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