DANCE ME THIS: FRANK ZAPPA (Zappa Records, ZR 20018) (Special guest reviewer Arjun von Caemmerer)
Track list: Dance Me This/Pachuco Gavotte/Wolf Harbor/Wolf Harbor II/Wolf Harbor III/Wolf Harbor IV/Wolf Harbor V/Goat Polo/Rykoniki/Piano/Calculus.
One more time for the world: with the advent of Dance Me This we can again Twist and Froog in an arrogant gesture to the best of what the 20th Century had to offer!
Todd Yvega’s liner notes suggest that Dance Me This, Zappa’s last completed album, a Synclavier project, melds the disparate pieces of several unfinished projects. If this sounds like the coherent mutation that became Lumpy Gravy, which started out as a ballet but probably didn’t make it, it is: the album is integrated through differentiated tracks that deftly segue. Not for nothing does this album end in Calculus…
Like Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch this album is stamped with triangles: Anatolii Kuular, Kaigl-Ool Khovalg and Kondar-Ool Ondar, the trio of Tuvan throat singers whose singing - welcome to what the Folk’s going on here, a celebration of the Tuvamerican way of life! - alternates harmonic currents, from the whistling heights of high-tension wires to low, earthy, deep-throated guttUrals; the three pictured triangular stamps of Tannu Tuva (denominations of 10, 25 & 2 in KOP, TUG & RUB); the now-familiar triangular Zappa Family Trust GRAND RIGHTS logo; the three complementary sets of liner notes that each illumine a different angle: from Synclavier algorithmist, Todd Yvega, an explication of Calculus that leaves Newton and Leibniz a third competitor; Ralph Leighton, who having founded Friends of Tuva in 1981 is what he am; and, of course, Gail Zappa, the real Mother of Invention behind this labour of love, whose story of a story within a story, triangulates back to ’93. Read it and weep.
Soaring over & growling under: the vocals of the title track. And suddenly here occurs a snippet, slant, all-too-brief, poignant - now you see it, now you don’t - Zappa’s last actual and lyrical guitar solo.
How do I know I’m encountering a true, new Frank Zappa album? It resists easy consumption, not sounding like anything else that issued previously. Like all of Zappa’s other Synclavier albums, what might sound superficially random or accidental is not: whatever is in this particular gumbo variation is exactly what’s meant to be there. First hearings of Wolf Harbor, Zappa’s five-part invention that makes up over half the album’s length, again provoked that now not unwelcome dislocation, where initially only snatches of sound made sense, the entire construct remaining elusive & opaque until, through immersion and absorption, that magical moment of coalescence occurred, a sudden coherence which stays fast.
Wolf Harbor, Zappa’s most powerful and abstract statement on environmental degradation since Outrage At Valdez, bubbles at least nine kinds of industrial pollution. It is the graduation ceremony for all manner of mutation within the ultimate solution where, amongst the floating residua of Beat The Reaper and the unhinged creaking of Dio Fa, lapping at the shoreline, we watch them eat. Think Jonestown: disturbing, disquieting; appallingly funny.
About this Elixir what else needs be said? The askew and alluring reggae of the bouncy Pachuco Gavotte could conceivably be danced to, especially in a zoot suit; Goat Polo is a true rollick!; Rykoniki sounds loopy, a latter-day and somewhat looser Beltway Bandits; Piano is bifurcate, as though Ruth is sleeping through the N-Litey nite; and Calculus, a raucous and joyful folk funeral, a wake, ending awake.
With the release of this project, dare we anticipate another golden triangle, the one that would conjoin many little black dots? Zappa introduced many of us to Boulez and Nagano, who now each have issued their own recordings of the music of Edgard Varèse. But where is Frank’s?
ZAPPA SPIELT FÜR BACH: THE STRING TRASH PROJECT AND THE AMERICAN-EUROPEAN MOTHERS OF MUSIC FEAT. NAPOLEON MURPHY BROCK (SJS Edition Nr. 7)
Track list: Begrüssung (Dr Ulrike Murmann)/BWV 1022, Sarabande-Sleep Dirt (The String Trash Project)/Chunga's Armageddon-The Lord's Prayer- Uncle Meat- Gymnopédie #1-Aybe Sea-My Time Of Day- Gymnopédie #2-Rdnzl-Pavane-My Ship-Concerto Nr.3,D-Dur, Allegro, BWV 1054-Pure Imagination-Chunga's Armageddon (American-European Mothers Of Music).
As some of you will know, the Zappanale festival has on occasion been preceded by a concert at the St Katharinen church in the home town of my good friend Amaretto Mick Zeuner (Hamburg). These have starred Napoleon Murphy Brock and a band that has gone on to perform in Bad Doberan. I went to the inaugural concert in 2008 when Bogus Pomp rocked the joint. Sadly, I haven’t made it to any of the subsequent ones, and it was especially sad that I was unable to attend last year’s event as Mick himself performed there with his new band, String Trash Project. I heard mixed reports about the show at Zappanale, but fortunately we now have this here disc to help us glean what actually transpired.
