Two Cosmik Nights @ San Carlos (Guitar Master GM-022/023/024)
Frank Zappa in 1974 continued a form of commercial success. Following Over-Nite Sensation in 1973, he released perhaps his most accessible work with Apostrophe (*) in March. On record he downplayed the avant garde experimental jazz fusion of the previous works and opted for shorter songs with discernible hooks and humorous narratives.
But the tours during this period are a different matter. The material on those albums were a starting point for some of his most daring and interesting onstage jam sessions on record, none more clearly than on the officially released Roxy & Elsewhere. The 1974 shows saw extensive onstage development of some of his greatest works such as “Inca Roads” and “Echidna’s Arf.“
Zappa played three shows at the an Carlos Theater between July 19th to July 21st. Two Cosmik Nights @ San Carlos contains virtually complete shows from the first and third nights from very good sounding audience tapes. The smaller venue ensured a clear atmosphere with minimal audience noise to interfere with the music.
The San Carlo tapes were first released on vinyl Frank Zappa vs. the Tooth Fairy (ZX 3655) and also as record five (red label) of The History & Collected Improvisations of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and both were issued on CD.
The tapes were highly edited. Side one had “Gloria,” the story about Ruth Underwood and “Inca Roads” from the July 21st show and side two had “Pygmy Twylyte,” “The Idiot Bastard Son,” “Cheepnis,” and “Clear Version of Cheepnis” from the July 19th show. Guitar Master is the first to release the complete concerts in one collection.
Disc 1 (71:42) Circle Theater, San Carlos, CA – July 19th, 1974: Your 6 Closest Relatives “The Mothers” and introduction, Cosmik Debris, preamble, Pygmy Twylyte, The Idiot Bastard Son, Cheepnis, preamble, Cheepnis Clear Version (with Poodle Story), Montana, Dupree’s Paradise, crowd noise & preamble, Penguin In Bondage
The tape starts off with the mc telling the audience to not film or tape the show. Zappa introduces the band before starting off with “Cosmik Debris.” It is expanded in the middle with Brock taking a sultry saxophone solo, Duke a keyboard solo, and Zappa a guitar solo before the final verse.
Following Zappa’s preamble, “Pygmy Twylyte,” “The Idiot Bastard Son” and “Cheepnis” follow in quick succession. “Pygmy Twylyte” includes the “Dummy Up” lyrics.
After “Cheepnis”, Zappa complains about the sub-standard PA system, and instructs George Duke to play “romantic Holiday-Inn-type background music” and reads the “Cheepnis” lyrics on top of that, in case the audience didn’t hear everything the first time.
Between “Montana” and “Dupree’s Paradise” is a long improvisation which includes the “booger bear” story. It’s a long narrative about the road manager, dogs, and obscure inside jokes which are probably funny to the road crew but are obscure to the audience.
There is a reference to “Dirty Love” from Overnite Sensation and a great jazz fusion section punctuated by the flute, guitar and surreal keyboard stretching over twenty minutes. It’s typical of Zappa to follow such absurdity with musical genius and makes sitting through the stupid jokes worth while. Before “Penguin In Bondage” someone by the stage begs for “Whipping Post,” a song Zappa would cover many years later.
Disc 2 (73:44): T’Mershi Duween, Dog Meat, crowd noise, RDNZL, Village Of The Sun, Trouble Every Day. Circle Theater, San Carlos, CA – July 21st, 1974: Intro., Approximate, Cosmik Debris, Gloria, Inca Roads, crowd noise
The July 19th show continues onto the first half of disc two with “T’Mershi Duween” and the four minute medley of “Dog Breath” and “Uncle Meat.” After a cut in the tape there is scant crowd noise and the start of “RDNZL.” The sound quality of the tape is a bit lower from this point on, as if the taper moved away from the stage.
Ruth Underwood performs an amazing xylophone introduction to the piece before the rest of the band come in with a heavy, psychedelic jam session which pushes seven minutes before a segue into “Village Of The Sun.”
After some crowd noise they play final encore “Trouble Every Day” from Freak Out. It’s played the same as on Roxy & Elsewhere but with a different guitar solo in the middle. Zappa would update the lyrics depending upon the band’s circumstances during this tour.
The July 21st show starts on track eight with Frank reading a note handed to him. “Mr. Zappa. Could you dedicate a song to Linda Wienman as a favor to one of your most ardent supporters. Thank you thank you thank you. We’ll dedicate this show to Linda Wienman, I hope she enjoys it.”
After long tuning and buzzing from the equipment, he dedicates the show to the engineers at the Hitachi sound equipment before starting with “Approximate.” Two years after its debut, it is perfromed with words, with feet and with music. It’s one of his most elaborate excersizes of pure randomness.
The opening musical part is extremely tight and well rehearsed, despite his comment afterwards “there are two ways to perform the song: the correct way and the way we just did it.” It is a startling performance and is followed by a conventional (in comparison) “Cosmik Debris,” performed the say way as the first night including a sultry Brock saxophone break in the middle.
The follow with “Gloria,” or “Rashid.” Responding to an audience request for “Louie Louie,” Zappa polls the audience if they’d like to hear the song. When they loudly cheer “No!”, Frank replies “How about Gloria?” and without hesitation, the band tears into the song.
Instead of the lyrics, Brock sings “Rashid” over and over again. After the vocals, Zappa informs the audience of the “Booger Bear” report, a short little story about “one of the girls in the band,” a bag of Fritos, the Hitachi penguin, and a vibrator. Upon concluding this strange and amusing story Frank instructs the band to “take it away” and they finish the song.
A smooth jazz-fusion performance of “Inca Roads” closes the second disc.
Disc 3 (68:09): Andy, tuning – preamble, Special Amplifier, Montana, improvisations, Dupree’s Paradise, Echidna’s Arf, Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?, Dog Meat, crowd noise, Caravan, Stinkfoot
“Andy” follows, a seven minute catchy piece which wasn’t played as much on this tour as in previous years. Afterwards there is period of instrument tuning during a loud buzz in the equipment. “I feel like I’m at the Holiday Inn” Zappa quips while they’re working on the instruments.
Zappa introduces the song about “dental floss” which he renames “Modesto,” the “most popular place outside of Flint, Michigan.” He sings “Modesto” in place of “Montana” in the following song, and the band hit a slow, funk groove in the middle of the piece. During the improvisations they hit upon “Uncle Meat” and “RDNZL.”
A breathless delivery of “Echidna’s Arf” and “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” follow. The latter has a melodic Chester Thompson drum solo before a segway into “Dog Meat.”
After some audience cheering, they return for the encores. Zappa announces “Stinkfoot,” but because someone in the audience had the unmitigated audacity to request “Caravan” with a drum solo, they play that as an introduction to “Stinkfoot.” This performance contains what is called the “Mystery Tune,” a short melody first played in 1968 and pops up in various other shows up until 1980. It’s similar to “The Twilight Time.”
The two San Carlos shows are strong enough, and the sound quality is good enough, to merit silver release. Two Cosmik Nights @ San Carlos is excellent all around.