Saturday, December 19, 2009

You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 2

While Volume 1 of the “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” series lacked an overt theme for the selected songs, Volume 2’s material is focused around two 1974 concerts at the Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki, Finland.

There are two very remarkable items on this recording that are worthy of mention. First is Zappa’s performance of “Inca Roads” from one of the shows. A portion of his amazing guitar solo was used for the studio release of “One Size Fits All” for the same track. However, there is some disagreement about the origin of the solo edit. Both the Wikipedia entry for Vol. 2, as well as the Wiki song entry for “Inca Roads,” mention that the solo edit was taken from the Helsinki show that was published on YCDTOSA Vol 2. But Barry Miles’ “Zappa: A Biography” states that the solo was taken from an Aug. 7, 1975, show in Helsinki. That doesn’t seem to make sense, because “One Size Fits All” was released in June, 1975, and he wasn’t in Europe touring at that time either. Zappa played for KCET-TV in August 1974, where he performed “Inca Roads,” ostensibly dropping in the solo from Helsinki. But again, he wasn’t to play Helsinki until a month later, and the record isn’t clear anyway as to whether the KCET-TV show was Aug. 7 or Aug. 18. Miles also asserts that YCDTOSA Vol. 2 is from a single Helsinki show, which is contrary to most other sites that credit the double-CD as culling material from both shows. While Miles’ biography is a good read, I find myself frequently confused about when some of the events he describes take place.

The second is an audience member shouting out “Whipping Post!” at the band just before they begin playing “Montana.” Besides that outburst prompting Zappa to ad lib the lyrics a bit in “Montana,” it also was very likely the incident that prompted Zappa to later have the band learn the Allman Brothers classic, versions of which showed up on “Them Or Us,” as well as the bootleg from the 1981 Halloween early show.

All in all, this is a really outstanding and diverse recording. Zappa had often said he enjoyed his Finnish audiences, perhaps in part because he could perform some of his more obscure works and receive great appreciation from these crowds. Interestingly, the band’s lineup at this time was similar to, if not identical with, the lineup I saw at the Ferris State Field House in April, 1974, in Big Rapids, Mich. And with this lineup, when it comes to guitar, it’s all FZ. In fact, he opens the show with two guitar-centric numbers, “Stinkfoot” and “Inca Roads.”

With the former, Franks makes his guitar howl like a dog in a narcotic swoon over the stench of his python boots. The band then launches into “Inca Roads.” This is a really great orchestration of this number; Ruth Underwood and George Duke are both outstanding.

Ruth Underwood continues to display her extraordinary talent with “RDNZL,” a song that was released on “Studio Tan.” Zappa is killer on this as well, his guitar playing sounding a bit like Al Dimeola after swallowing huge doses of LSD and then channeling Eric Clapton. Seriously though, it is totally Zappa.

We get a swinging “Village of the Sun,” which had just been released on “Roxy & Elsewhere,” with Napoleon Murphy Brock rockin’ and rollin’ on saxophone. The next song “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” is so cool (Also from Roxy, in fact, we have four songs in a row here from Roxy). The incredible rhythmic variations are superbly rendered. After an interlude that includes the ramblings of “Room Service,” and “The Idiot Bastard Son,” from “We’re Only In It For the Money,” the first disc closes out with more Roxy fare with “Cheepnis,” Zappa’s ode to cheesy sci-fi movies. Oh, by the way, did you catch the nod to War’s “The World is a Ghetto” during “Pygmy Twylyte”? (The Mozart nod is an easy catch, as well as the reference to “The Twilight Zone.”)

Disc two starts with “Approximate,” which contains an allusion to “Eva’s Wedding,” a reference to an incident Zappa had at the hotel where he was staying that involved a Finnish bachelorette party and a wedding invitation.

We get a very long and avant garde rendition of “Dupree’s Paradise” that is both intriguing and chilling. Things build up after the band gets through the dialogue portions with the full theme coming through. Napoleon Murphy Brock plays some totally kick ass flute, which is followed by a very cosmic and mysterious bass segue by Tom Fowler, whose plucking is accentuated with brief rhythmic interplays by Chester Thompson on drums. The piece drifts into jazz fusion as George Duke comes back on the keyboards and Thompson goes very heavy on the cymbals. This is followed by a Thompson drum solo that carries with it a bit of “Uncle Meat.” Ruth Underwood’s quote in the February 1994 edition of Musician magazine that carried Frank’s obituary is relevant: “Frank really lived in a world of percussion.”

It all finishes with a musical quote from “Louie Louie” as the band moves into playing a Finnish tango called “Satumaa,” which brings the cheers and hand clapping from the audience. In fact, the band moves through several short bits, including “The Dog Breath Variations” and “Uncle Meat” before they perform the next major piece, “Montana,” from “Over-nite Sensation.”

Another interesting item regarding “Montana” is that Frank starts the song at, what sounds to me, an incredibly fast pace. He stops everything to slow the tempo down. I’m not completely sure, but I think he really wanted to play the song with that fast a tempo, which seems incredulous to me; true, it should have been a bit faster, but I’m not sure as fast as he tried to start it. Despite it being “such a ballad” at that tempo, Frank delivers a righteous solo.

The show concludes with Frank performing on guitar the closing melody from "Big Swifty," which is normally a horn part from "Waka/Jawaka."

There was an interesting Finnish article regarding Zappa’s experiences in Finland that included a description of his mercurial nature, as well as his being treated like a prima donna because he had burned his fingers on a hot shish kebab.

I rate this 4.5 of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released Oct. 25, 1988, on Rykodisc; Recorded Sept. 22-23, 1974 at the Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki, Finland.

Track listings:

Disc one
1. “Tush Tush Tush (A Token of My Extreme)” – 2:48
2. “Stinkfoot” – 4:18
3. “Inca Roads” – 10:54
4. “RDNZL” – 8:43
5. “Village of the Sun” – 4:33
6. “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” – 3:30
7. “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” – 4:56
8. “Pygmy Twylyte” – 8:22
9. “Room Service” – 6:22
10. “The Idiot Bastard Son” – 2:39
11. “Cheepnis” – 4:29

Disc two
1. “Approximate” – 8:11
2. “Dupree’s Paradise” – 23:59
3. “Satumaa (Finnish Tango)” (Mononen) – 3:51
4. “T’Mershi Duween” – 1:31
5. “The Dog Breath Variations” – 1:38
6. “Uncle Meat” – 2:28
7. “Building a Girl” – 1:00
8. “Montana (Whipping Floss)” – 10:15
9. “Big Swifty” – 2:17


Frank Zappa – lead guitar, vocals
Napoleon Murphy Brock – saxophone, flute, vocals
George Duke – keyboards, vocals
Ruth Underwood – percussion
Tom Fowler – bass guitar
Chester Thompson – drums

Sunday, December 13, 2009

You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1

With all that recording going on during the 1981 Halloween shows at the Palladium, some of that material was bound to be released by Zappa. What was a bit strange, perhaps, was how long it took for the material to be published, and the form it took.

In 1984, portions of the concert appeared on the video “The Dub Room Special,” but even that release included just five songs from the shows, with only three of them in sequence. The video with the most material from the 1981 shows was “The Torture Never Stops,” but that wasn’t released until 2008. Despite that, “TTNS” is the most complete package released, coming the closest to a true live release of the shows.

More material from the shows was eventually released while Zappa was still alive through the “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” series, beginning with Vol. 1, which was released in 1988. Three songs from the 1981 early show appear in sequence on this release: “Dumb All Over,” “Heavenly Bank Account,” and “Suicide Chump,” all of which are from “You Are What You Is.”

The YCDTOSA series is a six-volume collection, plus one sampler. Most of the subsequent volumes have a theme, although sometimes a loose one, around which the song selection is focused. But Vol. 1 appears to have no theme at all, taking material from a wide variety of sources performed by many variations of Zappa’s touring ensemble. There’s material from 1969 all the way to 1984, including a complete performance of the “Yellow Snow Suite” from a London show that includes some of Zappa’s famous audience participation.

Some of the more interesting items on this double CD are tracks 2 and 3 on Disc One. These consecutive takes were recorded Dec. 10, 1971, at the Rainbow Theater in London, just a week after the band lost its equipment at the Casino de Montreux in Geneva, Switzerland, in a fire immortalized by Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” The song “Once Upon a Time” acts as an introduction into “Sofa No. 1” with Mark Volman setting things up with allusions to both the upcoming song as well as to material the band had been playing in previous concerts, in particular the song “Eddie Are You Kidding Me,” which was released on “Just Another Band from L.A.” Of course, the song “Sofa No. 1,” as well as its companion “No. 2,” weren’t released until 1975 with “One Size Fits All.”

Another interesting song is the guitar solo “The Mammy Anthem,” which pulls heavily from themes developed and later released as the instrumental “Zoot Allures,” from the album of the same title. However, this particular item later appeared as “The Mammy Nuns” on “Thing-Fish,” with vocals by Ike Willis and Ray White.