After a brief spoken introduction, we hear what a skilful harpist String Trash’s Siglinde Koch-Sembdner is as she runs down Bach’s BWV 1022, Sarabande. This is followed by the band’s short adaptation of Sleep Dirt. Beautiful stuff. On this evidence, String Trash should go down a treat when they open the second day of Festival Moo-ah in March.
Next up to the plate is Napi and his American-European Mothers Of Music performing a mash-up of Frank’s Chunga’s Revenge and Wayne Shorter’s Armageddon, nicely accentuated by Mats Öberg’s funky clavinet. This is followed by Napi’s first vocal outing proper and something that a few of those present had problems digesting. Well, a fine singer tackling The Lord’s Prayer in a church doesn’t strike me as at all odd. And being backed by Siglinde’s wonderful harp and Benoît Moerlen’s marimba makes for a joyful noise. It’s certainly a far cry from David Bowie’s squirm-inducing rendition at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
Uncle Meat follows, with Napi leading on flute and Mats following him every which way, Satie’s Gymnopédie #1 (the piece introduced to rock audiences in the 70s via instrumental supergroup Sky - and Rod Argent - that nowadays turns up in TV ads for bleedin’ Magners) is a lovely drop of music, here with Napoleon’s flute again to the fore (and on #2 too). We all know what a great little tune Aybe Sea is, and AEMOM do it full justice with Mats’ nimble fingers getting a full work-out.
Frank Loesser’s My Time Of Day (from Guys And Dolls) and the Weill/Gershwin composition My Ship are both sung magnificently by Napoleon, the latter allowing Mats to show off what a great harmonica player he is. Both pieces sit nicely alongside works by Erik and Frank and show off Napi’s background in choral groups and light opera.
A truncated RDNZL has Napi on sax - and what a doddle that is to perform! The spotlight then switches back to Siglinde for Bernard Andrès’ haunting Pavane for harp.
On paper, Tony Newley’s Pure Imagination looks a strange selection. But if Primus can get away with it, these guys sure as hell can!
The album ends with a reprise of Chunga’s Armageddon, on which AEMOM are joined by the String Trash boys - Amaretto hammering his bongos into the dirt.
All in all, a nice little album you’d be foolish to buy purely for the Zappa pieces. As Lennon said of the Jäger-Passage: “You should have been there”!
LEX BRONKOWITZ ORCHESTRA PLAYS THE MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA: STRICTLY GRAVY (FZIO 0000 0001)
Track list: Catholic Fembot/Mr Green Genes/RDNZL-Inca Roads/Uncle Remus-Easy Meat/Peaches En Regalia/Andy/Big Swifty/Outside Now.
The first time ever I saw Lex L. Bronkowitz was on a train from Wismar to Bad Doberan Bahnhof in 2002. I didn’t know who he was then but a few years later this striking young man managed to convince me to buy one of his CDs at the Zappanale camp site - an EP of primarily solo recordings of four of Frank’s compositions (his delightful sister sang on one track). When I got home and played it, I was knocked out: tight, funky, and in yer face. The next year I bought his latest offering. Several years passed and I tried unsuccessfully to get him to do something for one of my Zappa-themed albums for Cordelia Records. In the meantime, he got himself an actual ‘orchestra’ together. I saw them at Mosae Zappa last year, and they displayed a very strong rhythmic groove while mixing things up and generally creating a cool vibe. Man.
This album is very representative of that most enjoyable set, though here they are augmented by three lads a-blowing. Catholic Fembot sets the scene, being a medley of Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?, the instrumental section from Wet T-Shirt (#8, I believe it’s called), Toad-O Line and (surprise, surprise) Catholic Girls. Oh, and the lovely Sister Bronkowitz-Osmosis becomes the Voice Of Mary’s Vision. Mr Green Genes similarly blends-in Wedding Dressing Song and Handsome Cabin Boy to pleasing effect, showing off the lovely percussive skills of Pete Thomas. Indeed he impresses throughout – oftentimes a crucial part of Frank’s musical make-up, the ole marimba an’ that, innit? And Lex’s sibling (ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for Katharina Debus) proves she’s no slouch on lead vocals on the bulk of these eight easy (ha-ha!) pieces. With some very able musicians around him now, Lex is able to focus on his guitar playing…and programming, arranging and producing! While he hasn’t done a ZPZ and stuck rigidly to Frank’s blueprints, neither has he deconstructed the songs and ruined them. No, a very worthwhile exercise in making complex music sound simple and fun.
