I Am The Clouds
Zappa – Germany – 88 (Godfather GR BOX 10)
For what will probably be considered one of Godfather’s groundbreaking box sets, I Am The Clouds presents four shows from Germany on the European 1988 tour on what would be Frank Zappa’s final live appearances as a rock musician. The performances are among the best from his career which, according to the accompanying liner notes, were on a tour that was “never supposed to happen in the first place, and imploded prematurely after massive in-fighting amongst band members, and what you’re left with is, well, a miracle.”
Zappa assembled what was his greatest band with emphasis upon the horn section. Three live albums were released from these shows, including Broadway The Hard Way, The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, and Make A Jazz Noise Here. And yet all three are highly edited and many key live performances, such as “Packard Goose,” “Pound For A Brown,” “Dessicated,” “What’s New In Baltimore,” “Disco Boy,” “Teenage Wind,” “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee,” “Bobby Brown,”and “Easy Meat.”
In unofficial releases, only pieces of the Cologne show have been issued before on vinyl. In the compact disc era, releases from this tour have been very hard to find. The only full unofficial releases to be pressed the past decade are Story Of Michael Kenyon (Guitar Master GM – 006/007) with the popular May 17th Barcelona, Spain soundtrack (the video can be found on I Am The Walrus (Apocalypse Sound AS-96)) and Dungeon Of Despair (Guitar Master GM – 004/005) with the May 1st show in Stockholm.
The four German shows are sourced from the beast available audience tapes. All are very too to excellent, picking up the dynamics of the performances very well. The Mannheim show is probably the most distant sounding, but nothing too serious. Not since the massive comprehensive Zappa box sets came out in the eighties such as Tis The Season To Be Jelly has there been such an weighty release.
Cologne (G.R. BOX 10 A/B)
Sporthalle, Cologne, Germany – April 14th, 1988
Disc 1 (73:48): Intros, The Black Page #2, Band Intro, Inca Roads, When The Lie’s So Big, Planet Of The Baritone Women, Any Kind Of Pain, Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk, City Of Tiny Lights, A Pound For A Brown, Packard Goose Medley, The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
Disc 2 (61:50): The Torture Never Stops Medley, Disco Boy, Teenage Wind, Bamboozled By Love, Sofa, Bolero, I Am The Walrus, The Illinois Enema Bandit, The Orange County Lumber Truck Medley
Thirty-seven minutes of the Cologne show can be found on the LPs Broadway The Hard Way (Zinc Alloy UR-2 STUPID) and on Scherade Part 1 (“Barking Pumpkin” / PAX-Records Zappa 13, LP20789-6 ) and on Scherade Part 2 (“Barking Pumpkin” Records LP 20789-7).
Cologne is blessed with perhaps the best Frank Zappa audience tape ever made. The tape opens with the German audience (Dirk, Tom and Tommy) begging the secret word, with is “sheep” and all things associated with them (sodomy, mutton, shepherds, etc).
The band begin with “The Black Page” and an incredible version of “Inca Roads.” Zappa plays a beautiful, melodic solo in the middle. During “Planet Of The Baritone Women” Zappa comes up with the secret word as they start a near complete “Republican Retrospective” medley, unusual for the European tour.
“City Of Tiny Lights” segues into “A Pound For A Brown.” An old funk rhythm forms the basis for a long trumpet solo and drum solo. After hitting a majestic melody, there is a synclavier horn section jam, which meanders until but then Chad whips out one of those rapid, twisted 3/4 grooves.
Kurt delivers a great solo while the rest of the band changes styles at along with Zappa. It’s then Mike’s turn, followed by Zappa and Ed having a bit of a dialogue of synclavier notes, all lasting about fifteen minutes. “The Torture Never Stops” is amusing with many uses of the secret word. The rest of the show becomes a standard run of songs, “Orange County Medley” the exception.