There are two songs set to the musical signature of “Louie Louie,” about which Zappa comments on the second of these two songs, “Plastic People,” which was originally released on “Absolutely Free.” While introducing “Plastic People” in 1969 to the folks at The Factory in the Bronx, Zappa tells the crowd, “Now, if you’ll analyze what we’re playing here, if you use your ear and listen, you can learn something about music, y’see? ‘Louie Louie’ is the same as the other song with one extra note, see? . . . They’re, they’re very closely related and they mean just about the same thing.”

The song “Ruthie Ruthie” is also based on the “Louie Louie” melody, this time the lyrics themed around an homage to Ruth Underwood, who performs on this song and the next, “Babbette.”

The performance of “I’m the Slime” (from “Over-Nite Sensation”) on this release was taken from a couple 1973 gigs at The Roxy in Los Angeles. It includes a very tasty and heavily fuzzed guitar solo. This transitions right into “Big Swifty,” also recorded at The Roxy, a sweeping orchestration that debuted a year and a half earlier on “Waka Jawaka.” There’s a really fine keyboard solo by George Duke here. Gotta love Ruth Underwood’s playing during this as well, she was brilliant. But the really delectable treat during this performance is Zappa’s solo. It pulls the band away from the original musical theme into a much funkier and more rock-n-roll timbre that is beautifully executed rhythmically by the dual drumming of Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey. It all smoothly returns to the “Big Swifty” theme, played by Zappa on his guitar.

Disc One closes out with a complete “Yellow Snow” suite that also includes “Rollo.” Of course, there is Zappa’s famous audience participation throughout this with apparently deranged audience members reading bizarre poetry, etc.

Unsurprisingly, on Disc Two, there is a performance of “The Torture Never Stops.” I say unsurprising because this composition shows up on a lot of Zappa recordings, both official and bootlegs. This performance is credited to being from an “unknown venue,” likely during the band’s European tour during the winter of 1978. It doesn’t sound like any of the performances from that tour that I have, so I remain stumped.

“Torture” is followed by “Fine Girl” and “Zomby Woof,” both recorded at the infamous concert in Milan, Italy, on July 7, 1982, when the band was nearly eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes, an incident immortalized on the cover of “The Man From Utopia.” Despite that annoyance, the band’s performance of “Zomby Woof” is chilling. Steve Vai’s “stunt guitar” is crisp and fantastic, and Zappa’s guitar solo is the best I’ve heard for this song ever – even better than the studio solo.

“The Deathless Horsie” comes next from a 1984 performance at The Pier in New York City. Although a frequent number in the sets lists for live performances, it was first officially released on the “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” series in 1981, and then again later on “Halloween” in 2003.

I rate this 4.5 stars out of five. Add your own rating below.

Released May 16, 1988, Rykodisc.

Track listing

Disc One

1. The Florida Airport Tape (1:04)
2. Once Upon A Time (4:38)
3. Sofa # 1 (2:53)
4. The Mammy Anthem (5:41)
5. You Didn’t Try To Call Me (3:39)
6. Diseases Of The Band (2:22)
7. Tryin’ To Grow A Chin (3:44)
8. Let’s Make The Water Turn Black (3:28)
9. The Groupie Routine (5:41)
10. Ruthie-Ruthie (2:57)
11. Babbette (3:36)
12. I’m The Slime (3:13)
13. Big Swifty (8:47)
14. Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow (20:16)

Disc Two

1. Plastic People (4:38)
2. The Torture Never Stops (15:48)
3. Fine Girl (2:55)
4. Zomby Woof (5:39)
5. Sweet Leilani (2:39)
6. Oh No (4:34)
7. Be In My Video (3:30)
8. The Deathless Horsie (5:29)
9. The Dangerous Kitchen (1:50)
10. Dumb All Over (4:20)
11. Heavenly Bank Account (4:06)
12. Suicide Chump (4:56)
13. Tell Me You Love Me (2:09)
14. Sofa # 2 (3:01)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Halloween 1981 The Palladium late show

What is really amazing about the 1981 Halloween shows at the Palladium is that they were simultaneously broadcast live over radio and on MTV. And the second show kicks off with a kickass performance of “Black Napkins” from “Zoot Allures.” Granted, Zappa had already warmed up pretty well with the early show, but opening a show with this number, composed around an intense guitar solo, is very ballsy.

Probably because of the live broadcasts as well, the set list is actually pretty tame, although the songs are performed exceptionally well. But even the second song, “Montana” is nothing like the studio version or any other live version I have heard. It is frankly quite tame and even a tad disappointing.

The band is tight, however. Their playing during “Easy Meat” is outstanding. And we're treated to another stupendous Zappa solo. But what really gets me is the polyrhythmic structure to the solo section. Chad Wackerman is really amazing during this section, which finishes with a time signature I still haven’t figured out.

Both the early and the late shows pull heavily from “You Are What You Is.” The band gives “Society Pages” a very funky beat that is utterly delicious. Ray White gives “I’m a Beautiful Guy” a very Rat Pack sound that is sumptuously glib. The band’s expertise is exemplified again with “Beauty Knows No Pain,” a number so tightly orchestrated that any fuck up would stand out like a hardon at a junior high dance.

Steve Vai’s guitar playing is a bit understated on “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth,” but make no mistake, it is excellent. We get a reggae rhythm with “Fine Girl,” as well as some keyboard playing by Tommy Mars that I actually enjoy; his falsetto singing is also quite good.

The bands returns to “You Are What You Is” with a couple very tightly performed songs: “Teenage Wind,” and “Harder Than Your Husband.” About the latter, I get the feeling that the song is both a rip and an homage to the Rolling Stones’ “Girl with the Far Away Eyes.” What some listeners fail to grasp is that a Zappa spoof that is obviously directed at a particular artist or band isn’t necessarily done because Zappa dislikes the target. Some were darts thrown with unmistakable disdain. But remember that Zappa often did satires of doo-wop music; yet he held a deep regard for that genre.

Talk about a heavy rock beat, “Bamboozled By Love” comes along and crushes your head. Ray White is getting off on his Allman Bros. muse. It is an incredible interpretation of the song. And the guitar solo is worthy of adoration, although it is too short.

“Sinister Footwear” comes along, showing some more of Zappa the composer, and for true Zappa fans, pieces like this are gems. I really like Bobby Martin’s keyboards just before Zappa’s guitar solo. The precision of the setup is chilling, as the mood is completely translated and delivered with impeccable skill. Jesus, this shit is good! Again, even Tommy Mars’ keyboards are excellent, recalling a choir of voices bringing a triumphant crescendo (sorry, I’ve never been a fan of Tommy Mars’ style of playing. It has always struck me as rather pedestrian, like he was stroking Keith Emerson).

“Stevie’s Spanking” is a grandiose heavy metal head-banging splurge of electronic musical madness that delights the synapses. After all, “it’s not that he required grooming.” You can tell how Stevie Vai was influenced by Zappa with his guitar solo. While distinctly different in timbre, you nonetheless hear the Zappa influence. And when the two of them are jamming together, it’s killer.

The two CDs that make up this boot are nicely divided, with the first disc ending with a commercial break for the live FM broadcast. CD 2 picks up with “Cocaine Decisions,” a song that wouldn’t be released for another two years on “The Man From Utopia.”

Next comes an obscure blues number, “Nig Biz,” a substantial surprise in many ways considering the concert was still being broadcast. This is a rollicking blues number that officially appears only on YCDTOSA Vol. 3 and “The Dub Room Special” DVD. Next come another two songs from “You Are What You Is,” beginning with “Doreen,” which in this live version really lacks the oomph of the official release. This is followed by “Goblin Girl,” a song seldom performed live, but which was a welcomed number in the show’s lineup considering it was, after all, Halloween. It’s a very short rendition of the song, coming in at less than two minutes, quickly transitioning into the more complex “The Black Page #2.” I have to comment here that Ed Mann’s percussion, particularly with the vibraphones, is outstanding and precise. Wackerman’s drumming is also spot-on. But, of course, Zappa’s solo on this number is exquisite as well.

This concert’s performance of “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” in my opinion is merely mediocre. The playing is great, but it’s just not the same without Terry Bozzio singing. What follows is much better, a very cool interpretation of “Strictly Genteel,” sans vocals. While there are a lot of good songs on this boot, this performance of “Strictly Genteel” is worth tracking it down alone. There’s even a section almost four minutes into the song that recalls sounds from the “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” era. The song acts as an end to the FM broadcast, with Frank coming in and saying goodnight. However, the FM broadcast didn’t end until about half way through the next song, “The Torture Never Stops,” which Zappa proclaims is “a traditional Halloween number.” It is the title number for a DVD released in 2008 that contains video from both the early and late shows. Frank says “Good night to our television audience” at the end of this, but there is still plenty more.

