Saturday, March 13, 2010

As An Am

The entire Beat the Boots series is an exercise in irony. Zappa had a special dislike for bootleggers, which he shares on the opening track of “As An Am,” the first CD in Volume 1 of the Beat the Boots series.

“The bootleg problem as it applies to the work that I do is very much, uh, out of control, and so the FBI is working on it for us … As far as my material goes, it’s a very big business … They’ve already got the stuff recorded live and in concert before I can even release it on a record, and that makes me mad.”

And yet, the entire Beat the Boots series is nothing more than bootlegs Zappa got a hold of and which he dubbed for his own release. Clinton Heylin writes in his 1995 book, “Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry”: “Beat the Boots I and II consisted of two eight-album boxed-sets that were simply counterfeits of existing bootlegs, dubbed direct from the original versions, complete with pops and crackles and original artwork … The Beat the Boots volumes were not intended to legitimize this part of his oeuvre but to undercut the bootleggers and make Zappa money from the bootleggers’ industry (and make money they did).”

But what makes this irony complete is that with the Beat the Boots series, the listener gets unmodified concert recordings. Despite how crappy the sound is with some of them, you are hearing the real deal. These “boots” are real, raw, live recordings without any studio overdubs or modifications or additional parts added or removed or re-done – the opposite of how every legitimate “live” recording was packaged that Zappa officially released.

“As An Am” is not a single-concert boot. It covers two shows from 1981 and 1982. Both the songs “Young & Monde” and “Sharleena” came from a May 21, 1982 show at Sporthalle in Cologne, Germany. The final three tracts come from the late show from Halloween night, 1981, which I’ve already reviewed. So I am just going to stick with the first two songs.

“Young & Monde” (which is also known as "Let's Move to Cleveland") is a very cool mini suite that explores syncopated rhythms around a relatively secure musical theme. It opens with the syncopation, but switches back and forth with a soaring guitar theme. After a few of these presentations, the song devolves into a whining and groaning guitar solo with some machinegun guttural picking, eloquent feedback pumped by a whammy bar, and several time signature changes that only Chad Wackerman can keep up with. About 6 minutes into the song, Frank pulls out some industrial sounds out of his guitar, then goes into a series of repeated oscillating rhythms punctuated with a return to the song’s central theme. But the feedback keeps going, and then there’s another burst of this industrial like sound, like huge manufacturing machines above which are triplets of high notes that are sheer brilliance. It all abruptly stops as the band then begins to return to the original theme as Frank squeezes out a few more fuzzed up chords. The song concludes with some brief, but excellent, vocals by Ray White.

Quite tasty.

With this version of “Sharleena,” I end up asking myself, why didn’t Frank include this live recording on the YCDTOSA series instead of the one he released on Vol. 3. The interplay on this version between Zappa and Steve Vai is so much more interesting than what was going on between Frank and Dweezil on the other release.

I still cannot find the words to describe the solo as it begins. It varies so quickly from fuzzed up bass to trilling notes and squeaks – it even includes a bit of a march tempo mixed in a Hendrix-like acid rock sound that electrifies my scalp as I listen. There are periods in this solo that my hair is standing on end. But then again, my hair is so short, it’s always standing on end. And when the jamming starts to include Steve Vai, I am in guitar heaven. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

If you’re a hardcore Zappa fan, then you will want to collect the Beat the Boots series, if you haven’t already. But if you’re only a strident fan or a moderate fan, you might want to pass on the investment. As noted, these are unpolished copies of bootlegs, so you really got to love the music and not be bothered by how sucky the recording is.

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

Released as part of Beat the Boots box set, July 7, 1991, Rhino Records.

Track listing:

“That Makes Me Mad” – 0:51
“Young & Monde” – 11:24
“Sharleena” – 9:09
“Black Napkins” – 3:58
“Black Page #2” – 7:12
“The Torture Never Stops” – 11:03


FZ--lead guitar/vocal
Ray White--guitar/vocal
Steve Vai--stunt guitar
Tommy Mars--keyboards/vocal
Bobby Martin--keyboards/sax/vocals
Ed Mann--percussion
Scott Thunes--bass
Chad Wackerman--drums

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