Regular readers will have noticed that I don’t review anything and everything these days. I have to feel motivated so to do, so I do. And this album provided the impetus needed to get me to haul my rancid fat butt out of my pit and scribble these notes. You could do a lot worse than checking out the previews at www.FZIO.org – before ordering yourselves a copy! Lex’s previous solo CDs are also very worthwhile tracking down. Now, being the familiar face that he is at Zappanale, it’s about time he graced the stage there.
A.L. GUILLÉN: DER CUCAMONGOL CANNIBALIZES YOUR IDOL (UNMATCHED VOL. XIV) (Hall Of Fame, HOF-080-CD)
Track list: Eat/Meat/Wind/Cheepniss/Camarillos/Lucilles/Remuses/Vegetables/Prunes/Watermelons.
In which Spanish composer/guitarist A.L. Guillèn makes a bunch of familiar Zappa works sound almost alien. His basement music raga reaction to Eat That Question gives an idea of what’s to follow, though things get even weirder as selections from Uncle Meat are pleasingly mutated. Near normal service is briefly resumed with a straight-ish Any Way The Wind Blows. And so on it goes. Guillèn strives manfully to make the compositions his own, succeeding more often than not. There are some genuinely inspired moments that will put a big grin on your fizzog, parked right next to some willfully patience-testing sound art. The last piece, a string orchestral take on Frank’s famous signature guitar piece, is quite beautiful. All in all, this is a pretty rad album.
CABALLERO REYNALDO & THE GRAND KAZOO: MARIETA Y LOS JETAS (UNMATCHED VOL. 15 PART I) (Hall Of Fame Records, HOF-081-CD) / LUIS G.: RUBEN DEMOS (UNMATCHED VOL. 15 PART II) (Hall Of Fame Records, HOF-082-CD)
Disc One: Chispas/Mi Gran Amor/Como Pudiste Ser Tan Tonta/Jose Luis/No Me Llena Nada Ya/Dulce De Leche/Cualquier Cosa/Mas Tarde Esa Noche/Por Que No Me Llamaste/Fuente De Amor/No No No/Donde Sople El Viento/Cierralo Todo.
Disc Two: Cheap Thrills/Love Of My Life/How Could I Be Such A Fool/Deseri/I'm Not Satisfied/Jelly Roll Gum Drop/Anything/Later That Night/You Didn't Try To Call Me/Fountain Of Love/No. No. No./Anyway The Wind Blows/Stuff Up The Cracks.
After listening to Guillèn’s occasionally intense album, Caballero Reynaldo and the full Grand Kazoos combo stripping out the irony from the Mothers’ Cruising With The Ruben & The Jets (well, that’s what the self-deprecating publicity blurb says) is a more laid back experience. But that’s not to say that it lacks any oomph. No sir. The musical arrangements are deceptively rich and complex. As per oZcar McCuenca and Luis González (aka Caballero Reynaldo, el queso grande of Hall Of Fame Records and the semi-legendary Unmatched series of Spanish Zappa tribute albums)’s bonza rendition of The Po-lice’s Murder By Numbers on On Broadway, the lyrics here have been translated by Romàn Garcia. And they’re beautifully sung in the main by the beautiful Marieta Tamarit (the equally lovely Luis G leads on Mas Tarde Esa Noche and Por Que No Me Llamaste). The album was intended to be a Caballero Reynaldo solo record, but grew and grew. So this package adds the original demos (although again they are very far from being in any way simplistic), all sung in CB’s splendid Spanglish – which certainly add something to the correct words! While the Ruben package – with its ace artwork – is a tasty little morsel, why not go the whole hog and buy all three very original albums together? After all, these people love FZ and these album contain material which the ZFT should neither fear nor suppress.
MIKE KENEALLY: WING BEAT FANTASTIC - Songs written by Mike Keneally & Andy Partridge (Exowax EX-2413)
Track list: The Ineffable Oomph of Everything, Part One/I’m Raining Here, Inside/Wing Beat Fantastic/The Ineffable Oomph of Everything, Part Two/You Kill Me/Friend Of A Friend/That’s Why I Have No Name/Your House/Miracle Woman And Man/Inglow/Bobeau/Land.