The “rest of the show” starts with “Joe’s Garage,” which is followed by “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee.” Unfortunately, there is some feedback buzz in the background during portions of these songs. Two long classics come up next with “The Illinois Enema Bandit” and perhaps one of Zappa’s most brilliant as well as flexible compositions he ever wrote: “King Kong.” To demonstrate its flexibility, the band performs it with a reggae beat and a variety of interesting percussive solos, featuring some very cool “outside” playing by Ed Mann. Of course, there is a guitar solo. The show closes with “Auld Lang Syne.”

This Web site outlines the various official formats that material from the two 1981 shows was released on.

I rate this 4.5 of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Track listing

Black Napkins – 6:53
Montana – 3:44
Easy Meat – 6:44
Society Pages – 2:29
I’m A Beautiful Guy – 1:53
Beauty Knows No Pain – 2:52
Charlie’s Enormous Mouth – 3:36
Fine Girl – 3:09
Teenage Wind – 2:57
Harder Than Your Husband – 2:23
Bamboozled By Love – 5:26
Sinister Footwear – 6:38
Stevie’s Spanking – 6:32

Cocaine Decisions – 4:48
Nig Biz – 5:03
Doreen – 2:02
Goblin Girl – 1:45
The Black Page #2 – 4:14
Tryin’ To Grow A Chin – 2:27
Strictly Genteel – 6:41
The Torture Never Stops – 12:46
Joe’s Garage – 3:40
Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? – 2:38
The Illinois Enema Bandit – 10:44
King Kong – 11:59
Auld Lang Syne – 2:57


Frank Zappa – guitar and vocals
Steve Vai – guitar
Ray White – guitar and vocals
Scott Thunes – bass
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Palladium 1981 Halloween Early Show

The year 1981 saw a flurry of releases from Frank, beginning with the live release of “Tinseltown Rebellion” in May, followed by the “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” series (also all in May) and then in September that year came the release of “You Are What You Is.” The set list for the early show at the Palladium on Halloween night in New York drew heavily from “You Are What You Is,” with seven of the first eight songs performed at the show coming from that album; those seven tunes were also preformed consecutively. Overall, the show’s material primarily came from albums released in the late 1970s, with a small preview of Zappa’s next album to be released in 1982, “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch,” which was to come out the following May.

In terms of audio quality, this boot isn’t quite as clear as the one for the 1978 show. Despite that, a considerable amount of material from both the 1981 early and late shows was re-mastered and released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” volumes 1, 3, and 6, on the “Beat the Boots” release “As An Am,” as well as on “The Dub Room Special,” and “One Shot Deal.”

The shows were also filmed, and this footage was variously released on the DVDs “The Dub Room Special” and “The Torture Never Stops.” Bits were released on a video “Dumb All Over,” and a lot of film was released as well on MTV. Details on all of this can be found here.

Given the fact that there are plenty of official releases of material from both the 1981 shows, there’s no strong need to go out and find the boot releases because, as I said, the sound quality on this boot in particular is not all that great. However, there is still plenty of material on this boot that was not subsequently released. And with some of the audio releases, the guitar solo was edited out.

Rather than run through the set list song by song as I have done with previous posts, I just want to cover some of the highlights. And one is the performance of “Envelopes,” a song that would be released later on “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” This bit of avant-garde is not only really interesting, but very well-played by the band. Chad Wackerman’s drumming is precise. The song segues into another song from the same up-coming album, “Drowning Witch.” The variation in musical themes, rhythms and vocal styles lends a sense that the material is ad-libbed, but of course it is not. Certainly the band rehearsed this over and over according to Zappa’s infamous reputation of rehearsing bands to the extreme to ensure the material was performed flawlessly. I have to mention Wackerman’s drumming again, as his precision is key to one’s enjoyment of Zappa’s solo.

In an article following Zappa’s death in 1993 in the February 1994 edition of “Musician,” Wackerman was among those interviewed for the piece.

“I knew the reputation of how difficult Frank’s music was to play and I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the music,” Wackerman told the magazine. “It was extremely intricate and detailed.

“The working process really varied. Often you would learn a rock song by rote, without any paper, which didn’t mean it was a simple thing to learn. Some of his material would be a rock song until you to an interlude section, when he’d bring in a piece of paper.

“You had to use your ears a lot, be able to memorize things quickly. When we went on the road, all this music we’d accumulated had to be memorized because it was a rock’n’roll show, basically. You had rock’n’roll lighting and you couldn’t have your face buried in any music.

“Also, he tended to change things all the time. A piece we might have learned as a heavy-metal song, he’d give the cue and it might become a reggae song, just spontaneously. So every show was completely different ….

“It’s amazing – so many people don’t know about Frank or don’t know how deep he was. They just think that he was this rock’n’roll star. To me, Frank was this amazing composer who happened to play great rock’n’roll guitar. Some very different combinations of influences came out of that. To me, nobody’s ever going to touch it or come close.”

This interlude of songs begun with “Envelopes” and carried forward by “Drowning Witch” comes to a close with a really delightful performance of “What’s New in Baltimore?” While these tunes reach forward (“What’s New in Baltimore?” wasn’t released until “Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention” and “YCDTOSA Vol.5”), this avant-garde section of the show continues with a brilliant performance of “Moggio,” from “The Man From Utopia.”

The next song in the set, “We’re Turning Again,” reaches forward again to FZMTMP. What I find interesting in this song is not only Zappa’s commentary on how the vision of the 60s and 70s had been supplanted by empty consumerism, but his almost affectionate and wistful homage to Jimi Hendrix. The more you learn about Frank, the more you recognize his connections with so many different musicians who he encountered, many of whom went on to form recognizable and influential bands of there own. While Zappa respected the skill of and the music created by many of these musicians he worked with and encountered, he wasn’t one to be necessarily awed by them – except perhaps one: Jimi Hendrix. In Barry Miles’ “Zappa: A Biography,” shares some insight into Zappa’s experience with Hendrix in the late 1960s when The Mothers of Invention were playing at the Garrick Theater in New York City.

“In July (1967) Jimi Hendrix played the Café Au Go Go directly beneath the Garrick and Zappa went to see him” Miles writes, then quotes Zappa: “’He had a whole stack of Marshalls and I was right in front of it. I was physically ill – I couldn’t get out; it was so packed I couldn’t escape. And although it was great, I didn’t see how anybody could inflict that kind of volume on himself, let alone other people. That particular show he ended by taking that guitar and impaling it in the low ceiling of the club. Just walked away and left it squealing.’

“Frank invited Jimi to see the Mothers play, and Jimi and his drummer Mitch Mitchell sat in with them. Frank was so intrigued by what Hendrix was doing that he left the stage and sat in the audience to watch him play with the band, indicating a previously unseen level of respect for another musician’s work.”

Another tasty tidbit from this concert is the final song, a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Whippin’ Post.” While a different version of this cover appeared later on “The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life,” this one is just as kick-ass. The guitar interplay between Vai and Zappa is tight and incredible as the band not only brings authenticity to the cover, but interprets the song with that unique Zappa flare. It sets your hair on fire.

I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Track listing:

Disc 1
01) Chunga’s Revenge (fades in) – 4:15
02) You Are What You Is – 5:05
03) Mudd Club – 2:56
04) The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing – 316
05) Dumb All Over – 5:48
06) Heavenly Bank Account – 4:10
07) Suicide Chump – 5:49
08) Jumbo Go Away – 3:56
09) Envelopes – 3:11
10) Drowning Witch – 8:46
11) What’s New in Baltimore – 3:45
12) Moggio – 2:43
13) We’re Turning Again – 5:00

Disc 2
14) Alien Orifice – 5:10
15) Teenage Prostitute – 2:28
16) Flakes – 5:11
17) Broken Hearts Are For Assholes – 4:06
18) The Blue Light – 4:42
19) Tinseltown Rebellion – 4:52
20) Yo Mama – 9:08
21) Bobby Brown – 3:52
22) City of Tiny Lights – 9:52
23) Strictly Genteel – 9:01
24) Dancin’ Fool (cuts in) – 3:47
25) Whippin’ Post – 6:54


Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Steve Vai – guitar and etc.
Ray White – guitar, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 1978 The Palladium NYC

In 1978, Zappa played the Palladium in New York City for six shows: one on Halloween, two each on Oct. 27 and 28, and one on Oct. 29. As mentioned in my post on the official “Halloween” audio DVD release, Zappa recorded all these shows, leaving behind a ton of taped material. This boot from the Halloween night show is what should have been re-mastered and officially released. Why a cut-and-paste release of various songs from these shows was put together is beyond me. And added to my dismay is the fact that the official recording was released on an audio DVD, severely limiting how folks can play it. I don’t have a home theater to play it on and it won’t play in my CD changer or in my car stereo, so I had to download someone else’s rip so I could listen to it in my car. The official release sits on my CD shelf as a testament of how I occasionally waste my money.

