Review of the 1974 Mothers of Invention show

This review was first published on May 9, 1974 in the Erie Daily Times.

Edinboro State’s McComb Fieldhouse was invaded last night by musical mayhem in the form of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Their long concert was filled with many highlights, but also had some glaring disappointments.

Probably the most infuriating facet of Zappa’s show was the 10 minutes he spent tuning his guitar after taking the stage.

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There’s absolutely no excuse in the world why a performer should tune their instrument once they’ve tricked their audience into believing the show is about to begin. Surely Zappa could have been thoughtful enough to make his adjustment before the concert started.

As for the music itself, two main problems presented themselves. The sound at McComb was rather poor (ESC’s pavilion would serve as an airplane hangar better than a music hall), and the instrumentation and vocals were somewhat distorted.

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Second, The Mothers seemed to abuse the solos to the point where audience snoring became a problem. When will rock bands realize that bass solos are second only to Dr. Joyce Brothers in inducing yawns? Besides, Frank, those hard bleachers can make anyone fidgety, even if your guitar works by itself to entertain us.

Frank Zappa in ZAPPA, a Magnolia Pictures release.

Frank Zappa is the master of sarcasm and parody on stage. After opening with “Cosmic Debris” and three shorter numbers, Zappa dove into “Montana,” filled with lyrics so deep and meaningful, “I’m going to Montana soon, I’ll be a floss mogul.”

At this point, Zappa satirized nightclubs by playing some after-dinner music. Of his sweet guitarist, the Mothers frontman said, “His guitar is so laid back it’s almost invisible” and of his trombonist, “Here’s a little song you’ll probably forget anyway.”

Zappa urged the crowd to “drink”. A few shouted back. A few laughed. Most everyone was just sitting in their seats, looking puzzled and unsure of what to make of the stage antics.

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The stage performance of the mothers is truly unique. They combine music and movement in a way that no other rock band can replicate. Most of the plays used by rock musicians today consist mainly of wild clothes and smoke bombs. Mothers dress as if they are going to mow the lawn. Oh sure, they brought a menagerie of gimmicks (smoke bombs included), but the charisma surrounding them, and Frank Zappa in particular, is usually enough to carry them through a performance.

After devoting the first half of their show to recent material, the Mothers unveiled some of their old hits to the public, including “It Can’t Happen Here”, “Wowie, Zowie”, “I Ain’t Got No Heart and “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black,” all of which were superbly done.

The Edinboro concert ended with “Camarillo Brillo”, which brought everyone to their feet and left the crowd a little tired, but nonetheless happy after seeing one of the first rock bands of the day.

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May 24, 1974, letter to the editor: Rock Critic

Dear Mr. Schonthaler: This letter refers to your criticism of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at Edinboro College. To properly review Frank Zappa, one must first understand the meaning of the word sarcasm. Mr. Zappa tries to give us a representation of everyday absurdities. The lyrics don’t have to make or break the song, it’s the quality of the band’s playing that makes the difference.

If Erie built a public hall that had good acoustics and ample seating capacity, musicians coming to Erie would not be required to play under those conditions. Therefore, we would not have had the difficulties that prevailed at McComb Fieldhouse. In general, if one had ever studied music, one would know that said music should be performed with utmost precision and concentration. So again, your comment about overused solos was to be expected.

The so-called cocktail party music was played because the audience annoyed Frank Zappa beyond relief. Mr. Zappa is extremely sarcastic in his musical statements and no doubt you missed his sarcasm. But then it’s normal when we go to see him just because his name is Zappa and we don’t care if he is good or bad. So it’s no wonder Frank Zappa cares even though he sounds bad. In the future, when doing a concert review, try to refrain from promoting yourself as a rock critic, because you are not a rock critic.

Steve Harris and Bob Long

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