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.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Another release in the Beat the Boots box sets, “Piquantique” ostensibly contains material from a single 1973 concert in Stockholm, Sweden. At least, that is what we are led to believe if we go by what is on the cover art. But that appears suspect. There is some question about the fourth track, “T’Mershi Duween.” At the Web site Information Is Not Knowledge, site owner Román García Albertos suggests the recording is from a 1974 show at an unknown venue. Wikipedia suggests that it comes from a December, 1973 show at the Roxy. KillUglyRadio, however, does not confirm that suggestion, going, instead, with the unknown venue. It could very well be from the Roxy, as the lineup on the fourth track is identical to the lineup from the release Roxy & Elsewhere.

Also connected with the songs from the Stockholm show is video from the concert that was shown on Swedish TV. You really need to do yourself a favor and check out this site and the video stills from this show. Frank is wearing a green and white plaid blazer over a burgundy turtle neck. It is total dorkdom.

As with most of the Beat the Boots CDs, the sound quality of this recording is only fair. But the material is really quite good, as we get 40 minutes of some quality avant-garde jazz.

There was a lot more improvisation going on with the original Mothers of Invention during their live shows than what went on with later incarnations of Zappa’s traveling troupe. And while Ian Underwood is the only member of this lineup from the latter incarnation of the Mothers, the playing is definitely more free-form that what you get from later lineups.

The CD opens with “Kung Fu,” a short, but interesting composition that includes the opening theme from “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue,” which had officially appeared on “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” Ruth Underwood’s percussion is sweet in this number, but she really brings it on during “Redunzl.” Jean-Luc Ponty also cranks it out during this piece. I wish the recording was just a tad better because Ralph Humphrey’s drumming sounds pretty awesome as well.

Zappa’s guitar solo during “Redunzl” has that characteristic fuzz sound that showed up frequently during the jazzy albums of 1969 through 1972.

Things get funky and out there with “Dupree’s Paradise,” George Duke getting crazy and throwing in some Space Invader types of sounds as the song increasingly takes on a cosmic sort of oeuvre. Zappa interjects a bluesy guitar that seems to bring a bit of sanity to the number. After Zappa chimes in about how cold it is at this outdoor venue, George Duke slips into some basic boogie-woogie piano, which brings some off-beat clapping that Frank makes fun of. It’s a good groove that devolves into Duke’s fingers running all over the keyboard giving it the sound as though he were playing a harp. The band joins in lending a music theme to what previously had initially sounded aimless. Jean-Luc Ponty delivers some searing violin now, killing the crowd with triplets and sixteenth notes.

I think the real treasure of this recording, however, is “T’Mershi Duween,” a really cool number that is delightfully percussive and filled with rhythmic surprises. It’s hard to tell, however, if it is from a Roxy show. Could very well be.

Next is “Farther O’Blivion,” a song that had been included in the Petit Wazoo tour, and a version of which shows up on “Imaginary Diseases.” Again, it’s Jean-Luc Ponty’s playing that sends this song into the realm of gods, and he doesn’t waste time. Right from his opening notes he sets straight for the musical stratosphere. This piece contains a theme from “The Be-Bop Tango,” which gives Ponty something musically different to play around. But wait until Bruce Fowler comes in with his trombone! I bet you didn’t think a trombone could sound like that! And Ian Underwood gets very spooky with his distorted soprano saxophone. Jean-Luc Ponty returns to expand on the ghostly theme while Ralph Humphrey keeps a steady boogie beat going. Ruth Underwood comes in and the boogie section of this piece comes to a slow, fading end. After a brief, sort of avant-garde coda (was this the “fast instrumental arrangement of ‘Cucamonga’”?), Humphrey delivers a drum solo that surely must has hurt his hands tremendously if it indeed was as cold as Zappa had said earlier.

There’s great stuff on this recording, but among all the bootlegs out there, the sound quality is still pretty poor.

I rate this 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:

“Kung Fu” – 2:12 (includes the opening theme from “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue”)
“Redunzl” – 4:26
“Dupree's Paradise” – 11:25
“T’Mershi Duween” – 1:55
“Farther O’Blivion” – 20:41 (including themes from the “Steno Pool” section of “The Adventures of Greggary Peccary”, “The Be-Bop Tango” and a fast instrumental arrangement of “Cucamonga”.)


Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
George Duke (keyboards)
Bruce Fowler (trombone)
Tom Fowler (bass)
Ralph Humphrey (drums)
Jean-Luc Ponty (violin)
Ian Underwood (woodwinds)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)

Personnel on track 4?:

Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals)
Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax, flute)
George Duke (keyboards)
Bruce Fowler (trombone)
Tom Fowler (bass)
Ralph Humphrey (drums)
Jeff Simmons (rhythm guitar)
Chester Thompson (drums)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)

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