Battersea Power Station (Spring, 1984)   Leave a comment

Battersea Power Station (1)

Battersea Power Station (4)

Posted 2014/03/02 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volumes 2 & 5   Leave a comment

The other two installments of the YCDTOSA series remasters I wanted to upgrade. Before some specific jabber about each one, the biggest point I want to get out is that neither of them suffer from the phase problem of Volume 1. And so…

Using a 1630 digital master from 1993, this version of Volume 2 is a sonic improvement over the original Ryko release. With an improved noise floor and a little more detail, this release allows more of the performance to come though.

Noteworthy tracks include the Tush Tush Tush open, Inca Roads, RDNZL, and Montana (which, along with a request for Whipping Post that Mr. Frank finally delivers on a decade later, we get to hear Ruth Underwood complain about the breakneck pace at the start).

It could be argued that there are some better overall performances to be had from ’74 (01 Oct. & 23 Nov. come to mind), the high points from this YCDTOSA installment definitely make it worth the ride.

The new Volume 5 is also using a 1630 digital master (from 1992). I don’t have my original Ryko issue to compare. Working from memory, the sonic quality of this version of Volume 5 is also a subtle improvement of the original. There are a lot of details with this new version that I don’t remember hearing previously.

Disc One (1965-1969) is a great bit of MOI anthropology, while Disc Two is devoted to the, er, riotous 1982 band, and includes the end of the Geneva show, where Mr. Frank pulled the plug because of stuff being thrown on stage.

So, the punch line: If you already own the original releases, and don’t really love ’em, the upgrade will be hard to justify. If you are new to the YCDTOSA series, I think (in order) Volumes 1, 5, and 2 make up the better half of the series.

Posted 2013/06/09 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Grupo Fantasma   Leave a comment

Last week, a free show at Market Square:

Grupo Fantasma

Posted 2013/06/01 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1   Leave a comment

I’ve been slow putting this review up, because I wanted to be certain of what I was hearing. Not feeling compelled to completely re-invent the wheel, I’ll start off by quoting myself (with a few edits and overdubs) from a review of this record I wrote elsewhere, way back in late-September 2000:

This set works perfectly on a couple of different levels. As an introduction to the “non-serious” part of Frank’s World, it’s great. While it doesn’t have most of the “signature” tracks (Peaches, Montana, Dancin’ Fool, Valley Girl, etc.), it gives the needed depth and breadth that I find lacking on every compilation I have ever heard.

The Zappa catalog is both vast and varied. So how do you get the guitar playing, arranging, twisted humor, and maybe even a hint of the monstrous line-ups that Frank put together (again and again and again)? There isn’t a studio record that can do it, largely because so much of Frank’s reputation was built on his live shows…

You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1 is a two-disc, 15 year overview (1969-1984), ranging from on-the-road-between-show-conversation about vomiting on stage (The Florida Airport Tape) and on-stage rap about various health problems in the band (Diseases Of The Band), to sharing life on the road with groupies (The Groupie Routine, on a far better night than the Fillmore record).

And then there are the bands’ performances, the improvising, and Frank’s guitar work. On disc one, The Mammy Anthem is pure molten metal. Big Swifty is equal parts pulsing jazz track and other worldly guitar solo. The disc closes with a 20 minute version of Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow that includes an almost out of control audience participation segment that no other musician could ever hope to instigate, let alone pull off.

The highlights on disc two include an absolutely crushing 15 minute version of The Torture Never Stops (the original version on Zoot Allures is pretty darn great too). The three tracks taken from the 1981 Halloween Show (Dumb All Over > Heavenly Bank Account > Suicide Chump) are over the top. They rock, they swing, they make you laugh, and it’s all political.

Another facet of Frank’s World is Social Critic. If you’re easily offended, this may not be the set for you. He gives The Church a pretty thorough hosing. There’s “raw” language and sexual references throughout. So there, you’ve been warned.

As an introduction, this set might be a little much. Again, I think it does a better job than any compilation to date (sorry Gail). This set is an absolute must for any fan of Frank Zappa’s rock music.

No, you can’t do this on stage anymore. And that is a crying shame.

