This is one of the most well-known 1988 shows, not because it's one of the best, but because it was broadcast on TV, and therefore widely circulated on video. Unfortunately, this is not one of the better May shows : not bad, but uneven - especially FZ's guitar playing. But the show reaches a new dimension during the later part when the secret word usage gets started, which inspires both FZ and the rest of the band.
The show starts off with the routine opening "Black Page"/"Packard Goose," followed by a great "Sharleena." FZ finds inspiration for a long, good solo, with brilliant support from Thunes. "Bamboozled By Love" features an intense-as- always, but not too interesting, solo.
Walt Fowler once again proves his excellence in melodic playing in his "Black Napkins" flugelhorn (would never have told if it wasn't a video) solo. FZ's harsh guitar sound (not a good choice here, IMO) brings a sharp contrast, and sounds rather out of place. We get a near-complete Republican Retrospective Medley, quite unusual for the south-european part of the tour. "Any Kind Of Pain" is the inevitable highlight with its solo, this time featuring some nice, creative use of the ol' whammy bar, but it seems FZ runs out of inspiration quickly, and the solo stays short.
One of the biggest treats of this video is to see a Monster Song ("Big Swifty") performed, trying to detect FZ's hand cues. Bruce Fowler goes first, then a minute of full-band improvisations. This is where Scott Thunes takes over the show - his playing here, and in the following drums/bass/synclavier/synth percussion jam, is nothing short of masterful. Also, during Bobby's routine piano solo, the accompaniment is funnier to listen to, at least until Mr. Martin, out of nowhere, starts singing "Like is in the air" (to a melody similar to "Strangers In The Night"), to which FZ responds with some lines in Spanish and Ike sings "I'll never fall in like again." FZ dedicates this portion to Iberia Airlines - probably something they heard on a flight (hope Mike's diaries will clarify this). To close tonight's Monster, FZ kicks off a loop - a great one, and it sounds as if it's going to be a great jam. But FZ's solo is weird, sounds as if he plays in a different key, or in no key at all. Or is it just me who don't get it?
But it's not until the Torture Never Stops Medley that things really start to happen. FZ has been teasing with the secret word "Raffle" earlier in the show, but now, it takes over the show. The song is full of "raffle" and "hookers", and the singers are desperately - and successfully - trying to crack each other up, rather than focusing on the song. Quite amusing nevertheless, and FZ's solo is very focused, displaying a variety of his unique techniques and ,for once, not going on too long.
The first encore number, "Bolero," is beautiful, and so is "Watermelon" - here played as a composition rather than a solo vehicle (the solo is just about 1 minute), but as such (composition), it has never been more beautiful than in this arrangement.
The second encores are of the traditional kind: "Whipping Post," "I Am The Walrus" and "Illinois Enema Bandit." Bobby sings the old Allman Brothers song very convincing tonight (otherwise, I always thought he did it better on earlier tours), and the solo is quite good. Not much blues, but very intense, and again it's interesting to study FZ's techniques. Michael Kenyon has been substituted by Marqueson (sound engineer, main character of the raffle story), and IEB becomes (as so many times before) an orgy of secret words abuse. Again, FZ delivers an above average solo. The show closes with Strictly Genteel (which was left off the broadcast, I think ).
The first set starts out quite average, but keeps improving. Neither "Black Page" nor "Let's Move To Cleveland" are too interesting tonight at the start of the show, and the songs in between sound rather unispired.
"Dupree's Paradise" is great, but disappointingly not a monster song. Instead for freaking out, we get a bunch of solos (trumpet, keyboards (Keneally) and alto sax) over the usual "Dupree's" vamp. All three solos are lengthy and very good (as well as the back-up playing - love this vamp!), but just when you're expecting the real madness to start, we get back to the theme. Shortly thereafter, we get the next surprise - a segue right into "Oh No." Kind of odd to hear it outside of its usual context, but the guitar solo is great. Surprise #3: intermission after just 40 min - wonder if FZ was in a hurry to the toilet or something?
