Richard Goldstein Absorbs the Mothers of Invention
December 1, 1966, Vol. XII, No. 7
The Pop Bag
By Richard Goldstein
The Balloon Farm became much more than a discotheque last weekend, and the resident combo became much more than a pop-music ensemble.
The occasion was the first New York appearance of The Mothers of Invention, from deepest, freakiest, L.A. They are the perfect embodiment of all that is super-hyped and stunningly creative about West Coast rock.
Forget that one Mother wears a sweat shirt which advertises "Folk you" in bright buttonese. These eight musicians made the Balloon Farm a concert hall. They seized the stage and belted the world's first rock 'n' roll oratorio to an audience that was either too engrossed or too confused to do anything but sit and listen.
The show was a single extended number, broken into movements by patter, and fused by repeated melody-themes. Especially notable was the use, as leitmotif, of music from "Boris Gudonov," sewn into the fabric of the song so that it became an integral part of the melody and not a sequin pasted on for class. On another evening -- I have it by word-of-ear -- the group lit into Stravinsky, with a rocking beat.
The Mothers use the secondary technique of pop-parody with devastating effect. They goof brilliantly on the bass-falsetto hang-up of '50s teen music, and on the cocktail-clinking orchestration of the '40s. Their lyrics leave the Fugs gnawing scraps.
The whole show -- call it a theatre piece and tell Beck and Malina to tail it back from Europe to catch this one -- is surrounded by a pulsating lightscape. Oily color globs merge and counterpoint. It all flows freely, and for once, in sync with the music.
The Mothers of Invention haven't arrived yet, but they strive with outstretched fingers toward something perceptively unique. Their first album, "Freak Out," is the most poorly produced package since the Hindenburg Zeppelin, but don't let this baby-dribble fool you. The Mothers of Invention are to be watched, and leader Frank Zappa deserves your attention, and your three bucks.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]