Saturday, April 4, 2009

Roxy & Elsewhere

Roxy & Elsewhere is one of Zappa’s recordings that consistently shows up at or near the top of the ubiquitous lists of favorite albums within his catalog. It’s not surprising, as this live recording qualifies as being labeled with the term “fun,” along with many other superlatives. Also not surprising, is how Rolling Stone panned the album, essentially saying it was a recording for fans only.

Zappa was always known for mixing studio and live material together, but he didn’t often mix bands. When a live recording was released, the band lineup was, with very few exceptions, consistent for the entire recording, even if the material came from multiple nights or even multiple locations during the same tour. But Roxy not only includes material from different nights, but from different tours that had different band members: hence the “Roxy” tour and the “Elsewhere” tour.

There’s not a lot of difference in the two lineups. For example, Ruth Underwood is in the Roxy band, but absent from Elsewhere. While Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson command the drums for Roxy, Thompson is banging the skins solo for Elsewhere. Don Preston shows up for Elsewhere, but the Roxy band performs sans Preston. And as far as what material on the release comes from where, it’s not an equitable division, as all but three tracks come from the Roxy show. Interestingly, those three tracks, “Dummy Up,” “Son of Orange County,” and “More Trouble Everyday,” that came from the other show are the only tracks that weren’t overdubbed during post production.

When compared against Zappa’s “live” recordings up until the Roxy release (I have to put quotations around the descriptor “live” because almost every studio album included live material), Roxy is by far the best for so many reasons. But some key elements that make Roxy superior to anything live Zappa had previously released are the sound and recording quality. When you combine that with the brilliantly performed material, some of Zappa’s most complex, the result is a truly outstanding album.

Yes, Zappa had recorded live some very complex material in the past. But there’s no doubt that with the quality of Roxy’s recording, it all just sounds so much better than any of the Flo and Eddie recordings like “Fillmore East,” or “Just Another Band from L.A.”, or even the live tracks within such classics as “Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” or “Weasels.”

I will refer you to the excellent exposition explaining the album’s material, found in the posting for the album at Kill Ugly Radio. In reading this, you will note the thematic focus on Roxy is predominantly about drug use. Zappa always made fun of stoners, but starting with Roxy, his material takes on this theme with increasing frequency and with increasing heat. Not only did drug use distort a user’s perception of reality, it also turned the user, in Zappa’s mind, into a feeble-minded automaton that allowed corrupt officials to hijack the country’s constitutional values to stuff their pockets. Drug use also caused problems with his bands, rendering musicians incapable of playing his music the way he wanted it to be played. And there were also the rapacious record executives who did what they could to rip off musicians so they could feed their own cocaine habits (later expounded upon with “Cocaine Decisions”).

And if you’re interested in some excellent musical analysis of Roxy, then you ought to check out this site, which I’ve linked to in previous posts on occasion as well.

As accomplished as this band lineup was for Roxy, you should hear them on Vol. 2 of “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore,” which presents a full concert of the Roxy group, but after they’ve been playing together long enough that they blister through some of the songs at an even faster pace than they did on the Roxy release.

I rate this 4.5 out of 5 stars. Add your own rating below.

Released: Sept. 10, 1974, DiscReet Records

Track listing:

Side One

Preamble (1:24)
Penguin In Bondage (5:24)
Pygmy Twylyte (3:22)
Dummy Up (5:03)

Side Two

Preamble (0:54)
Village Of The Sun (3:24)
Echidna’s Arf (Of You) (3:54)
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing? (9:47)

Side Three

Preamble (2:10)
Cheepnis (4:22)
Son Of Orange County (5:55)
More Trouble Every Day (6:08)

Side Four

Preamble (1:25)
Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church) (15:23)

Penguin In Bondage (6:48)
Pygmy Twylyte (2:13)
Dummy Up (6:03)
Village Of The Sun (4:17)
Echidna’s Arf (Of You) (3:53)
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing? (9:41)
Cheepnis (6:31)
Son Of Orange County (5:54)
More Trouble Every Day (6:01)
Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church) (16:41)


The Roxy Band:

Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax, flute, vocals)
George Duke (keyboards, vocals)
Bruce Fowler (trombone, "dancing!")
Tom Fowler (bass)
Ralph Humphrey (drums)
Jeff Simmons ("makes a guest appearance on stage")
Chester Thompson (drums)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)

The Elsewhere Band:

Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax, flute, vocals)
George Duke (keyboards, vocals)
Bruce Fowler (trombone, "dancing!")
Tom Fowler (bass)
Walt Fowler (trumpet)
Don Preston (synthesizer)
Jeff Simmons (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Chester Thompson (drums)


Adrian said...

In guitar solo terms, for me, the one that serves as the transition from Son Of Orange County to More Trouble Every Day is one of the most golden moments of his entire catalogue.

I wonder why he didn't use 'Roxy & Elsewhere' to give RDNZL its first airing.

Sonny said...

It's a fantastic album, obviously, and my favourite band, but aside from the perfect 'side 2' I got into it a lot later than I did others from the period. I think it had something to do with the somewhat rambling 'preambles' and the uncharacteristic fade-outs, which seemed at odds with what I'd come to know from his tracks.

Still, obviously wonderful.

Richard Harrold said...

Thanks for stopping by Sonny! It is a great one!

Dan said...

Agree with Adrien, the SOOC medley is top notch, very bluesy and the force of the lyric in Trouble Everyday really comes through in this version.

Success though Zappaphiles, The Roxy DVD is imminent!