Set #2 starts out with My Pimp Wants To Stick Together Your Willie/Montana, with a rocking Keneally solo being the only thing to raise an eyebrow. "City Of Tiny Lites" comes with a good solo, but does not lead into "Pound For A Brown" as we're hoping. "Inca Roads" is a good substitute, of course, though it's not one of the better versions we've heard from this tour. Next, we get an ordinary late-in-the-set run of songs, but the encores contain some highlights. "Cruising For Burgers" offers a long, scorching solo, starting out in a mellow blues style and working up to a petulant frenzy, with excellent support from the rhythm section. Encore #3 turns out to be the highlight of the show: a guitar loop, which generates a long, heavy metal-tinged jam. FZ's solo is dark and gloomy, giving the jam a Black Sabbath-ish feeling. Terrific! "Bamboozled By Love" closes the set, as usual with a high-energy solo, and the final chord contains a little quote of the french national anthem.
A good show, but nowhere near the heigths many of the other May shows reached. No monster song and very little secret word usage (a couple of mentions of "jewelry"), but the show is saved by some really fine solos and rather good song selections.
Judging from the reviews I've received, it seems that the run of shows in Spain and France is the lowpoint of a generally excellent May '88. However, Grenoble may be the best of this stretch. After a "Black Page" opener featuring the MAJNH solo (I can hardly imagine what the selection process must have been like for a cut like this), we get a reminder that the Trouble/Penguin/Hotel medley has changed in Europe from filler into an improvisational highlight, thanks to the 13 vamp in "Trouble," FZ's decision to vary things by letting Keneally take the "Penguin" break, and the dependably bizarre "Hotel" outings. Tonight's Secret Word ("hoop," later mutating into "poop"), apparently derives from a botched cue in "Penguin" just before the "hoop of real fire" line.
After a Secret Word-enhanced "Cosmik Debris," the "Dupree's"/"Cleveland" combo gives the expected supply of jazzy energy. (Another reason why this month is ahead of the others.) FZ's "Cleveland" break is one of the most substantial (or, at least, one of the longest) of '88. The rest of the set benefits from several unusual choices - "Filthy Habits," "Chawna" (wild sax solo), and the '88 debut of the old Tinseltown Rebellion fave "Easy Meat." FZ's solos on this last number never compete with the old versions, but the horns sound great in the "classical" section. "King Kong" offers a good Bruce solo and an extended episode of percussion/sound effect jamming, getting some nice musical textures out of the familiar array of samples before moving on to "Sharleena."
The one surprise in the encores (strangely, "Stairway To Heaven" is almost completely cut on my recording) is another free-standing FZ solo over a loop. This time, the mood he sets up is more easygoing, sort of a warmup to the "Star Wars Won't Work" solo but in major rather than minor. Fun show.
Despite a strong and rather lengthy set list, and some pretty funny Secret Word usage, this show fails to rise to the level of the many excellent shows performed in late April and early May. It is not a bad show, mind you, but I am always left with the feeling that- all things considered- this should have been a much stronger show.
Apart from some continually inventive and outright funny Secret Word usage, the first set does not achieve anything more than the set list suggests. The "Black Packard Pain" opening is by this time a little too stale, and sadly, even the magnificent "Dupree's Paradise" does not instantly light the show afire. Amazingly enough, though, it is Frank's "Inca Roads" guitar outing which finally supplies the much needed energy, serving up a healthy dose of blues-tinged soloing. It is not one of Frank's best solos of the tour, but it is a refreshing change of pace from his typically thin and sterile "Inca" affairs. This seems to inspire Bobby and Ike, who try to top Frank the only way they know how- through Secret Word abuse. Deriving their laughs from a culinary seafood disaster earlier in the day, the singers in the band use the term "shellfish" (and every word related to shellfish) to sabotage our best attempts at singing along, and serve up another series of wicked lyrical mutations.
This abuse does not continue into the second set, however, and despite a series of excellent song choices, nothing all that exciting happens. "Black Napkins" serves up an okay horn solo, followed by a very lackluster Frank effort. "Big Swifty" brings a little bit of energy back into the show, thanks to a Monster horn solo accompanied by some manic Frank orchestration. Unfortunately, Frank follows this with a long percussion/Synclavier jam, and while it has its moments, it is not what this show needed at this time. "Sharleena" is nice, but not enough to save the set.