But when you listen to the 1978 Halloween show in its entirety, it’s like WTF! Why wasn’t this put together into a three or four CD release? It is freaking outstanding, one of the most amazing concert recordings I’ve heard!

How amazing? This concert had some serious head-banging heavy metal guitar solos that stimulate your entire body with scintillating current; you will hear the magical musicianship of the band as it displays complete mastery of some of Zappa’s most difficult material; you will be awed by Denny Walley’s super sweet and melodious slide guitar delivered with a Delta blues fingerprint so implacable and delicious that it’s like a savory sweet potato pie; and the interplay between L. Shankar’s electric violin and Zappa’s guitar approaches the mystical.

And you’ll also hear Zappa just being himself as he includes some of his famous audience participation.

Granted, this recording is a bit rough due to the fact that it is a bootleg, but the material is so incredibly awesome that it really doesn’t matter. The only portion of the recording that is so rough that the final maniacal interplay between Shankar and Zappa is almost lost is at the very end. That part of the show was re-mastered and released on the official “Halloween” recording.

This was a very long show, as you can see by the track listing, so I’m only going to touch on some of what I consider to be the highlights.

Frank shreds on the fourth track, “Easy Meat,” which was also on the “Halloween” recording, except that the performance on that release came from the second show on Oct. 27. I really like the rhythmic and melodic progression of the solo as well as Vinnie Colaiuta’s aggressive drumming.

The band is incredibly tight on “Keep it Greasy,” and Frank’s vocals on “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” are really good, his singing effortless. And you can hear Denny Walley warming up the slide in preparation for the next song.

“City of Tiny Lights” always gives me the shivers, and this performance delivers. Walley’s slide guitar is electrifying, his solo brings a flavor of Texas and Delta blues while still retaining that cosmic aura of floating chaotically above the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. Frank picks up on the shred to continue the guitar part while Walley’s guitar hums menacingly in the background. The two of them finish off with a note-for-note pairing of the song’s theme.

The band is fantastic during “Pound for a Brown,” a demanding piece. Ed Mann’s percussion is brilliant and the bass playing by both Arthur Barrow and Patrick O’Hearn is flawless. But it’s Mann’s vibraphone playing that stars.

L. Shankar is introduced for the next song, “Thirteen.” This is beautiful stuff. Shankar starts low, but gradually works his way up the musical scale. You begin to notice something rhythmically going on, you’re not quite sure what it is, but Vinnie Colaiuta’s drumming keeps you safe. Because when Shankar begins to unload and let it rip on that violin, it leaves me stunned every time. When Zappa begins to play, the rhythm becomes so complex that there isn’t anyone else playing except for Colaiuta. The bass begins to rejoin as Zappa goes deep into the register to haul out a solo as if from the depths of oblivion. Then Frank, I believe, becomes possessed, his playing so inspired and amazing that I am in eternal regret that I never saw this performance. Shankar comes back, his playing bordering on the outside, giving Frank’s extended feedback an aural texture that becomes transcendent; Zappa takes it another step leaving you in the cosmos, but Shankar is right there as he becomes like a chaotic comet zipping about following no course, bouncing between quasars and super novas.

Both Shankar and Zappa bring the crowd back to earth, slowly bringing them back as the band joins back in for a crescendo that makes me cry. Why this was not included on the official release stupefies me. It is 17 minutes of outstanding music.

The infamous Warren Cucurullo is introduced in this show as well, as he comes up on stage to tell a pretty interesting story of becoming infatuated with a woman who he later finds out, is someone compromising manner, is a transvestite.

Frank pays homage to doo-wop with “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder,” and delivers very nicely on the vocals. It’s really ironic in that Zappa did so many covers of doo-wop and R&B tunes that could be construed as satirical, as well as wrote many of his own, but the man had a deep love for this music. Check out the backing vocals on this, as they transition the song into “Little Rubber Girl,” which again is used as a transition into the “Idiot Bastard Son,” which is actually a waltz.

L. Shankar returns for more violin playing on “Conehead,” who, as Zappa says at his re-introduction, “give(s) them the works.” The band provides a really cool groove in the background for this as well. Good Zappa guitar solo too with some lovely feedback.

Disc 3 has a lot of treats on it, including “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” sans vocals (L. Shankar again on this, putting his interpretation of surf music on this), a decent performance of “Peaches En Regalia,” and “Strictly Genteel.” I really like “Sofa” on this, and “Magic Fingers” is decent as well. The standout, however, in this section of the show is “Packard Goose,” a song filled with time changes and one not often played, but which contains Zappa’s famous progression quote about “Music is the best!” This is followed by Shankar and Zappa trading riffs that rip the top of your head off. It’s probably the most impressive and synergistic part of the show.

Disc 4 begins with the “Yellow Snow Suite,” presented in its entirety as it was always performed. It was a serious blunder, in my opinion, that on “Halloween” only “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” was included.

As I mentioned earlier, the last part of this bootleg probably has the worst noise, which interferes significantly with one’s auditory pleasure while listening to “The Black Napkins” and “Deathless Horsie.” However, the recording was cleaned up and used on “Halloween.”

A note: There was no artwork with this boot, so I scanned some of the cover art from “Halloween” and used that.

I rate this 4.5 stars out of five despite the somewhat substandard audio. Add your own rating below.

Disc 1
1 Ancient Armaments
2 Intro
3 Dancin’ Fool
4 Easy Meat
5 Honey Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?
6 Keep It Greasy
7 The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
8 City Of Tiny Lights
9 Pound For A Brown
10 Thirteen

Disc 2
11 Ms. X
12 Nancy’s Life Story
13 Dinah-Moe Humm
14 Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder
15 Little Rubber Girl
16 Idiot Bastard Son
17 Bobby Brown
18 Conehead
19 Suicide Chump
20 Little House I Used To Live In
21 Watermelon In Easter Hay

Disc 3
22 Preamble
23 Stink Foot
24 Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
25 Peaches En Regalia
26 Strictly Genteel
27 Sofa
28 Packard Goose
29 Magic Fingers

Disc 4
30 Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow
31 Nanook Rubs It
32 St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast
33 Father O’Blivion
34 Rollo
35 Camarillo Brillo
36 Muffin Man
37 Black Napkins
38 The Deathless Horsie

Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Patrick O’Hearn – bass
Arthur Barrow – bass
Denny Walley – slide guitar, vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Peter Wolf – keyboards

L. Shankar - electric violin
Warren Cucurullo - monologue
Nancy - monologue

With L. Shankar on tracks 10, 18, 20-21, 24, 28, and 38.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


With 20 live performances on Halloween, and with Zappa’s penchant for recording practically everything he did on and off stage, it’s really quite surprising to see the dearth of Halloween live recordings in the official catalog.

It wasn’t until 2003 that a posthumous release came out that ostensibly was a live recording of a Halloween show, the DVD audio disc dubiously titled “Halloween,” the title being suspect because even that release was not strictly a Halloween show. It contains material (allegedly the best in Dweezil’s opinion) from the 1978 shows at the Palladium, recorded from Oct. 27 through 31.

Perhaps the only true Halloween show pressed by the Zappa Family Trust into media fit for an electronic device is the DVD “The Torture Never Stops,” which represents the two 1981 Halloween shows at the Palladium. All that material from all those Halloween shows, and this is all that’s available. Thank god for bootlegs! Oh sure, there are a few cuts from Halloween shows on various releases of YCDTOSA (which I will address in future posts), but “Halloween” and “The Torture Never Stops” are pretty much it in the legitimate recording arena. And unfortunately, I do not have a copy of “The Torture Never Stops” to review. I do have a bootleg of the 1981 shows, a review of which will be showing up shortly.

And so it is I must begin by saying that “Halloween” is a major disappointment. I admit that’s difficult to say because there are some excellent guitar solos on this recording, and the song set list on this release is not that bad, although it is very predictable. No, what is really disappointing is how the album is set up by Zappa speaking to the crowd. He tells them that the show will first start off with material that everybody knows, but that he also promises material that is new and different.

Believe me, those Halloween shows had some great material that went way beyond what is normally associated as being Zappa’s more popular songs, particularly the 1978 show. After all, he warns the crowd that this one is going to be a long one. And yet, on the official release, we are only teased. Yes, and frustratingly so. I mean, how can you release a recording in which Zappa states clearly that something more is promised, and then not deliver on that?

Mark Prindle has at times been harsher with his comments about various Zappa recordings than I would be, but his review of “Halloween” awards it way too many stars – six out of 10 – particularly in light of what he actually says about the recording.

“Supposedly a big selling point of this record is that it features violinist L. (or Lakshminarayana, as his friends called him as a Nick Name) Shankar… Some of the songs just don’t ZING in these renditions though: ‘Camarillo Brillo’ is rushed through with no soul at all; ‘Easy Meat’ loses its way to boring axe wank; and as beautiful as ‘Black Napkins’ and ‘The Deathless Horsie’ are, you’d have to be a member of the Zappa Family Trust to enjoy seventeen minutes of him soloing over them.”

