Sunday, May 2, 2010
With the fourth installment of the “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” series, Zappa returns with a song lineup from a variety of shows covering many different periods of time. And while many individual songs include parts from different performances mixed together, there are several songs that were not mixed that way, presenting an unedited version of a song from a single show. That can be a rarity with Zappa recordings.
As mentioned, Vol. 4 lacks a specific theme or show for focus, covering instead a wide array of eras and bands in much the same way Vol. 1 did. There are a few gems on this release that are special not so much because of their performances, but because they show up at all.
The first track, “Little Rubber Girl,” typifies how many of Zappa’s live songs were put together for release. The intro portion of the song comes from a 1984 show at the Bismark Theater in Chicago, while the main song is taken from the 1978 Halloween show at the Palladium in New York City. If you hear something familiar in this song, it’s because it contains a quote from “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder,” from the debut album “Freak Out!”
The next three songs are single edits: “Stick Together” is from the Dec. 18, 1984 show at the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Vancouver, and both “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” and “Willie the Pimp” are from the Dec. 23, 1984 show at the Universal Amphitheater at Universal City, Calif. This performance of “MGWTKYM” is very tight and includes an intense, albeit very brief, guitar solo.
One of the intriguing items on this release is track 7, “The Evil Prince,” a song from Zappa’s ill-fated attempt at a Broadway show, “Thing-Fish.” This version is pieced together from two performances with the main portions of the song coming from the 1984 Vancouver show, and the guitar solo coming from the Sept. 24-26, 1984 shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Ray White’s vocals are outstanding in this, his voice strong and clear. Zappa’s guitar solo is inspired and delicious; it’s some of his best picking.
The “Let’s Move to Cleveland Solos” include saxophonist Archie Shepp during this performance from an Oct. 28, 1984 show at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall in Amherst, Mass. Shapp plays an inspiring solo that includes beautifully rendered melodies as well as precision squawks and squeaks that are both amazing and spot-on in terms of the composition’s structure. Allan Zavod provides the keyboard solo, an up-tempo jazz performance that I think would sound positively heavenly had it been played on a grand piano as opposed to the electronic instrument.
The interesting rarity “You Call That Music?” goes all the way back to the original Mothers of Invention as it comes from a Feb. 14, 1969 show at the McMillin Theater at Columbia University in New York City. This piece is focused on percussive instruments, something that Zappa really had an affinity for (his musical career began as a teenager playing drums).
The solos in “Pound for a Brown” are taken from the Oct. 28, 1978 show at the Palladium in New York City. Originally released on “Uncle Meat,” this song shows up frequently at Zappa shows and in many mutations (it’s one of the bonus tracks on the CD release of “Zappa in New York”). This release also has a very rare performance of “Filthy Habits,” which comes from “Sleep Dirt” and “Lather.” It is pieced together from two performances from the 1988 European leg of the ill-fated Best Band tour. Zappa’s solo on this is really filthy, and I mean that in a good way. While this sounds great on electric guitar, it’s solos like this that lead me to often wonder what Zappa’s scores would have sounded like had be become the “classical” composer that he always wanted to be.
Zappa’s relationship with Captain Beefheart was always a tortured one, but when the two high school friends clicked, they produced together some fantastic music. This “original version” of “The Torture Never Stops” from “Zoot Allures” is a prime example. Next to “Inca Roads” from “One Size Fits All,” “Torture” is one of Zappa’s most popular songs in his concert lineups, with variations of solos showing up sampled in much of his later works and releases. But this performance is really like none you’ve probably heard released anywhere else. With this May 21, 1975 performance from the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, we get a bluesy interpretation of the song with Captain Beefheart’s guttural voice and shrieks set to a hand-clapping rhythm. Classic stuff. If you were in Austin to see that show, you witnessed something special and rare.
On Disc Two, we get a crazy performance of “Stevie’s Spanking,” which is pieced together from three European performances in 1982. Steve Vai kicks off the first solo with some maniacal shredding, with Frank following up with the second (Zappa’s solo begins at 4:41 into the song). Then at about 7:27 the two of them start shredding together, creating a sonic wall of guitar power. There’s only one other dueling guitar solo that comes close to this explosion of controlled distortion, and that is the solo during “Oh Jim” on the “Lou Reed Live” release.
We get another great solo from Frank in the next song, “Outside Now,” which comes from “Joe’s Garage.” What makes this track particularly nice is that it is taken from a single show at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., from Nov. 10, 1984. The later track “Florentine Pogen,” a complex but very cool piece, is interestingly not only pieced together from different performances, but different bands as well: a 1974 performance in Helsinki and a 1979 show from the Hammersmith Odeon in London.
This is followed by three arcane bits that ought to please any Zappaphile. The first, “Tiny Sick Tears,” is based on the pop song “96 Tears” by ? And The Mysterians and includes a reference to Jim Morrison and The Doors’ song “The End.” What I find very interesting about this song is the way Frank describes mundane activities by using terms that reflect the described action as it really is. There are references in some biographical works that Zappa dabbled with Buddhism for a bit, and evidence of this periodically turns up in his work. The way the lyrics describe going to the kitchen and getting a raisin cookie and putting it in “your eating hole” might sound a bit stupid initially, but these concrete description of everyday activity is really quite brilliant in my view. As Zappa says on the track, “Some people would say it’s bullshit, but we love it, don’t we kids?”
And then there’s “Smell My Beard,” from a 1974 show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J. This is a sort-of quasi-spoken word bit accompanied by George Duke’s wild keyboards emitting a variety of somewhat cosmic-like sounds. This “story” leads into the next track from the same gig, “The Booger Man.” What’s a Zappa show without a bit of puerile humor?
Doo-wop fans are treated with this CD as well, with the second disc closing with a medley of this genre.
There’s a lot of good material on this release, something for just about every Zappa fan, with a smattering of nearly every major lineup. Realistically, anyone interested in Zappa could simply collect the YCDTOSA series and have a respectable representation of Zappa’s material from throughout his career.
I rate this 4.5 of five stars. Add your own rating below.
Release date: June 14, 1991 on Rykodisc
1. Little Rubber Girl - 2:57
2. Stick Together - 2:05
3. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama - 3:20
4. Willie The Pimp - 2:06
5. Montana - 5:48
6. Brown Moses - 2:38
7. The Evil Prince - 7:12
8. Approximate - 1:49
9. Love Of My Life (Mudd Club Version) - 1:59
10. Let’s Move To Cleveland Solos (1984) - 7:10
11. You Call That Music? - 4:07
12. Pound For A Brown - Solos (1978) - 6:30
13. The Black Page (1984) - 5:15
14. Take Me Out To The Ball Game - 3:01
15. Filthy Habits - 5:40
16. The Torture Never Stops (Original Version) - 9:16
1. Church Chat - 2:00
2. Stevie’s Spanking - 10:51
3. Outside Now - 6:09
4. Disco Boy - 3:00
5. Teen-age Wind - 1:54
6. Truck Driver Divorce - 4:47
7. Florentine Pogen - 5:10
8. Tiny Sick Tears - 4:30
9. Smell My Beard - 4:31
10. The Booger Man - 2:46
11. Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy - 6:28
12. Are You Upset? - 1:30
13. Little Girl Of Mine - 1:41
14. The Closer You Are - 2:05
15. Johnny Darling - 0:52
16. No, No Cherry - 1:26
17. The Man From Utopia 1:15
18. Mary Lou - 2:16