two Swedes blow our little minds, and hopefully leave us with enough sense to turn off the tape and avoid the not-so-thrilling conclusion.
In an unusual move, FZ reads off the entire setlist for the evening at the start of this show, and he then provides the list for tomorrow night before the second set. It happens that these are good setlists, and that makes both of these shows very good, though a hair shy of outstanding, examples of the Europe '88 tour.
It helps that the performances are strong, as well : tonight's "Bolero" and most of the Orange County Medley appear on MAJNH, providing perhaps the best examples (though I must say that I've found several other "Oh No" solos just as exciting or more) of two more pieces that could only have been done so well on this tour. The improvisation vehicle, "Big Swifty" (third consecutive show for this one), is also one of the best. In the middle of this, FZ cues up the ominous Synclavier passage which appears on MAJNH towards the end of "Yuppies," and it appears both on its own and under much of the band's soloing, influencing the mood of the entire piece.
FZ turns in another good, though less relentlessly aggressive than usual, solo on "Heavy Duty Judy" (now relegated to the middle of the set and soon to be ditched, inexplicably), as well as a thoroughly bizarre "Green Hotel" excursion; he also throws in "Handsome Cabin Boy" again in "Illinois Enema Bandit," and the whole band (even the horns) picks up on it. The show has its shortcomings : the setlist returns to throughly familiar territory halfway through set 2, after offering mostly prime numbers in the first two-thirds of the show, and the Secret Word, "fishbone" (referring to a pre-show Bobby Martin choking incident), only gets a bit of mileage. Still, a good night, and the following evening at the Ahoy would prove to be even more interesting.
May 4, 1988 Rotterdam
At the start of tonight's show, FZ once again reads off the setlist, slightly revised from last night's version - he's decided to incorporate "some things we rehearsed this afternoon" (always a sign that something good's coming up), and so the 80's premiere of "Dupree's Paradise," followed by "Marqueson's Chicken," replaces the "Stick/My Guitar/Willie/Montana" medley. A very strong development - two numbers that would add a lot of class to the last month of the tour. This "Marqueson's" offers the second and final '88 solo over the original vamp (not a bad one, either).
However, there is bigger news tonight, as an audience member who harangued Ed Mann about his 4/19 "Dickie's" mistake influences FZ's Secret Word choice - "rehearsal." Ed practices the "evening news" lick and almost gets it right when it comes up in the song, only to have Ike top him by going blank completely in the "preaching" section. Trying to cover it up, Ike offers an exaggerated stutter on the name "Bebe Rebozo," which leads to some hilarious stuttering wordplay throughout the rest of the show. (You wonder if FZ will ever make it through the "Is everybody happy?" line in "When The Lie's So Big.") All this makes the last complete Republican medley the funniest, though also the most error-laden. The Green/OSFA medley completes set one with style (and without mistakes).
In the heart of set two, a superb "Pound" continues the jazz action of the "Dupree"/"Marqueson" combo - several great solos over a variety of vamps. Bobby gets extra points for bringing out a synth-brass patch that evokes fleeting Tommy Mars memories. Then the Torture medley revives the "rehearsal" theme, with FZ chiding the band members and describing them "featuring their hurt." Still don't know exactly what that means, but I suspect everyone can guess.
Not a bad guitar night, by the way - the new meditative approach works in "Black Napkins" (though "Stinkfoot" is too laid-back), and FZ gets in yet another "Handsome Cabin Boy" quote in "Crusing For Burgers," as well as rocking out in "Crew Slut" (which gets my "surprisingly good in '88" vote). The band is also sharp, aside from the aformentioned goofs and some other flaws (the "boot" cue in "Stinkfoot" gets messed up again), and in spite of FZ's amusing-but-tinged-with-seriousness criticisms.
A great show, but it's simultaneously a bit ironic and a great shame that the increase in the tour's musical and humorous interest seems to coincide with the fatal morale decline described by the bandmembers. Both processes would continue further as the month goes on, but few other shows capture each side of the coin as vividly.
Once again, we join our intrepid explorers- Dirk, Tom, and Tommy - bravely holding up their hand written sign, asking the question that is on everyone's mind - "What's the Secret Word for tonight?" Thankfully, Frank saves us any suspense and settles matters almost immediately. "There is no Secret Word for tonight." At first, you think that he is just saying that they have yet to figure out what the Secret Word is. But then, as the song continues, and the intros quickly pass, you realize that Frank is more than just commenting on the current state of the show. No, he is giving a command. "Boys," you can hear Frank saying, "there will be NO secret word tonight. No jokes. No stuttering. No references to dragons, Tom Petty, sex, etc. Tonight, we let the music speak for itself. That is an order."