The track selection was allegedly made by Dweezil. As accomplished a guitar player that he is, the Dweez has been in the business for more than 20 years, and this is the song selection he comes up with? Come on, Dweez, what’s up with that?

According to the liners note with the official release: “When it came time to put together this disc, the issue of sequencing, pacing and continuity became the order of the day. In other words, Joe (Cicarelli) and Dweezil needed to come up with about 70 minutes that played like a show, with all the ebb and flow and peaks and valleys of a continuous performance.

“The only answer was to go back to the vault, find all the original material, listen to it and decide what should go on the finished program.”

Zappa played five nights for the Halloween season that year, and to make this release, all the material was available to them! It seems the entire process could have been made much simpler if the notion of “sequencing, pacing and continuity” had just been tossed out the window and the Palladium show from Halloween night on 1978 was released in its entirety. Instead, with “Halloween” we have a faux show.

It’s incredible how the liner notes really hype everything up, and there was a lot to hype. The 1978 band was pretty awesome. The lineup Zappa had for the Halloween shows in 1978 was stellar and powerful. And the set list for Halloween night that year was a grand slam! But instead of that, Dweezil settles for getting on base with a walk. And add to that it was released in a format that barely anyone has the equipment to appreciate.

All right, enough of why this recording is a disappointment. Let’s look at the material talk about how good it is.

This “show” starts of with “Ancient Armaments,” a totally kick-ass guitar solo piece that has outstanding percussion coming from the great Vinnie Colaiuta. It is also during this track that Zappa announces to the crowd that “This is the big one!” And then he goes on:

“Let me tell you what I’m gonna do tonight. Tonight, since this is the big one, we’re going to play a very long show… What we’re going to do for those of you who have been here before … we are going to play a whole collection of stuff that we don’t normally do. But before we do that, we’re going to play our normal show for those of you who haven’t seen any of the other shows.”

This big band then launches into “Dancin’ Fool.” The numerous musicians in this line up really give this tune a big sound and feel, as well as a deep texture in sound. Plus you can hear Frank having fun with the crowd.

While the first two tracks are from the show Halloween night, Frank’s banter with the girl he pulls up on stage is cut short by the recording switching to “Easy Meat,” which was recorded four nights earlier on Oct. 27. My god, Zappa rips your head off with his guitar solo, the sound just sears your scalp and electrifies your ears. And Vinnie’s drumming is right there, spot on.

The next song, “Magic Fingers” from “200 Motels” is a composite, taking tracks from two shows: Oct. 27 and Halloween. The band is truly tight on this, and Denny Walley’s vocals on this are decent. “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” is from Halloween night, but the major problem here is that this song is part of a suite that was always performed in its entirety, including Halloween night 1978. Here we only get the first song.

What follows is “Conehead” from “You Are What You Is.” It’s a fairly boring performance, only made marginally better by L. Shankar’s violin solo. However, Shankar had much better solos that night that were not included in this release.

Next, we get a drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta called “Zeets.” While a great solo, I remain dubious about how it fits in following Shankar’s solo. This moves into “Stink Foot,” which was performed on Halloween and includes some interesting interaction with the audience. But the sweetest part is the solo. Many of Zappa’s solos are orchestrated numbers during which he plays precise parts, but in this one, I swear he gets lost and just soars. There are some pre-programmed parts; you can tell because Vinnie Colaiuta’s drumming is so tight, he has to know what’s coming. But there are other parts when Zappa shifts time signature and Colaiuta is still there, but you can tell he’s anticipating. Not catching up mind you; Zappa would never tolerate a drummer who had to catch up.

Although “Dinah-Moe Humm” was also played on Halloween, the version on this release is from Oct. 27. There’s some interesting audience participation during this, but overall, this song is nothing all that special.

The traditional combination of “Camarillo Brillo” and “Muffin Man” come next, which are both from Oct. 27. Frank’s guitar solo on “Muffin Man” is, well, all I can think of are hackneyed expressions filled with superlatives. However, I agree with the liner notes: it’s too short.

“Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)” is from Halloween night, and is nearly 17 minutes of some incredible guitar work. Not only does Frank deliver on this very recognizable theme, but he delves into other musical themes and progressions, seemingly spontaneously, because at times the band – except for Vinnie – just stops playing. Frank goes off into his own little guitar world, just like Joe from “Joe’s Garage,” playing those guitar riffs that must have filled his head while Frank was in Tank C after that bogus pornography charge he spent time in jail for. L. Shankar comes in for support, but that’s about it. Shankar’s truly stellar playing is omitted from this recording.

The Audio-DVD also includes a radio interview with WPIX on Oct. 30, 1978 in which Frank reveals that some police danced on the stage during one of his shows because they were “moved to dance by the majesty of the music, are you kidding?” He also reveals that he likes Devo, Blondie and The Stranglers. Cool. I love Devo and Blondie, but I’ll have to check up on The Stranglers. He also mentions an album in the works called “Martian Loves Secrets.” Huh?

I rate this three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released Feb. 4, 2003, on the Vaulternative label.

Audio content
“NYC Audience” – 1:17
“Ancient Armaments” – 8:23
“Dancin’ Fool” – 4:35
“Easy Meat” – 6:03
“Magic Fingers” – 2:33
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” – 2:24
“Conehead” – 4:02
“Zeets” (Vinnie Colaiuta) – 2:58
“Stink-Foot” – 8:51
“Dinah-Moe Humm” – 5:27
“Camarillo Brillo” – 3:14
“Muffin Man” – 3:32
“Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)” – 16:56

Track 5, “Magic Fingers”, is edited together from versions from the Halloween show on October 31, 1978 and from the two shows which took place on October 27. The other tracks were taken from the following shows:

October 27, first show — tracks 10–12
October 27, second show — track 4
October 28, first show — track 7
October 31 — tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 13

Additional content
“Suicide Chump” – 9:31
Video in Black and White, recorded at Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey October 13, 1978
“Dancin’ Fool” – 3:48
Color video taken from Zappa’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, in New York City October 21, 1978
Radio interview – 9:41
Audio only; conducted at WPIX with Mark Simone, October 30, 1978

Frank Zappa – lead guitar, vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – drums
Arthur Barrow – bass guitar
Patrick O’Hearn – bass guitar
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Denny Walley – guitar, vocals
Peter Wolf – keyboards
Ed Mann – percussion
L. Shankar – violin

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween 1976 Felt Forum Late Show

The late show at the Felt Forum in New York City on Halloween, 1976, was a decent concert. When Frank teases the crowd after the “Purple Lagoon Intro,” which includes Terry Bozzio’s outstanding drumming, with the promise, “I just hope we can make this program everything you hoped for tonight,” you know this is going to be a good show.

But this particular bootleg, an audience recording, really sucks. You can barely hear the concert’s greatness through the crowd chatter, and the guy that keeps yelling “Frank Zappa sucks donkey balls!” is really super annoying. There is also the small matter that I don’t have any art work to go with this. Hence the lame images.

The opener “Stink Foot,” from “Apostrophe(‘)” is a song that Frank tells the crowd he opened the early show with. This is significant because when Zappa played back-to-back shows on a single night, the song sets were never identical and seldom included any of the same individual songs. The guitar solo on this, although muffled in the bootleg, comes forward enough for you to hear Zappa inject a bit of blues into the tune. And then you hear him interrupt the song, apparently to re-tune his guitar, after which he goes through a series of ripping arpeggios to ensure his axe is truly in tune. After that, I believe he slips back into the solo he initially intended on playing. Bozzio does an outstanding job of staying in time with this unpredicted interruption.

The “Poodle Lecture” is a routine that Frank included in a lot of shows during that era, but here it’s not that enjoyable because instead of just hearing the crowd’s general response to Zappa’s narration, you get to hear individual voices, like that annoying guy who was yelling “Frank Zappa sucks donkey balls!”

Bianca Thornton belts out the vocals to “Dirty Love” from “Over-nite Sensation,” but you can barely hear her. What you do hear, however, is enough to make you wish you were there to hear it. We do get to hear another great solo from Frank. However, it appears that he was having some trouble that night keeping his guitar in tune. He abandons his efforts to move into “Pound For A Brown,” a tune from “Uncle Meat,” which turns out to be the band’s first live performance of the tune. A few more attempts at tuning his guitar and then the song begins.

You can hear Frank starts things with a “One-two-three-four,” but this song is way beyond and normal 4/4 time signature. There’s so much going on with this song with Patrick O’Hearn’s bass playing and Terry Bozzi’s precision drumming. All that frenetic activity initially sounds somewhat out of line with Zappa’s playing, but as the song progresses, the synchronicity of the players activity becomes apparent. Things finish with an excellent drum solo from Bozzio, so impressive you can hear the comments and awe from the audience.