Not everyone is going to hear The Problem, but, those of you listening through better than average equipment may find the sound stage a bit weird, and the mix blown out. That’s because the discs were mastered, lacking a better term, out of phase. If you don’t have a phase/polarity switch on your rig, rip the CDs to your computer, and use something like Audacity to invert the sign wave of the tracks. Save the changes, and playback/burn/etc. as normal.

I did an A/B comparison, using the new, reissued tracks (with signwave flippage) against my original Ryko discs. The corrected tracks sound better, but only by the slimmest of margins. There is a bit better definition across the curve: Bottom and top have a bit more presence, and the decay/roll off at the top sounds a bit better.

You might file this next rap under: You kids get off my lawn… While it is to be applauded from a technical, can-do perspective, I don’t like the removal of the tape hiss, and the overall lower noise floor on the new reissue. It’s really disorienting to go from a small club date in ’69 to a stadium gig in ’82 and not have all the usual secondary audio cues that make analog audio tape such a wonderful medium of expression. There are a couple more of the YCDTOSA sets I want to pick up, hopefully, with no “digital sine wave inversion” to deal with.

Posted 2013/05/08 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Walter “Wolfman” Washington   Leave a comment

A month ago, Walter played a free gig at the Market Square Park in Houston:

Wolfman

Frank Zappa – The Perfect Stranger   Leave a comment

1984 was a year where it could be said that we lived in interesting times. Reagan was in power, and his dementia had not yet taken a firm hold (sure, he was sending US military units to Central America on 87-day rotations, so he could get around the War Powers Act of 1973. it’s all relative.). The War On The Not Rich had not ramped up completely.

And Art was being made. Mr. Frank had been a busy, busy muso. The Perfect Stranger, a half orchestral, half electronic record, showed up in August; Them Or Us, a 2-record set of the rock-ish persuasion was released in October; The 3-record beast we know as Thing Fish (one of the most fiendishly brilliant records in his catalog), and Francesco Zappa (no relation), a whole record of 18th Century chamber pieces played on Synclavier, showed up in November.

Fittingly, in December, one of the best movie adaptations of a book (Nineteen Eighty-Four), went into release in the US. By Christmas, I was ready for a nap.

As a genre, I think Frank’s “Serious Music” is the weakest. Typically, the pieces suffer from not having a movie to go along with them. Lacking a better phrase, you can really hear the holes in the composition.

One exception is The Perfect Stranger release. The three “serious” pieces (The title track, Naval Aviation In Art?, and Dupree’s Paradise), all sound fully formed.

Being an Electronic Music listener, I’ve never had much of a problem with Frank’s Synclavier work. The four tracks that make up the rest of The Perfect Stranger are all very strong, with Jonestown being (still) one of the most haunting pieces of music I have ever heard.

I like this record so much, I went against my (till now) rule of picking up re-issues using analog masters only (The Perfect Stranger is using a 1630 digital master from 1993).

The downside on this record has always been sonically: The noticeably muffled / a little soft quality to the orchestral pieces. Happy that this re-issue sounded a bit better than the previous two CD releases, my happy moved on to ecstatic when I ripped the CD to Hard Drive for playback: big improvements in the subtleties (air, decay, and still more soundstage).

And there’s the cover art: Donald Roller Wilson’s excellent painting on the front, with a picture of Pierre Boulez and his amazing comb-over for the B-side.

If you want to hear what Frank’s non-rock band stuff is about, The Perfect Stranger makes for great, one-stop shopping.

Posted 2012/10/18 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – Tinseltown Rebellion   Leave a comment

One of my favorite live (with a lot of overdubs) records from Mr. Frank, The new re-issue of Tinseltown is using the original analog master, making it the best of the three CD versions I’ve heard. While there are a number of tracks on this record that could easily get the misogyny tag, some of it (notably, Panty Rap) is pretty damn funny. When people play along, how wrong can it really be?

Excellent vocals abound. The layering in Fine Girl (a studio track, so radio stations would have something they could play), and Bob Harris’ lead on Love Of My Life are fantastic.

The band does not disappoint. Standouts include Bamboozled By Love; Peaches III (a really cool version of Peaches (En Regalia)); A raging, updated pass at Brown Shoes Don’t Make It; and Frank’s love letter to LA, Tinsel Town Rebellion. I’ve never found out why it is spelled different from the album title. Dig in.

Posted 2012/10/18 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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