Archive for the ‘Frank Zappa’ Tag

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. 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.

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Posted 2013/05/08 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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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. Jonestown has not lost any of its haunting, jagged edge.

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 – Chunga’s Revenge   Leave a comment

Mr. Frank continued his Hot Rats sessions clean out (tracks showed up on Burnt Weeny Sandwich & Weasels Ripped My Flesh) with Chunga’s Revenge. At the same time, he moved forward both with new music and band members. It is a different kind of weird when ex-Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (Flo & Eddie) show up.

The mix is dense, the playing is greasy, and the guitar tone is nasty. Nice girls do not date people who repeatedly listen to this record.

Oh Well.

While the title cut is really good, the earlier take (Chunga Basement) included on the DVD-A release, Quaudiophiliac, is a stone groove. It wouldn’t have worked on Chunga’s Revenge, but it is a better pass.

The rest of Chunga’s Revenge is more great guitar work, sprinkled with tales of life on tour that range from groupie stuff to dealing with musicians’ union weasels. The last track, Sharleena, is a great piece of do-wop influenced, pop-ish something or other.

The analog master does a great job of letting all the crunchy sleaze come across. I remember once when talking to Gail, she asked what my favorite Zappa records were. I mentioned that in chronological order, We’re Only In It For The Money would be the first stop, followed by Chunga’s Revenge.

She started laughing, and then asked me why. I jabbered on for a while, going on about the sound and the music. She kept asking more questions about my take on the record. Finally, I asked her why she was so interested in what I thought about Chunga’s. She said, “It was one of Frank’s favorite records. Most people don’t say much about it.”

Chunga’s Revenge on SACD, please.

Posted 2012/09/12 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – Sleep Dirt   Leave a comment

One of the Warner Bros. lawsuit records, Mr. Frank was not happy when the label released it without his O.K. Which is kind of funny, since Sleep Dirt is one of his best records.

Those who are used to the Ryko release may be disappointed with this re-issue. Since the original analog master is being used, this release does not have the Suzannah Harris vocals for the tracks originally slated for the never-realized Hunchentoot. Aside from a little studio chatter, Sleep Dirt is an excellent dose of Frank shutting up and playing his guitar. While the band is typically awesome, the bass work really stands out for me.

The sound quality of this re-issue is excellent, and has me wanting to curl up inside my speaker cabinets with the music. If any of the catalog gets the SACD treatment, this title is a must.

Posted 2012/09/05 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures   Leave a comment

Every version of this record I have heard has been consistent in its murkiness on the studio tracks. Sourced off the 1976 analog master this time around, with this new CD re-issue there is still a bit dimness to the proceedings, but far from a deal-breaker.

We get two of Frank’s signature guitar tracks (Black Napkins and Zoot Allures), the first half of his examination of disco culture (Disco Boy), and the excellent shut-up-and-play-my-guitar track, The Torture Never Stops. That, and Wonderful Wino has a pretty good thump to it.

The brilliant half of the record is indispensable, and makes a lot of the rest seem like filler. That said, the filler is about gas stations, blow-up dolls, and the pursuit of that special lady friend. In other words, an ordinary day in Zappaville, USA.

Posted 2012/09/03 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – Sheik Yerbouti   Leave a comment

The good news: The Zappa catalog has (apparently) come back home. I will leave my response at a simple “Yay!” I simply can’t muster both the piss and time needed for the discourse on all the ways Ryko f*cked things up.

And no, I am not going to give some sort of play-by-play on every one of the reissues. I have actually owned most of the catalog. Ah, youth. There was much then I simply don’t have time for now…

It does indeed sound like the 1978 analog master is being used for Sheik Yerbouti. So, if you want it loud, you need to give your volume knob a spin. That’s how it should be. The noise floor is great, no hiss, etc. This is a great sounding CD, easily besting the two previous CD releases I am familiar with.

Here are a few paragraphs for those of you that may be new to the Zappa universe. Sheik has a couple of what are considered essential tracks: Dancin’ Fool and Jewish Princess. For all you lucky types that missed disco the first time around, Dancin’ Fool takes less than four minutes to get through, you can tap your toes to it, and you don’t have to wear bad clothes.

On the other hand, Jewish Princess comes off as a snotty bit of misogyny. Frank has been (sometimes) tagged as a misogynist, racist, and just plain mean spirited. His approach to lampooning societal ills is much in line with All In The Family. However, it is an approach that requires a much greater degree of precision on the throw. Sometimes, Frank is low and outside.

There is a lot on Sheik to recommend. Flakes is a direct hit on the people that don’t work like they outta should. Rat Tomago is (if my ear remembers correctly) an excerpt from a live pass at The Torture Never Stops on 15 Feb. 1978. The gig was one of the Dick Barber tapes that got into circulation. If you dig around enough on the Interwebs, you’ll find it. Just don’t get sent to Gitmo over it…

Which reminds me, that is a damn good gig (The show from ’78, not Gitmo. The burgers were good, and the beer was nasty. In Gitmo.). Definitely proper-release worthy. The vault peeps should get cracking on that.

Rubber Shirt is a wonderful track that didn’t quite happen the way we hear it.

The track that still gets me movin’ as much as the first time I heard it is City Of Tiny Lights. Belew’s vocal is raging, and the band flat out rocks.

Sheik closes with Yo Mama, which includes a big dose of Frank shutting up and playing his guitar.

So, go get this disc. You get a track that includes SMPTE (which stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) as part of the lyric. One more thing: Welcome back, Mr. Frank. We missed you.

Posted 2012/09/03 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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