Not sure, but when the band slows things down during “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station,” a song from “Zoot Allures,” it sounds like they are either taking a shot at Grand Funk or maybe Kansas. Probably the latter, as about that time Kansas was fairly popular.

Bozzio gets to work his vocal cords in “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” from “Sheik Yer Bouti,” but the substandard recording of the bootleg is such you really can’t hear much beyond the bass and rhythm guitar lines.

Normally, live performances of “The Torture Never Stops” include famously intense guitar solos out of Frank. Halloween 1976 was a bit of an exception to this. In addition to the performance being marred by the chatter of some guy who is close to the person recording the show, Frank is still having trouble with his guitar. He goes through a solo, but you can tell he seems to be preoccupied with his guitar. And then later in the solo, someone yells, “What is this shit?” To which Zappa replies that he’s tuning his guitar, followed with a “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

Ray White and Zappa trade solos during “City of Tiny Lights,” a song constructed to accommodate a lengthy guitar solo. However, the solo isn’t as imaginative as what one might expect out of Frank, leading me to think that he was holding back a lot during this show because of whatever problems he was having with his instrument.

Bianca Thornton’s voice comes through much more clearly during the last song on Disc 1, “You Didn’t Try to Call Me,” a song that goes all the way back to “Freak Out!” She’s gives it a really full, bluesy and spiritual feel. Yet, the band sort of disintegrates into a bunch of dinking around. To me, another solo was probably intended to go along with this song, which would have been bitchin’ to go along with Thornton’s singing, but given what happened early in the show, I think Frank basically punted.

Disc 2 continues with “Manx Needs a Woman,” a short piece that was on the “New York” release, which is followed by “Titties ‘n Beer,” featuring Terry Bozzio as the Devil. Eddie Jobson has some trouble keeping the beat on his keyboards while Bozzio is busy in his role as the Devil, but the routine apparently works the crowd into an enthusiastic frenzy. You get a better sense of Bianca Thornton’s voice toward the end of this, as she sounds very Stevie Nicks.

Zappa overcomes the previous issues with his guitar as he rips into “Black Napkins,” but two-and-a-half minutes into the song, the guitar playing abruptly stops to be replaced by some vocalizations by it sounds like both Zappa and Bianca Thornton. The crowd does not sound all that pleased, recognizing something wrong with the sound. Was Frank having another guitar issue? But the crowd slowly gets into the vocalizations despite the fact that the sequence lacks any cohesion. Someone eventually starts playing an electric violin, but there is no credit for this, and there doesn’t appear to be any reference of someone playing electric violin here as well. The style of playing sounds very much like Jean Luc Ponty. That’s my guess, supported in part by the fact someone in the crowd shouts his name. Some subdued guitar playing follows this, but Frank picks up the intensity a bit when we’re about 12 minutes into the song. If he did have guitar issues earlier in the show, by the end of this song he has surely overcome them: you hear Zappa losing himself in the song, his playing becoming effortless. I have to wonder, however, if it’s a different guitar, because it has a slightly different sound than the one he started with. You can’t tell because this is an audience recording, and the sound quality shifts frequently because of that alone.

Next come “Advance Romance,” a very heavy song that Zappa played a lot, but didn’t show up on any official “studio” recording. Rather, it appears on the live recordings “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” volumes 3 and 5, as well as on “Oz.” This concert’s version has a pretty kick-ass bass solo by O’Hearn, if you can make it out. Plus, Zappa’s guitar playing has definitely overcome whatever problems were encountered earlier in the show. Again, despite how shitty this bootleg recording is, the ability to hear solos like this make having these bootlegs rewarding. The solo in this song is why this recording gets two stars instead of one.

Zappa delves into a pretty sweet performance of “What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?” with Bianca Thornton, who sings a soulful accompaniment that also shoots back with a satirical tongue that keeps Frank in his place. While I still like the version from the “Fillmore East” concert recording, this one is good too.

Of course, after a song like that, it’s not surprising the group launches next into “Dinah-Moe Humm.” This is followed with “Camarillo Brillo,” which slows down toward the end as was typical of concerts from this era, because it was usually followed, as it is here, with “Muffin Man,” a song first released on “Bongo Fury.” In this case, John Smothers sings the song. Was this someone from the audience? This was not unusual for a Zappa show, as long as you were well-behaved, but as it turned out, Smothers was Zappa's long-time bodyguard. And Zappa delivers again with outstanding playing, albeit interrupted by a glitch in the download.

I rate this recording two of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Content was edited and a correction made on Oct. 25, 2009, correcting the name John Scuthers to John Smothers.

Disc 1:
Crowd Noise
1 Purple Lagoon Intro
2 Stink Foot
3 Poodle Lecture
4 Dirty Love
5 Pound For A Brown
6 Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station
7 Tryin’ To Grow A Chin
8 The Torture Never Stops
9 City Of Tiny Lights
10 You Didn’t Try To Call Me

Disc 2:
11 Manx Needs Women
12 Titties ‘n Beer
13 Black Napkins
14 Advance Romance
15 What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?
16 Dinah-Moe Humm
17 Camarillo Brillo
18 Muffin Man

Frank Zappa-vocals, guitar
Ray White-vocals, guitar
Patrick O’Hearn-vocals, bass
Terry Bozzio-drums
Eddie Jobson-keyboards
Bianca Thornton-vocals

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Trick or Treat, London 1968

Despite this bootleg’s title (it was also released by Rhino in 1991) and the overtly Halloweenish cover art, this is not a true Halloween performance, as the live tracks are from the Oct. 25, 1968, show at the Royal Festival Hall in London. And the first half of this boot includes studio tracks that were all officially released, except for Track 3, “Lonely Little Girl.”

According to the notes that come with this:

“From Biffy the Elephant Shrew:

“No, the Trick or Treat cut is not really the single version, except for the last line (where you'll note that it does switch to mono). The single consists of the first verse of ‘Lonely Little Girl’, in mono, with a different ending (like on the Trick or Treat boot), followed by the celesta tinkle and cough. This cuts to ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’ in its entirety (indeed, the single is more about ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’ than it is ‘Lonely Little Girl’), make a musique concrete noise here, and finally a sax-led shuffle riff that repeats and fades. This sax passage appears nowhere else in the Zappa oeuvre. [This sax riff is also at the end of side one of the Trick or Treat boot - JWB.]

“This riff is known in the trade as the ‘Bunk Gardner riff’. From Johan Lif:

“During the fade-out of the rare single version of ‘Lonely Little Girl’, there is a repeated brass riff, believed to have been added by Bunk Gardner during the ‘Big Leg Emma’ sessions after Zappa had left the studio [see Chevalier, pp. 224-5]. This riff has now been identified as a copy of the opening bass riff from ‘What’s So Good About Goodbye’ with Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.”

I dunno. (Read the comments to this post. Someone fesses up!)

Things kick off with a hard-driving “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?” Nice guitar solo, although brief, in this song that reveals the strong blues roots that have influenced Zappa’s playing. In fact, Zappa admits in his autobiography that in learning to play the guitar, all he learned were blues riffs. From that comes his distinct style of playing.

Although released with a re-release of “Absolutely Free,” I had always preferred the version of “Big Leg Emma” released with “Zappa in New York.”

“Lonely Little Girl” comes from “We’re Only In It For The Money,” launched with Eric Clapton announcing “I see God, I see God,” finished with some snorks before heading into “Dog Breath,” which appears on “Uncle Meat.” However, this version is primarily instrumental, heavy on Ian Underwood’s saxophone.

Next up is “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,” which first appeared on “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” However, this stripped down version is very cool. I like the “Weasels” cut, but this one is so spare that it’s delicious.

The next cut is taken from the “Fillmore East” album with Flo & Eddie singing “Tears Begin to Fall.” This is followed by the “Junier Mintz Boogie.” This appears to be a live recording, probably circa the Flo & Eddie tours, with Frank jamming away on his guitar. It is sizzling. This solo is a precious moment captured in time, the reason why I like bootlegs. Christ almighty, Frank is killing that guitar, it is so divine.

The London live stuff comes next, with a performance of “Uncle Meat” unlike anything you’ve probably heard, unless you’ve been lucky enough to see Zappa play live during this era. He brings the song down to “one note at a time,” giving the song a completely different interpretation from the official release. This is a character trait of Zappa’s, that even when he plays consecutive shows that include the same songs, they will not be performed the same way in each show. So when we come to the live performance of “Son of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask,” it’s similar enough to the performance on “Weasels,” but is different in its own right.

No Zappa performance would be complete without a doo-wop number, and “In the Sky” delivers on this genre. The sides closes with an instrumental medley. Zappa pulls off several nice solos when the band switches into “The Orange County Lumber Truck,” then blends into one of my all time favorite Zappa numbers, “King Kong.” This is rock-n-roll. It’s avant-garde too. Aw, what the hell, it’s freaking great!