Keneally has been talking about this project for some while now. At one time he pondered issuing a 10 inch vinyl album with the songs co-written with the Swindon sofa seller on one side, and his own ‘pop’ toons on t’other. But time has allowed the pair to flesh out the songs, and so now we have a good old fashioned 40 minute long player with just four solo offerings (the CD’s booklet conflicts with the back cover, but these are the short Ineffable Oomph instrumentals, That’s Why I Have No Name and Land. But no matter:), not a dud among them. On first play, You Kill Me was the stand-out track, with its catchy chorus and stick-it-to-the-man lyrics. But then I’m Raining Here, Inside and the title tracks reeled me in…and then! And then! AND THEN! Raining Here includes a line about cows sitting down, which I always thought was a piece of ye olde English folklore. And sure enough, Mike confirmed that Andy wrote all of the song’s lyrics (except for the word ‘needle’, which MK suggested replace the original ‘stylus’). Your House, a paean to teenage yearning and obsession, slows the pace down a notch and shows off Keneally’s vocal prowess. It might make a great single - if such things exist these days. (I know that they do, but I have no idea what the current number one is. Nor do I care much. But this would be a good one for me not to ignore.) Mike has compared this album to Wooden Smoke, and certainly the glorious Inglow (my current fave!) and Miracle Woman And Man wouldn’t be out of place on that acoustic-heavy album. Which I guess emphasizes that this is undoubtedly a Keneally album. But collaborating with the fine XTC songsmith means he has focused on the more melodic, hook-laden side of things, so there’s none of the bonkers stuff he often slots in, like Egg Zooming and This Tastes Like A Hotel (which I also love, BTW). Intelligent pop music, beautifully played. Aside from the drums (mostly hit by the mighty Marco Minnemann, instantly recognisable from those small cymbal crashes at the start of Raining Here) and a few guest appearances hither and thither, most of the music is played by Mike. One guest is April West, who plays trombones on Bobeau (now that sounds like a Keneally title to me!), a song that would be good to hear live with a full horn section. And Mike letting rip on guitar, too. Over the years, I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Mike’s music, and this does nothing to make me change my mind. I still like Mike; he makes me stupidly happy!
THE MUFFIN MEN: POWDERED WATER (European Tour April 2011, CD and DVD) (limited edition, promo only, not for re-sale, tour memoir)
CD track list: Zoot-Yellow-Napkins medley/Crew Slut/Dead Girls Of London/City Of Tiny Lights/Jones Crusher/Suction Prints/Suicide Chump/San Berdino/In France/My Guitar/Grow Me A Chin/Winter Gale In The Garden Of Edam (Cheesy Version). Hidden Track: Muffin Man outro.
DVD: Tour Report & Extras.
A limited edition, promo only, not for re-sale, tour memoir. Great shame that this isn’t readily available to all and sundry as it’s an absolute joy to behold. The DVD is effectively Muffin Moovies Vol. 5 (Live At Zappanale 14 being Vol. 4), with lots of on the road shenanigans from last April – though only up to the point where they’re about to return to Blighty from Calais, so sadly (or maybe happily…no, I didn’t get that out of it, so definitely sadly) no footage from the Cavern. It includes Danny Welley’s various inventions and much mirth ensues. While it also contains snippets of tunes (from both rehearsals and actual gigs), the real musical meat is in the live CD. Dweezil may have no interest in hearing cover bands (with special guest alums) taking liberties with his father’s compositions – not playing them note-for-note in the same timbre, petecetera-etcetera-etcetera, but boy is he missing out on something. New boy Hearn Phil plays a blinder, with some Shankar-like keys during Napkins, and Martianesque noodling in Chin. The songs chosen for this tour with Denny are not only right up Mr Walley's (Mattie-told) alley, but Roddie, Rhino and Jumpy’s too. It’s a given that the Zappa tunes are performed with humour and the utmost respect and affection for their composer, and so the two tracks that really blow this Idiot’s socks off are Beefheart’s Suction Prints and the band’s own Cold Winter Gale: the former executed with great aplomb, and the latter in absolute gay abandon verging on total madness (with it’s “I want a garden”/In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida references). Also of note is the way Mr Jump fluidly slips in all sorts of references to Montana, Zeppelin and Jimi during his always wondrous guitar solos. Denny also shows his great chops throughout. Beg, steal or borrow one today.
Perfect Partner: Just Another Band From L4 by The Muffin Men (2011)
DWEEZIL ZAPPA: LIVE – ‘IN THE MOMENT’ (Fantom Records, FR1 112011)
Disc One: Flim Flam/Guitarlos Mantana/That's Heavy/Curly Toed Shoes/You Can't Get There From Here/That's Right/Stink Patrol/The Stink Eye/They're Attracted To The Light Mama/Neapolitan Sunset/First Day With The New Brain/Follow Me/Your Slime Is On Fire.
Disc Two: Just A Trim/Phase McNugget/Southern Gravy/Canadian Jazzercise/Scratch/Hair Club For Ponies (Greasey)/Where Everyone Still Looks The Same/I Promise Not To Mess Up Your Hair/A Chick Walks On To The Stage.../Bat Sandwich/What Did You Mean By That?/A Night Out In Tel Aviv/Midrange Exploitation/Is This Safe?/What Kind Of Muffin Is This?/Deathless Horsie Rides Again.