Würzburg (G.R. BOX 10 C/D)
Carl-Diem-Halle, Würzburg, Germany – April 22nd, 1988
Disc 3 (78:32): Crowd/Tuning, Heavy Duty Judy, Band Intro, Ring Of Fire, Packard Goose Medley, Cosmik Debris, Who Needs The Peace Corps?, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, What’s New In Baltimore?, Inca Roads, Advance Romance, Disco Boy, Teenage Wind, Bamboozled By Love, The Torture Never Stops Medley (incl. Inca Roads), I Ain’t Got No Heart
Disc 4 (65:10): Love Of My Life, City Of Tiny Lights, A Pound For A Brown, Stairway To Heaven, Encore Break, Ring Of Fire II, Bolero, Encore Break #2, Bobby Brown, Joe’s Garage, Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?, Encore Break #3, Ring Of Fire III, I Am The Walrus, The Illinois Enema Bandit
Würzburg is the best show in this collection and is perhaps the best Zappa show in 1988. The official release The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life has much of this show including part of “Heavy Duty Judy,” “Ring Of Fire,” “Cosmik Debris,” most of “Who Needs The Peace Corps?,”I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” the saxophone solo and ending of “Inca Roads,” part of “The Torture Never Stops Part One.”
The same three Germans from Cologne Dirk, Tom and Tommy beg for a secret word and get one. Zappa gives a long introduction, saying: Hello! Boy, got y’all JAMMED in here, don’t dey? What’s that say?
“Okay . . . Alright, guys, you’re looking for another secret word? The secret word for tonight is RING OF FIRE! Let me try ‘n explain this to you, folks: This afternoon at the hotel I was introduced for the first time to Johnny Cash, and Johnny was going to come to the concert tonight, and he was going to sing with us.
“Unfortunately his wife got sick so he can’t come tonight, BUT . . . this afternoon we actually learned how to play a reggae version of ‘Ring Of Fire,’ and we’ve been trying to decide whether or not we oughta play it even if Johnny’s not gonna sing it. Now, maybe you can help us decide. How many people would like to hear ‘Ring Of Fire’ if Johnny is not going to sing it? How many people DON’T want to hear ‘Ring Of Fire?’ I think most people want to hear ‘Ring Of Fire.’ Okay, here it comes, folks . . .”
The secret word, and reoccurring musical motif, is the reggae arrangement of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire.” Midway through the show, Ike remembers all the fun he had in the ’84 tour, when Secret Words ran rampant and nothing was sacred. He thus play games such as in “Bamboozled By Love” singing silly lines like “You know I ring her nice and kind, the way no other fire can”, and “I caught her ringing off some other man.”
Frank adds to the fun, singing his lines in a horrible yet hilarious Johnny Cash voice and by the time “Ain’t Got No Heart” rolls around, everyone is doing it.
“Stairway to Heaven” becomes “Stairway to Fire” and the three instrumental tunes of the evening, “Pound,” “Bonanza,” and “Bolero” are riddled with “Ring Of Fire” references. Frank is having such a good time that he even takes requests, playing “Bobby Brown” in response to an audience chant, throwing in the line “Tell Rosalyn she can kiss my heinie.”
And to top it all off, the band plays “Ring of Fire” two more times (with a mariachi verse thrown in), because as Frank says, “that is the sickest thing we could do.”
There are solid improvisations and performances in addition to these with such stand outs like “Inca Roads”, “Bamboozled By Love”, “The Torture Never Stops”, and especially “Advance Romance.” But Würzburg is really good for the humor, loosening up the band dramatically and driving the band into interesting musical directions.
München (G.R. BOX 10 E/F)
Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle, München, Germany – May 9, 1988
Disc 5 (53:30): Opening/Stinkfoot (incl. Band Intro), What’s New In Baltimore?, Heavy Duty Judy, Find Her Finer, Big Swifty (incl. Lohengrin, Carmen, 1812 Overture), Trouble Every Day, Penguin In Bondage, Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel, Who Needs The Peace Corps?, Zomby Woof
Disc 6 (73:34): King Kong, Mr. Green Genes, Florentine Pogen, Andy, Inca Roads, Cruising For Burgers, Rhymin’ Man, Dupree’s Paradise, Let’s Move To Cleveland, Whipping Post (With Dweezil Zappa on Guitar), I Am The Walrus (incl. Jam) (With Dweezil Zappa on Guitar), Sofa
The München show yielded several songs to The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life including “Find Her Finer,” the first few seconds of “Who Needs The Peace Corps?” and part of “Zomby Woof.” But this is the first time the entire show has been pressed onto silver disc.