I rate this four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.


1. Why Don’tcha Do Me Right? [listed as “Why Don't You Do Me Right”]
2. Big Leg Emma
3. Lonely Little Girl
4. Dog Breath
5. My Guitar [Wants to Kill Your Mama]
6. Tears Began to Fall
7. Junier Mintz Boogie


8. Uncle Meat (One Not[e] at a Time)
9. Son of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask
10. Oh, in the Sky [listed as “In the Sky”]
11. The Big Medley [“Let's Make the Water Turn Black / Harry, You're a Beast / Oh No / The Orange County Lumber Truck / King Kong” - largely officially released on Ahead of Their Time]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Man From Utopia

“Cold and digital” is a common phrase used to describe Zappa’s production during the mid-1980s. Repetitive is one that comes to mind as well. And mechanical, as it seems that Frank would develop a musical or recording technique during this time and then clone that development for unimaginative re-use.

As an example, consider “I Come From Nowhere,” which was released on “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” The unusual timbre that Zappa used for the vocals in this song, while odd, provided a point of interest against the incredibly strong guitar riff driving the melody. But then this same vocalization technique shows up on “The Radio is Broken,” from “The Man From Utopia.” Boring.

And yet, this very disappointing recording starts off quite strong, beguiling the listener with the first three tracks (on the CD release) that this might actually be something nearing the compositional quality of “You Are What You Is.” The letdown, however, is substantial (it occurs more quickly on the vinyl release).

Following the order from the CD release, “The Man From Utopia” opens with “Cocaine Decisions,” a simple song with a nice harmonica part by Craig “Twister” Steward that punctuates the folksy rhythm and presentation. Zappa always had time with his material to ridicule drug use and users, but with this song, he reveals his personal animus toward cocaine. He saw the ripple effects of cocaine use not only in the music industry, but everywhere, from hypocritical politicians to doctors and lawyers. The musical interlude in between the repeated bridge has some delightful keyboards, I am presuming by Tommy Mars.

Next comes “SEX,” which starts with a strong, in-your-face rhythm, coupled with a lighter bridge finished off with what the “sniffer says.” Hmmm, lot going on in this song.

Arthur “Tink” Barrow shines on the next song, the instrumental “Tink Walks Amok.” This fantastic polyrhythmic tune with multiple bass lines, all provided by Barrow, is very cool. Listening to this I’m beginning to think that this CD has got a good groove going on. But ACK! Along comes “The Radio Is Broken.” Shit.

Lyrically, Zappa is lampooning the cheesy story lines from TV science fiction programming and SciFi movies. But the sing-speak delivery is just plain annoying. About the only redeeming quality the song has are the brief interludes of spastic guitar and drums. Things improve with “We Are Not Alone.” I really like the baritone sax in this by Bobby Martin. And musically, the song is so much more interesting than the nonsense in “The Radio is Broken.”

The first time I heard “The Dangerous Kitchen” was at the live show I saw in Tucson. I liked it then, and I enjoy the song now. Having said that, it would be even more enjoyable if the sing-speak delivery technique was limited to this song, and not used so frequently with other songs. Nothing more annoying than Zappa slipping into this sing-speak during live performances of songs like “The Torture Never Stops.”

Things pick up with “The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou,” and then really get going with the reggae-style “Stick Together.” This is a very cool song, from the impeccable rhythm section to the backing vocal harmonies that bring a spiritual quality to the song.

The sing-speak delivery that I hate so much returns with “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats,” which strikes me as laziness on Zappa’s part. The story is interesting enough in its own right, so why not just tell it? Or write a real song about it?

Frank returns to his doo-wop roots with “Luigi & The Wise Guys,” an a cappella song complete with falsetto harmonizing and snapping fingers, along with completely stupid lyrics.

The CD finishes with “Moggio”, a welcome respite from some of the other items on the release that were passed off as music. It features superb vibraphone playing by Ed Mann, and concludes with Zappa’s trademarked snorks.

All in all, I find this to be a mediocre release. In fact, I’d like to see it repackaged, taking the better items on this release and putting them together with the better songs from “Sleep Dirt.” Then I think you might have something there.

I rate this three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released March, 1983, Barking Pumpkin Records.

Track listing

LP release:

Side One
1. Cocaine Decisions (2:56)
2. The Dangerous Kitchen (2:51)
3. Tink Walks Amok (3:40)
4. The Radio Is Broken (5:52)
5. Mõggio (3:05)

Side Two
1. The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou (Medley) (3:19)
2. Stick Together (3:50)
3. SEX (3:00)
4. The Jazz Discharge Party Hats (4:30)
5. We Are Not Alone (3:31)

CD release:

1. Cocaine Decisions (3:54)
2. SEX (3:43)
3. Tink Walks Amok (3:39)
4. The Radio Is Broken (5:51)
5. We Are Not Alone (3:18)
6. The Dangerous Kitchen (2:51)
7. The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou (Medley) (3:22)
8. Stick Together (3:14)
9. The Jazz Discharge Party Hats (4:29)
10. Luigi & The Wise Guys (3:25)
11. Moggio (2:36)


Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals, ARP 2600, Linn Drum Machine)
Steve Vai ('impossible' guitar parts on strat and acoustic)
Ray White (guitar, vocals)
Roy Estrada (pachuco falsettos etc)
Bob Harris (boy soprano)
Ike Willis (bionic baritone)
Bobby Martin (keyboards, sax, vocals)
Tommy Mars (keyboards)
Arthur Barrow (keyboards, bass, micro-bass, rhythm guitar)
Ed Mann (percussion)
Scott Thunes (bass)
Chad Wackerman (drums)
Vinnie Colaiuta (drums on "The Dangerous Kitchen")
Dick Fegy (mandolin)
Marty Krystall (sax)
Craig “Twister” Steward (harmonica)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

When I first heard the single “Valley Girl” on the radio, I was like, this is awesome! How gnarly is that? Zappa is on the radio! But I quickly grew tired of its repeated play and the ubiquitous phrase, “Gag me with a spoon!” As a result, I didn’t take the entire album it was released on all that seriously.

Boy, was that a mistake. Because I really like “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” The album followed “You Are What You Is,” which admittedly was a tough act to follow. Couple that with the commercialism of “Valley Girl,” and you might understand how at first I didn’t think much of this album. Thankfully, time heals all wounds, as they say.

Case in point is the first track, “No, Not Now.” Initially I was put off by the shrill vocals, but the hammering drums and bass line wouldn’t let me ignore the song entirely. Former Mothers of Invention member Roy Estrada is among those shrieking in the song. But repeated plays have led this number to grow on me; I have even been known to let my head to bob up and down while listening to it. Rhythmically, this is a very straight-forward composition for Zappa: steady time signature with a repetitive rhythm line that kinda gets ya to wanna dance.

The famous – or infamous – “Valley Girl” comes next. This song, despite its attempt to be a satire of “valley speak,” became both an anthem for and against what became, and remains, an ubiquitous style of speech among sorority girls. The song reached 32 in the Billboard Hot 100, making it Zappa’s only top 40 single in the U.S. What is truly amazing is that today, I still hear college co-eds speaking with the same tonal quality and cadence as Moon Unit did when she provided the speaking parts to the song. Some of the phrases may have changed, but the other qualities of “valley speak” remain and continue to flourish. It makes me wonder if these young women today speak like that intentionally, or it’s just something they pick up through the associations they create with other pseudo-valley girls. As Moon Unit chimes, “It’s like/I do not talk funny!”

Musically, the song retains a similar simplicity heard in “No Not Now,” but with a theme that mocks the hair band sound developing at the time. Chad Wackerman provides excellent hammering on the drums, as well as outstanding use of his cymbals. “It’s like tubular.”

With “I Come from Nowhere,” Zappa delivers a song that has an incredibly strong guitar riff coupled with a powerful, simplistic rhythm line; but juxtaposed against this musical background are the lyrics, sung in a very odd, somewhat distorted timbre. It’s a similar vocalization technique that he reused on “The Man from Utopia,” particularly in the song, “The Radio is Broken.” The people from nowhere appear to be drug users, a topic Zappa had in part touched in past work, but upon which, during the 1980s, his material became much more focused. While Zappa had always been negative on drug use, he really had a dislike for cocaine users, people who variously were either tangential targets of his critique – such as in the song “Tinseltown Rebellion” – or who were directly mocked, as in “Cocaine Decisions.”

Following the vocal part of “I Come from Nowhere” is some amazing guitar work by Patrick O’Hearn.

It has been widely reported that what was Side 1 of the original LP release was never performed live. Side 2, however, is composed entirely of live tracks. It’s sort of ironic, because as I explained, the songs on Side 1 are mostly straightforward rock pieces that lack any overt complexity. In contrast, the songs on Side 2 present some of Zappa’s most complex musical work for a rock band.