A Shut Up ’N Play Yer Guitar-style compilation of soli from ZPZ performances around the globe during the past four years. Sporting spiffy Cal Schenkel artwork, a special guest appearance by Chick Corea, no credit for Aaron Arntz (who appears on just one track, admittedly, but after the Carnegie furore, you’d think they’d tread a little more carefully), with a number of tracks rightly credited to both DZ & FZ (see if you can suss out which ones from the titles above), this is a very enjoyable listen which saw me dusting off my air axe. The stand-out track for me, on first (and subsequent) play(s), is They're Attracted To The Light Mama, which just so happens to be the longest piece and is naturally akin to Frank’s Solo From Heidelberg. Follow Me shows Dweezil’s influences, rather than FZ’s, with him urging his magic band to chase his very metal riffing. Not sure why they couldn’t fit 75 minutes of music onto one CD, but that’s a minor quibble – this shows how much Dweezil has progressed as a guitarist in recent years and, as he himself says, it would be very interesting to hear what he would now come up with if he were to go into the studio and record an album of original material. Meantime, Fantom are planning more live ZPZ FOH releases and downloads. Bring ‘em on, I say.
DOUG LUNN: DOUG LUNN PROJECT (Future Primative Music, 2011)
Track list: Lovebirds/Orcas/Lhasa/Good Question/Dyslexia Mango Nixon/Oceana/Air Raid (Action in Eluvia).
For the past few months, I’ve been living on a steady diet of Bakin’ @ The Potato, Beller’s Wednesday Night Live and the Aristocrats’ wondrous debut CD, so I thought this here instrumental album might be a similar muscular affair. But, no - not quite. Although musically superb, the arrangements are a bit more, er, subtle. Of course, Vinnie Colaiuta (who is on every single track) is as explosive as ever, but it’s a little like watching a mallard: all that action underwater, while on the surface Doug’s playing big block chords on keyboards and accompanying them beautifully with his lilting bass lines…ha = Duck Lunn! There are moments of Frippish Soundscapeisms scattered hither and thither, and it’s not until Dyslexia Mango Nixon, with Keneally’s guitar upfront, that you’re jolted from the mellow vibe set up by the first four tracks. Orcas has a melody akin to the Outside Now coda, while Lhasa is naggingly familiar - it took me a while to suss and, even now, the closest I can come is that it’s a cross between a 1970s doorbell chime and Mussorgsky’s Promenade! It’s a good one - well, truth be told, there’s not a bad one to be had here at all. And the first half of the final track – just Doug’s bass duking it out with Vinnie’s powerhouse drumming - is worth the price of admission alone.
Perfect Partner: Legs Eleven by Chad Wackerman (2004)
ANT-BEE: ELECTRONIC CHURCH MUZIK (Barking Moondog Records)
Track list: Birth/Living/The Language Of The Body/Eye Of Agomoto/The Guff (Hall Of Souls)/Mallard Flies Towards Heaven/ANT-BEE's Sunday Supper/Flutter-Bye, Butter-Fllye/Endless Journey/The Light/Mannah/Psalm 23/Hallelujah/The Wrath - Part One (The Flood)/Secrets Of The Dead/Pennies From Heaven/The Wrath - Part Two (Baptism Through Fire)/Angels/Don't You Ever Learn?/Re-Birth/Final Benediction - Lord We Thank You.
This album has been a long time coming, so it’s no surprise that there is much to take in. Featuring special guest appearances by Michael Bruce (Alice Cooper), Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth (Gong), Peter Banks (Yes/Flash), Jan Akkerman (Focus), Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, Buzz Gardner & Jimmy Carl Black (Mothers of Invention), Zoot Horn Rollo and Rockette Morton (Captain Beefheart's Magic Band), Napoleon Murphy Brock (Zappa/George Duke) and Moogy Klingman (Utopia), there remains a common feel throughout thanks to Billy the musical magpie’s steady hand. The artwork and graphics are by Cal Schenkel, but it’s what’s inside needs looking at. Obviously, the Napi sung Don't You Ever Learn? - with it’s Uncle Meat mid-section by Don & Bunk – is a masterstroke, but there are many more interesting diversions during this cosmic journey. Check it out.
Perfect Partner: Todd by Todd Rundgren (Bearsville, 1974)
TODD GRUBBS: RETURN OF THE WORM (Grubworm Music)
Track list: 5 After 4 In the Mourning/I Am Not A Commentator/The Message/Number Station/6.9.03/You Can Do It/Skinny Elephant/Prepare To Dive/Bartok/Frogs/Space Walk.
