Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Binghampton, N.Y., St. Patrick’s Day 1988

Have we got a treat for you, boys and girls! This boot was given the moniker of “Frank Zappa’s Best Band,” and indeed, it’s the same lineup that was presented in the official release, “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life.” This lineup did some crazy and outstanding shit during its brief incarnation – it’s also known as the last tour – and this particularly delightful example is from the St. Patrick’s Day show at the Broome County Veteran’s Arena in Binghampton, N.Y. This was a very high-quality audience recording filled with searing and down-in-the-dirt guitar solos, impeccable percussion, and a priceless capture of the band doing satirical renderings of Beatles songs, in particular songs long attributed to John Lennon.

There is also a minor political theme running through this show, as indicated by the liner notes. There are frequent, seemingly spontaneous mentions of bananas, Nicaragua, and a training exercise in Central America. All of this was in reference to Ronald Reagan’s ventures in Central American against all types of bad guys, such as Sandanistas who wanted to oust the puppet dictator we were keeping there in Nicaragua. Hence we have the brief, but poignant, “When the Lie’s So Big.”

Overall, this was a really great show. But there were some standouts in the set list. For example, there was Ike Willis doing a great job at getting the words out during “Montana” when he sings, “even though he’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on anyway.” Now, in the original release on “Over-nite Sensation,” this song has a killer guitar solo: not during this show. Just when you think the solo is going to begin, Ike Willis is singing away.

But then comes, “City of Tiny Lites.” This song was made for a guitar solo, and Zappa delivers one here that is just so twisted and delicious.

“A Pound for a Brown” comes along next, with its silly segue into audience participation, “Make a Sex Noise.” The band is really tight during this number, a complex instrumental filled with thematic changes and time signatures varying all over the place. Walt Fowler’s horn solo is excellent. “Make a Sex Noise” wound up on YCDTOSA Vol. 6, but when the band finishes with this diversion and returns to playing, it’s so much more interesting. It’s finished off with a scintillating guitar solo and some very beautiful piano playing by Mike Keneally.

Other tunes from this show that were later released officially include parts of “Dickie’s Such an Asshole,” which turned up on “Broadway the Hard Way.” And the brief bits including “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Theme from ‘The Godfather II’” are on “The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life.”

The first CD closes with “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” a song filled with so many wonderful lyrics and which also shows up on “Broadway the Hard Way.” I think my favorite line is, “Convinced they the chosen ones, and all their parents carry guns.”

CD 2 opens with three songs from the brilliant album “Once Size Fits All.” It starts with “Florentine Pogen,” followed by a killer performance of “Andy.” The guitar solo on “Inca Roads” is good, but not outstanding. Ike Willis also briefly forgets how to count and starts to sing before Zappa’s through playing.

There are a lot of – how shall we say? – covers on the second CD, beginning with some quick quotes from “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and “Theme from ‘The Godfather II.’” After a brief interruption of sorts with “Who Needs the Peace Corps” from “We’re Only In It For The Money,” the band plays another short cover with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” a sort of final ode to the San Francisco scene, perhaps, that Zappa and the early Mothers of Invention had derided so well.

Then comes some really interesting stuff. First, after a somewhat awkward and rambling start, Ike Willis launches into singing the opening to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” This also shows up, although from a different performance, on the official release of TBBYNHIYL. Zappa plays a great solo here that even approximates the original by pulling a few quotes from Jimmy Page’s performance. And the horns playing at the final chorus is thrilling, playing note-for-note the Page solo.

While that was an exciting treat, the medley that follows is probably the coolest part of the show – three songs satirizing Beatles compositions, more specifically compositions attributed to John Lennon. We first have “Norwegian Jim,” which plays off the melody of “Norwegian Wood” from “Rubber Soul.” This is followed by “Louisiana Hooker With Herpes,” sung to the melody of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The last is “The Texas Motel,” which is sung to the tune of “Strawberry Fields,” from “Magical Mystery Tour.”

While these songs are all technically Lennon/McCartney compositions, they tend to be largely attributed to Lennon, with whom Zappa had an interesting relationship. Lennon, along with Yoko Ono, joined Zappa on stage in New York during one of the Flo & Eddie shows when Yoko let loose some of her infamous howling and shrieking. This showed up on Zappa’s “Playground Psychotics.” But there were plenty of problems that followed over copyrights and other problems, particularly when the same material showed up on a Lennon live release. Some of these alleged problems are alluded to here in an extrapolation from an interview during which Zappa reveals that the song on the Lennon album identified as “Jam Rag,” was in fact “King Kong,” a Zappa composition, and yet it was identified as a Lennon/Ono composition.

Obtaining this boot just for this medley of Beatles spoofs is worth the effort alone.

For an audience recording, this is a good boot. And the fact that it contains a raw performance of this final touring band of Zappa’s is great too, as it contains mistakes and all, unlike the official version of TBBYNHIYL that contains songs with quotes and portions from different shows mixed to sound like what your hearing was actually played that way live at one particular show.

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

Disc 1

1. The Black Page (New Age Version) incl. Intro – 9:36
2. Dickie’s Such An Asshole – 6:15
3. Stick Together – 1:58
4. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama – 3:31
5. Willie The Pimp – 2:11
6. Montana – 4:00
7. City Of Tiny Lites – 9:49
8. A Pound For A Brown (Make a Sex Noise) – 18:10
9. When The Lie’s So Big – 0:33
10. Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk – 7:19

Disc 2

1. Florentine Pogen – 8:17
2. Andy – 5:31
3. Inca Roads – 10:24
4. Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up – 3:06
5. Let’s Move To Cleveland – 7:40
6. When Irish Eyes Are Smiling – 0:47
7. Theme from ‘The Godfather II’ – 0:28
8. Who Needs The Peace Corps – 3:08
9. I Left My Heart In San Francisco – 1:12
10. Stairway To Heaven – 10:10
11. Norwegian Jim – 2:57
12. Louisiana Hooker With Herpes – 3:23
13. The Texas Motel – 3:08
14. Sofa No. 1 – 3:06
15. The Illinois Enama Bandit – 7:12


Frank Zappa – lead guitar, computer synclavier, vocals
Mike Keneally – rhythm guitar, keyboards, vocals
Ike Willis – rhythm guitar, synclavier, vocals
Bobby Martin – keyboards, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass, mini moog
Chad Wackerman – drums, electronic percussion
Ed Mann – vibes, marimba, electronic percussion
Kurt McGettrick – baritone sax, bass sax, contrabass clarinet
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Walt Fowler – trumpet, flugelhorn, synthesizer
Albert Wing – tenor sax
Paul Carman – also sax, soprano sax, baritone sax
Also, special guest Eric Buxton.

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