This is one of the most consistent and musically solid shows from the tour. The secret word is “Mudshark” and “Jazz Noise” and Zappa’s son Dweezil joins his father onstage for “I Am The Walrus” and “Whipping Post.”
“Stinkfoot” opens the show. Zappa is in high spirits and immediately states the secret word for the night “Mudshark” before p laying “What’s New In Baltimore?”
“Heavy Duty Judy” is played live for the final time, and “Find her Finer” hits a nice solid groove before going into the long improvisation of the night “Big Swifty.” The lengthy piece features long horn solos and quotes from Wagner’s Lohengrin, Bizet’s Carmen and the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, a synclavier jam and the second secret word of the night “Ayee.”
“More Penguin Hotel” medley follows, with Frank whipping out two better-than-average solos in “More Trouble” and “Hot Plate Heaven”. “More Trouble Every Day” is especially sweet thanks to the excellent segue into the 13 vamp. “Zomby Woof,” played for the final time, sees Zappa playing a solo similar to those played in 1982 with the distorted tone and aggressive melodies.
The encores are interesting for the unusual and rare song selections. “Rhymin’ Man” is followed by a horn-infused “Dupree’s Paradise” and is interned followed by a guitar dominated “Let’s Move To Cleveland.” After a standard “I Am the Walrus,” Dweezil and Frank play a dark guitar solo based upon the rhythm sections groove.
Mannheim (G.R. BOX 10 G/H)
Mozartsaal, Mannheim, Germany – May 25th, 1988
Disc 7 (67:22): The Black Page #2/Band Intro, We’re Turning Again, Alien Orifice, When The Lie’s So Big, Planet Of The Baritone Women, Any Kind Of Pain, Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk, Dupree’s Paradise, Easy Meat, Sinister Footwear, City Of Tiny Lights
Disc 8 (69:27): A Pound For A Brown, Outside Now, Let’s Make The Water Turn Black (Orange County Medley), Harry You’re a Beast (Orange County Medley), The Orange County Lumber Truck (Orange County Medley), Oh No (Orange County Medley), Theme from Lumpy Gravy (Orange County Medley), Bamboozled By Love, Ring Of Fire (with Intro), Peaches En Regalia, Stairway To Heaven (incl. The Untouchables), I Am The Walrus (with Intro), The Illinois Enema Bandit
Mannheim was previously pressed on LP on Listen … and find out the SECRET WORD !!! which has the first half of the show, from “The Black Page #2” to “Outside Now.” Godfather is the first time the entire show has been pressed in any form.
The set offers a great set, and the secret word “cornhole” makes its first appearance in “Any Kind Of Pain.” The following song “Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk,” Zappa’s none-too-subtle commentary in the mid-eighties televangelist controversies, has its final live appearance.
“Dupree’s Paradise” is a masterful and features Walt’s solo from the album. It segues into the revived “Easy Meat.” Zappa’s solo wanders and is disjointed, but the horns sound glorious during the instrumental interlude. “Sinister Footwear” and “City Of Tiny Lites” follow. In the latter, Zappa rips out a great solo, raising it above the mediocre performances on this tour.
The humor is centered around the silly secret word and all manner of cornholes are found in the tunes. Someone requests “Ring Of Fire,” recalling the lunacy of the Würzburg show, and then the “cornhole” edition of “Stairway To Heaven.”
In the song’s solo “The Untouchables” pops up out of nowhere. The standard “Walrus Bandit” second encore comes next. Mannheim is another spectacular night and worthy to be included in the box set.
I Am The Clouds is a great production by Godfather. They include lengthy liner notes and a miniature reproduction of the tour program. The program itself is a fascinating time capsule, detailing Zappa’s late-eighties political concerns and his motivation to get people out to vote in the ’88 election. For a first Zappa box set, Godfather has produced a great set worth having.