As Todd himself says, this is a bit different from his usual output (the occasional blues album aside!), though the start of I Am Not A Commentator is pretty much the definitive Todd Grubbs Group sound: tight drums, bubbly bass, funky rhythm (guitar and keys) and Todd’s masterly lead lines. But generally it is a much more nuanced, experimental approach with even the afore-mentioned track having a wonderful ad-libbed mid-section breakdown that could form the basis of a whole new other song – or piece of rocking Frippertronics. The Message features many tempo changes/stops and starts, plus a very fine rubbery ‘phoned-in’ solo from Mike Keneally. Some tracks here are built around field recordings (Number Station, Bartok and Frogs), which provide the only vocals on an otherwise all instrumental album (though those from Bo Smith on Frogs are essentially a Western Vacation-style narration). Other great guitar performances come from Dweezil and Vai’s mate, Blues Saraceno (You Can Do It), Bogus Pomp mainman Jerry Outlaw (Skinny Elephant) and Porcupine Tree’s John Wesley (Space Walk). But these stellar guests in no way overshadow the star of the show, Mr Grubbs. Highly recommended for those partial to a bit of rock-fusion/shredding.
Perfect Partner: Deep Green Blues by 3 Green Windows (Chrome Dreams, 2011)
THE MUFFIN MEN: JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM L4 (Muff 2011)
Track list: Doobie Stopping/Cold Winter Gale/Cheeky Fella/I'm Not Drinkin' Anymore/More Cheek From The Boy/The Twilight Zone/A Message From The Ordinary Man In The Street/Jimmy Oh Jimmy/Mexican Surprise/Cold Winter Gale (Live)/Intergalactic F**kblast Diodem/Whipping Post.
This features all of those original compositions that head Muffin Roddie has very kindly let me post on my website these past few months, including the lovely heartfelt tribute to the former Indian of the group (Jimmy Oh Jimmy), who had always encouraged the band to put out an album of their own songs (which they kinda did ten years ago with Kamikazi!, though that was purely a collection of improvisations, solos & events that happened while performing the music of Uncle Frank live). This album is not surprisingly dedicated to Jimmy, and sports a cover that reminds me of Dexy’s Searching For the Young Soul Rebels. Opening with a Superstition-like drum intro, Doobie Stopping’s big Pimp-my riff bones are fleshed out with Roddie singing some funny Lennonesque schoolyard gobbledegook before a typical fine solo from Jumpy. Then it’s back to the riff before keyboardist Waco lets fly (much of his work on this album reminds me of Rain Dances-era Pete Bardens), with Mikey then joining in on sax. The song segues into Cold Winter Gale, which Denny Walley insisted the band play with him at Zappanale #21 (a recording of which appears later). Hopefully they’ll be playing this together again on tour in April. Next up is Waco’s cheeeky little Moog-led fun, a not too distant cousin of the Harry Lime Theme. Drummer Rhino’s amusing I’m Not Drinkin’ Anymore (“...but not drinking any less…”) concludes with a bluesey Road Ladies-type ending at its finish. Twilight Zone starts as a very laid back piece featuring nice key and sax solos before Jumpy takes things up a ratchet with some blistering axe work. This is taken from a live rendition of Pygmy Twylyte. A Message From The Ordinary Man In The Street is a jolly little anti-conflict song, lyrically not unlike Culture Club’s War Song, but carried off with far greater aplomb. This would make a great show opener, methinks. The afore-mentioned JCB tribute is an In The Sky doo-wop thing, which leads nicely into the strange Mexican Surprise. Intergalactic F**kblast Diodem is Ben Watson’s madness from Zappanale, which also occurred during Pygmy Twylyte. He sounds like one of the Knights who says “Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-Ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing. Z’nourrwringmm...” Whipping Post from Zappanale of course features the mighty Robert Martin on lead vox, and ends with Ike announcing that this band is fucking great. And Denny concurs: he recently told me “I love those guys! They play for the pure joy of playing, and that’s the same place I come from.” Here, here! There’s a bonus slice of Pygmy, plus the usual signing-off Muffin madness, and that’s yer lot. So, theoretically no actual Zappa toons, but he’s always gonna be somewhere in the mix whenever these guys play. Accept these substitutes.
I quizzed Mr Gilliard on the whys and wherefores of this new album. Here’s some things we said today:
FIDO PLAYS ZAPPA: TOO BIG TO FAIL (Czar Of Crickets, LC 15207)
Track list: Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/Nanook Rubs It/St.Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast/Father O’Blivion/Catapostrophe/Black Napkins/Camarillo Brillo/Sofa No. 2/Dupree’s Paradise/Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/Montana/Colonia 4711/Eat That Question/More Trouble Everyday/Basle III/What’s New In Baltimore/Musician’s Salary (Extended Version).