For the encores, we get a by-now way-too-standard "Bolero," followed by a personal-favorite-of-mine-for-'88 "Bamboozled by Love." Frank whips out another where-did-that-energy-come-from solo, and then follows this with a loops solo. Frank starts a loop, the band starts playing along with it, and Frank solos. We need more of these! The remaining encores consist of our typical "Walrus Bandit Genteel" series, which despite each being overplayed, work very nicely as a trio. A little bit of everything.
This is not one of the best shows of the Europe leg, but it is also not one of the worst. Looking at the set list, and considering the relative success of the Secret Words, I have always figured that this show should be much more satisfying. Sadly, it is not.
This is the second '88 show which has yet to surface in trading circles. I suspect that this is a bigger loss than the Bilbao show, judging from the good setlist (including the debut of the controversial new "Marqueson's" arrangement - more on this later), the number of released performances taken from this night and its chronological proximity to the inspired final trio of shows in Germany. Perhaps sometime soon we will know about these two missing pieces of the '88 puzzle.
In the mammoth interview in the first issue of Society Pages, Den Simms asked FZ why it was that three consecutive '88 shows - Stuttgart, Mannheim, and Furth- generated many of the wildest moments of the tour. As usual with this sort of question, FZ avoided a direct answer. However, the reasons why the first two of those nights in particular excel are easy to determine from the tapes - near-perfect setlists, a responsive audience, and the good fortune of having a strong Secret Word theme pop up.
The show opens with "Stinkfoot" (regrettably the last one of the tour - it's all "Black Page" openers from Mannheim on out), during which FZ announces that the band has been invited to play at the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Moscow. Although it turned out that they were unable to do this, the offer generates a great deal of humor and sarcasm towards Reagan which enlivens the initial run of vocal songs. The most unusual moment, though, comes in an unusually energetic "I Ain't Got No Heart" - as this ends, FZ stops the show and has a dancing member of the audience come onstage, and they play the song again.
Once again, the energy spills over into the instrumental numbers, and we get a dream selection of '88 arrangements. "Cleveland" generates one of FZ's most impassioned, though brief, solos of the year. "T'Mershi Duween" is fun, and after an opening batch of normal solos in "Dupree's", we get the one-time-only Monster madness that appears on MAJNH. Topping it off, though, is the first circulating version of "Marqueson's" with the 21 solo. You will see some argument about this in later reviews, but I find this change to be an inspired way of injecting new life into one of FZ's more routine instrumental excursions, and the solo tonight is especially good (though I'll admit that the rhythm section always seems to be on the verge of falling apart in this vamp - perhaps the Scott-and-Chad tension is evident here).
Yet another surprise this evening is FZ's revival of yet another 1980 chestnut, "Pick Me I'm Clean." However, though it's a nice arrangement (which, oddly, includes one rhythmic figure from the early, ballad version of the song that was quickly forgotten in '80), it doesn't compete with older versions, and the subsequent few numbers threaten to end the night on a routine note. The audience, however, saves things - someone shouts a request for the twice-played "Rhymin' Man," to the whole band's surprise, and FZ happily presents this song as well as the equally new "Elvis Has Just Left The Building."
Then comes The Big One. First of all, I must say that I've found listening to every version of "Stairway To Heaven" to be the most tedious part of this whole reviewing task. There's simply nothing very interesting about most renditions of this too-long, too-familiar number. However, we finally get the payoff tonight. The Summit/Star Wars theme returns with a vengeance, with FZ shouting out invective about Star Wars between and even during the verses of this song. It ends with Ike and Robert singing "And she's buying a stairway to Star Wars," at which point FZ shouts "Won't work!" repeatedly, and then FZ kicks in his loops during the coda and "Star Wars Won't Work" is born. "Whipping Post" closes the show, with Robert getting in the inevitable Glasnost reference at the end, and the night is through.
One of the best nights of the tour, if not the best. And yet, the next night would be just as strong.