“Drowning Witch” starts off simple enough, but even the brief into shows some rhythmic variation. Then comes the sing-song presentation Zappa used in other works (such as “The Dangerous Kitchen”), but this style isn’t as annoying to me as when he used it as a transition in other songs. Following this is some really interesting percussive and keyboard material that leads into one of Frank’s most bizarre guitar solos that I’ve heard. It’s good stuff.

After that cosmic guitar solo, “Drowning Witch” switches with a brief segue into some more percussive material before transitioning back to his guitar. Chad Wackerman smoothly beats his way through the time changes and with brilliant musical alacrity, his steady drumming keeps up with, or leads (depending how think about it), Zappa’s guitar.

The last two songs, “Envelopes” and “Teen-age Prostitute,” may be short – both less than three minutes – but musically represent some of Frank’s most interesting and challenging compositions, from both a performing and listening perspective. And with the latter, we have Lisa Popeil providing an operatic quality. Really fascinating stuff.

I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released May 3, 1982, Barking Pumpkin Records

Track listing:

Album release:

Side One
1. No Not Now (5:50)
2. Valley Girl (4:59)
3. I Come From Nowhere (6:20)

Side Two
1. Drowning Witch (12:01)
2. Envelopes (2:44)
3. Teen-age Prostitute (2:40)

CD release:

1. No Not Now (5:51)
2. Valley Girl (4:50)
3. I Come From Nowhere (6:09)
4. Drowning Witch (12:03)
5. Envelopes (2:45)
6. Teen-age Prostitute (2:42)


Frank Zappa (lead guitar, vocals)
Steve Vai (guitar)
Ray White (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Tommy Mars (keyboards)
Bobby Martin (keyboards, sax, vocals)
Ed Mann (percussion)
Scott Thunes (bass)
Arthur Barrow (bass)
Patrick O'Hearn (bass)
Chad Wackerman (drums)
Roy Estrada (vocals)
Ike Willis (vocals)
Bob Harris (vocals)
Lisa Popeil (vocals)
Moon Zappa (vocal on Valley Girl)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar

There is little doubt that Frank Zappa was one of the most accomplished electric guitar players in rock music; anyone who knows anything about guitar playing, or is a guitar player him or herself, knows about Frank Zappa. Appropriate words fail to materialize when attempts are made to describe his brilliant playing ability and his mastery of the form in terms of composition and timbre, which is all the more amazing in light of the fact he was self-taught. His influence on guitar playing in rock music is significant as well, an influence that many casual listeners of guitar-oriented rock may be unaware of. Because it is not hyperbole to assert that Zappa influenced the nature and direction of the guitar solo, largely introducing it to the listening public as an integral part of any rock song.

“I waited for records that had guitar solos on them, but they were always too short,” says Zappa in his autobiography. “I wanted to play my own solos – long ones – so I taught myself how to play the guitar. I didn’t bother to learn any chords – just blues licks.”

In terms of his own style, Zappa pointed to three primary influences on his guitar playing: Guitar Slim, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. I would strongly recommend to anyone who thinks him or herself a Zappa fan to go out and listen to these legends.

With the guitar commanding such a significant role in Zappa’s music, it was unsurprising that he should eventually release something in which his guitar playing held the starring role. What an extraordinary idea, when you think about it: an album made up entirely of guitar solos. Clearly, the concept of such an album is exciting, but what about in its actual execution?

And that’s my dilemma with “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar.” The idea of an album composed entirely of guitar solos, particularly Frank Zappa guitar solos, strikes me as a no-brainer. Of course it’s a great idea, right? But when I sit down and listen to SUNPYG, this sense that something is missing overwhelms me, and what is missing is context.

The idea that a guitar solo can be a self-contained composition is beguiling; we all have our favorite solos and love to listen to them over and over again. But these solos are always placed within the context of the larger composition surrounding them. Even songs that were primarily written as vehicles to deliver a guitar solo, like “City of Tiny Lites,” provide very important musical structure in which the solo exists. Remove the solo from that structure and what do you have? Add to this the fact that on SUNPYG, many of the solo titles have nothing to do with the song from which they were taken.

I should explain myself before I go any further. I am not a guitar player. While I dabbled with the instrument for a few years in the early 1990s, I would never classify myself as a real guitar player. Real guitar players – musicians who perform professionally – might very well have a completely different reaction to SUNPYG than I do, or for that matter, with Zappa’s other guitar-solo albums, like “Guitar” or “Trance-Fusion.” While my interest in music can be esoteric at times, I am more like the general listener than the musician listener.

As an example, the first solo on Disc 1, “Five-Five-Five” is truly an amazing solo, and a great way to start the CD, but there’s no way I would ever be able to identify it as a solo from a performance of “Conehead.” By contrast, I can recognize the title track on the first disc as being a solo from a performance of “Inca Roads.” Incidentally, four solos on the three-disc box set are extracted from “Inca Roads”: “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” from Disc 1; “Gee, I Like Your Pants” and “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar Some More,” both from Disc 2; and “The Return of Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar,” from Disc 3. (I know a lot of folks rank “Watermelon in Easter Hay” as Zappa’s best guitar work, but “Inca Roads” is top for me)

And yet, with the song “City of Tiny Lites,” which is structured to accommodate a lengthy guitar solo, I would never recognize it as being the source for the solo titled “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression” from Disc 2. Even after looking that up, I am unable to mentally provide the context to attach to the solo.

Reviews of this release vary widely, from those who call it “musician wankery” to others who classify it as the best Zappa release ever. There is no doubt that these solos are extraordinary; taken individually, they are magnificent examples of Zappa’s ability. But, frankly, packaged together one after the other, lacking the full context of the composition of origin, I easily become bored listening to it. And I find that very exasperating: How can I become bored with Zappa’s guitar solos?

I know I will upset some with my three-star rating, but I cannot honestly rate it any higher. This should in no way be taken as an indication that I dislike this recording. In fact, I listen to this release far more often than any of the other three-star albums I’ve written about, and more often than some with four-star ratings. But I seldom listen to it all the way through. After a while, the solos all start to sound the same to me. I find that rather disappointing.

I rate this three of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released May 11, 1981, Barking Pumpkin Records.

Track listing on original vinyl release:

Disc 1 (Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar)

Side one
“Five-Five-Five” – 2:35 (1979-02-19)
“Hog Heaven” – 2:46 (1980-10-18)
“Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar” – 5:35 (1979-02-18)
“While You Were Out” – 6:09 (1979)

Side two
“Treacherous Cretins” – 5:29 (1979-02-17)
“Heavy Duty Judy” – 4:39 (1980-12-05)
“Soup 'n Old Clothes” – 7:53 (1980-12-11)

Disc 2 (Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More)

Side one
“Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression” – 3:56 (1980-12-11)
“Gee, I Like Your Pants” – 2:32 (1979-02-18)
“Canarsie” – 6:06 (1979-02-19)
“Ship Ahoy” – 5:26 (1976-02-03)

Side two
“The Deathless Horsie” – 6:18 (1979-02-19)
“Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More” – 6:52 (1979-02-17)
“Pink Napkins” – 4:41 (1977-02-17)

Disc 3 (Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar)

Side one
“Beat It With Your Fist” – 1:39 (1980-10-30)
“Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar” – 8:45 (1979-02-19)
“Pinocchio's Furniture” – 2:04 (1980-12-05)
“Why Johnny Can't Read” – 4:04 (1979-02-17)

Side two
“Stucco Homes” – 8:56 (1979)
“Canard Du Jour” – 10:12 (1972)


Tommy Mars – Keyboards, Vocals
Kerry McNabb – Engineer
Steve Nye – Engineer
Patrick O'Hearn – Wind, Bass
Denny Walley – Guitar (Rhythm), Guitar
Ray White – Guitar (Rhythm), Guitar
Jo Hansch – Mastering
John Swenson – Liner Notes
Bob Harris – Keyboards
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
John Livzey – Photography
John Vince – Graphic Design
Ed Mann – Percussion
Ike Willis – Guitar (Rhythm), Guitar
Bob Stone – Remixing
Arthur Barrow – Bass
Terry Bozzio – Drums
Joe Chiccarelli – Engineer, Mixing, Recording
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums, Percussion
Warren Cuccurullo – Guitar (Rhythm), Electric Sitar, Guitar
George Douglas – Engineer
Roy Estrada – Vocals, Bass
Frank Zappa – Arranger, Composer, Conductor, Keyboards, Vocals, Producer, Main Performer, Bouzouki, Guitar
Tom Flye – Engineer
Mick Glossop – Engineer
Bob Harris – Keyboards
Andre Lewis – Keyboards
Eddie Jobson – Keyboards, Vocals, Violin
Steve Vai – Guitar (Rhythm), Guitar
Jean-Luc Ponty – Keyboards, Baritone Violin, Violin