Like Ensemble Ambrosius’ The Zappa Album, what separates this from other cover sets is the instrumentation. Not quite big band (with four brass instrumentalists) - but piano rather than electric keyboards, brushed drums, and acoustic/“jarz” electric/steel guitars (there’s just the one brief six-string solo here, on More Trouble Everyday): it’s resolutely not fuckin’ rock, ay? Recorded live and unplugged suddenly last summer, this all makes for some appealing alternatives to accepted arrangements, and very well played it all is too. The vox can sometimes be a let-down (especially when English is not the first language – these guys hail from Switzerland) but not here, with lead man Dave Muscheidt ably backed by his cohorts. There’s a few band compostions slotted in: Catapostrophe and Basle III are both brief improvisations - the sort of breakdown thing prawns with horns do mid-song at Zappanale; Colonia 4711 is effectively an enjoyable extended piano introduction to Eat That Question; but the real meat is Musician’s Salary, a lengthy symphonic work that provides a first-rate flabbergasting finale. If, like me, you’re one of those who likes to hear Frankie’s familiar fayre messed with by myriad musos, you could do a lot worse than check this out. Told.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: FRANK ZAPPA’S CLASSICAL SELECTION – The Dissonant Classics That Informed And Inspired Zappa (Chrome Dreams, CDCD5049)
Disc One: The Ride of the Valkyries (Richard Wagner)/‘Spring Rounds’ from the Rite of Spring (Igor Stravinsky)/Bagatelle Opus 9 (Anton Webern)/‘Royal March’ from A Soldier’s Tale (Igor Stravinsky)/‘Jupiter’ from The Planets (Gustav Holst)/Hyperprism (Edgard Varèse)/Ballet Mecanique (George Antheil)/Bolero (Maurice Ravel)/Begleitungsmusik Zu Einer Lichtspielszene Opus 34 (Arnold Schoenberg)/Sensemaya (Silvestre Revueltas)/4.33 (John Cage)/Study No. 11 (Conlon Nancarrow)/First Movement (L’artisanat Furieux) of Le Marteau Sans Maitre (Pierre Boulez).
Disc Two: US Highball – A Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip ((Parts 1 and 2) (Harry Partch)/Il Canto Sospeso (The Suspended Song) (Luigi Nono)/Kontakte (Parts 1 and 2) (Karlheinz Stockhausen)/Chronochromie (Olivier Messiaen)/Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (Krzysztof Penderecki)/Electronic Music No. 1 (Bulent Arel).
There are some who complain that extracting pieces from composers’ bigger works is to butcher their intent. And I too once shared this purist view, laughing at ‘best of’ albums. But not anymore. There are naturally passages from longer compositions that we particularly like (for some reason, Wakeman’s Moog solo towards the end of The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn) springs to mind), and I now can’t see anything wrong with highlighting these – playing them in a different context. Hey chief, why not? Who are we to say that compilations don’t actually make for better pieces of art, sod what the composers’ intended? So what if the writer wanted us to hear it a certain way? You can eat a sandwich, leave the crusts, and still be satisfied, surely? And don’t packages like this sometimes act as a key to a world we might otherwise never have explored? Okay, mini-rant over – what stands out for me? Ballet Mecanique features some most agreeable tinkly percussion, and Nanacarrow is always a delight - in small doses; not sure I could tolerate 5 CDs worth. You can certainly hear Zappa-like moments throughout this set, the male operatic vox of Harry Partch’s US Highball being one notable instance; I guess this spoken-song style is not so unusual these days (with things like the Anna Nicole opera), but people inside pianos sure is. The second disc features the more experimental side of things, with tape manipulation a-go-go; the Stockhausen and Arel pieces are really quite scary, and Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima is so in yo’ face. Given that I probably would never have heard many of these compositions had it not been for this compilation, its appearance can’t be anything but worthy.