So what happens? What is the end result, you ask? Well, amazingly enough, it is one of the best damn shows of the tour. No outrageous theatrics, no mind-boggling improvisations, no high-energy freak-outs- just one of the most mellow, straightforward, calmly intense in a "kick off your shoes, grab a beer, and put on some 'Kind of Blue'" ways that any Frank show has ever been.
Frank sets the tone immediately, with a dramatic and very purposeful "Black Page" solo. Every note seems handpicked, thoroughly tested, and carefully placed. Not a wasted lick in sight. The set continues, with the horns working wonders with the surprise second song "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" (though Denny is still missed). The first of three Monster Songs (yes, I said three), "Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ" parades before us three ultra laid-back horn solos (Carmen and the Fowlers), interspersed with short, hypnotic Synclavier jams. Very cool. A rare middle of the set "Zoot Allures" finds Frank whipping out another carefully played and quite satisfying solo, paving the way for what would be the centerpiece of the show. Monster Song Number Two, "Stolen Moments,"" provides the most straightforward and rewarding slice of jazz this band would produce in its four-month tenure. Albert, Kurt, Ed, and Bobby all take long, slow, dare I say beautiful solos over a strolling, conventional jazz vamp. No loops, no effects, no burping noises. Just pure music. To top it all off, as Bobby finishes his solo and starts vamping along with the band, Frank steps up and takes a solo, over the same, no-nonsense groove. Mellow, reflective, sublime, it sounds like a "Blessed Relief" outtake. Talk about miles of smiles. Hmmm.
While the show reaches a definite peak here, the remaining set manages to keep the listener happy, despite some weaker song choices. "City of Tiny Lites" contains another lyrical and poetic solo, which slowly (I mean slowly) builds to a controlled yet exhilarating climax. Frank's best '88 "City" solo? A definite possibility. "Pound for a Brown" gives Wing one more chance to stretch out, and boy does he stretch. He is given space the size of Wyoming. This is followed by an even longer percussion/Synclavier jam which sounds like the Grateful Dead meets Bjork. (Does anyone know if they were burning incense on stage during this show?) Unfortunately, Frank makes his only poor decision of the night by tacking on an aggressive loops solo at the end of this, breaking the mood of the show and momentarily reminding us of which tour we are in the midst.
But then, "Cruising for Burgers" rights all wrongs, and even in the face of a "Dancin' Fool" encore (which sounds great with horns), the rest of the show continues to etch that smile into the listeners face. "Strictly Genteel" once again works its wonders, and while it still does not contain a simply majestic solo, "Watermelon in Easter Hay" proves to be the perfect closer. In fact, the mood that "Watermelon in Easter Hay" should normally conjure up in your soul is the mood that would best describe this show. Yes, it is that good.
(BTW, my tape sounds GREAT!! Much better than the B- tape that has been circulating. Seek this show out!! That is an order!)
Tonight's setlist does not include anything composed after 1976 - a blessing, although it feels bad in a sense to say it. Like Dortmund, this show takes on the feeling of a jazz-oriented Zappa retrospective. Instrumental numbers predominate, and the OSFA songs, "Black Napkins," "Dupree's," "Cleveland," "Big Swifty" and the OCLT Medley all appear on one night - certainly, this is the sort of '88 tape into which you can sink your ears easily.
That said, few of tonight's versions are outstanding, which makes this the weakest show so far in May (though that still puts it ahead of many shows from the previous months). This isn't to say that it's bereft of good moments, though - FZ delivers an excellent and unusually long "Cleveland" solo (though the '88 versions of this number, to my ears, never competed with those from the two previous touring years), as well as a nice "Torture," in his subdued mode. "Big Swifty" is also impressive, and quite different from the last version from three nights ago. This Monster touches on both "When Yuppies Go To Hell" and "Make A Jazz Noise" territory, and includes a rare Keneally dual guitar/keyboard solo - the only bad news is that the outro abruptly appears just when it seems like he's about to go on a true rampage. (Makes you wonder why he got such short shrift if FZ liked him so much. On the other hand, maybe Frank had to worry about keeping everyone else happy...)
Once again, there is no Secret Word, until FZ pulls out a rather forced specimen ("screaming Albanian jizz weasels") at the end of the "Torture" encore. Still, lots of good music, and the humor would return shortly.