Perfect Partner: Frank Zappa’s Jukebox (Chrome Dreams, 2008)
PAUL BUFF: THE PAL AND ORIGINAL SOUND STUDIO RECORDINGS: THE COLLECTION (Crossfire Publications, 2011)
For track details: see http://www.idiotbastard.com/News/Buff.htm
Last year, Crossfire issued thirty five download-only albums (comprising 417 tracks) taken from Paul Buff’s recordings made at Pal Studios and Original Sound Studios. Now it is offering all of these, plus 56 bonus tracks (discovered and/or remastered after the series was completed) and a PDF file featuring Greg Russo and Paul Buff’s historical liner notes/photos/credits, all in one neat little package. The whole thing comes on a flash drive and includes a plethora of tracks featuring the young FZ as a performer, writer, producer or engineer - including two of the bonus tracks: Why Don’t You Do Me Right (Alternate Demo) (the one with Floyd on Joe’s XMASage, but without all the background noise) and High Steppin’ (the piece on Lumpy Gravy that was played at double speed, but now in real time as recorded by The Pal Studio Band on the same day in January 1961 that they did Never On Sunday (aka Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance) that eventually appeared on The Lost Episodes. If reading this ‘review’ makes your head spin, just think what listening to it is like – never mind reading the incredibly detailed 138-page liner notes! Remembering that the Early Years CD (and many of the other Cucamonga-era compilations) had tracks taken from the vinyl records, it’s great to at last have good quality, freshly remastered versions of things like The Cruncher and Heavies (an excerpt of which...blah, blah) and the song that Frank boasted “was Number One in Mexico for 17 straight weeks!” but didn’t actually have any involvement in: Tijuana Surf. Its B-side, Grunion Run, we all know and love from those Cucamonga CDs (and, of course, The Tornadoes’ live cover as performed at Zappanale #15 and also made available by Crossfire), but hearing the original in stereo is a real ear-opener. I’d never heard The Big Surfer before - you’ve probably read about it being hastily withdrawn after black activist Medgar Evers’ assassination - but it’s a hoot hearing San Bernardino DJ Brian Lord’s JFK impression (which prompted my wife to ask if it was supposed to be Mayor Joe Quimby!) , and you can clearly hear Zappa’s voice in there too. I bought the Ned & Nelda tunes on a Moxie Records EP years ago (which I later found out was probably a bootleg): great to hear them without the scratches now. The quality of the Drums A-Go-Go and Surfin’ Bongos albums is excellent, and there’s lots of fun stuff on both: Rush Street sounds just like Money, while Sunset Strip borrows from Louie Louie; and then there’s some actual covers of familiar fayre like Wipe Out!, Bustin’ Surfboards, Eve Of Destruction, and Satisfaction. Although both albums are mainly performed by Mr Buff, that’s no reason not to listen to these largely instrumental gems. Buff can be compared to Les Paul for many of his recording innovations, and was a huge influence on the young Frank - who told us this about the ‘amazing gentleman’ in The Real FZ Book: “He didn’t have a mixing console, so he built one - out of an old 1940s vanity. He removed the mirror and, right in the middle, where the cosmetics would have gone, installed a metal plate with Boris Karloff knobs on it. He built his own homemade, five-track, half-inch tape recorder - at a time when the standard in the industry was mono. He wanted to become a singer-songwriter, so he listened to all the latest hit records, figured out what the hooks were and, through a mysterious process, created his own little hook-laden replicas. He taught himself how to play the five basic instruments of rock and roll: drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and alto saxophone - then taught himself how to sing.” The bonus tracks on The Collection include two major US hits that Paul Buff engineered - Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense And Peppermints and Sugarloaf’s Green-Eyed Lady - plus lots of very rare meat by the other bands that recorded at Pal or Original Sound: The Music Machine, Hunger!, Indescribably Delicious, The Biscaines, The Thundermugs, The Tracers, Birmingham Sunday, Strawberry SAC (aka Crystal Circus), The Buff Organization, Giant Crab and Big Brother featuring Ernie Joseph. While there’s much of interest in the Buff recordings (Frank clearly ‘borrowed’ the intro from Dog Patch Creeper by The Velveteens for Tryin’ To Grow A Chin), it’s undoubtedly the inclusion of the many previously unreleased FZ songs by The Pal Studio Band on the Archive volumes that makes this THE release of the decade! You need to hear all of this stuff, and you know it.
FRANK ZAPPA: HAMMERSMITH ODEON (VAULTernative Records, VR 20101)
Disc One: Convocation-The Purple Lagoon/Dancin' Fool/Peaches En Regalia/The Torture Never Stops/Tryin' To Grow A Chin/City Of Tiny Lites/Baby Snakes/Pound For A Brown.
Disc Two: I Have Been In You/Flakes/Broken Hearts Are For Assholes/Punky's Whips/Titties 'N Beer/Audience Participation/The Black Page #2/Jones Crusher/The Little House I Used To Live In.
Disc Three: Dong Work For Yuda/Bobby Brown/Envelopes/Terry Firma/Disco Boy/King Kong/Watermelon In Easter Hay [Prequel]/Dinah-Moe Humm/Camarillo Brillo/Muffin Man/Black Napkins/San Ber'dino.
Despite occasional audio oddities (why does the sound of the crowd drop away so drastically when FZ first speaks during Convocation/The Purple Lagoon?), this is a great sounding CD. I like the fact that they've used performances from a series of concerts rather than just putting out one whole concert. This means we get the best versions and a whole load of different encores, making for one super show. They've obviously excluded the material from these concerts that was used as (cough) the backing tracks for much of the Sheik Yerbouti album, so there's no Yo Mama. Boo-hoo-hoo. But never mind - I can play Side Four of that album anytime. The fact that I was at both concerts represented here on Disc One (yes, you can kiss my 'groovy aura', Dora) obviously enhances my enjoyment immensely, reliving the period when I stopped being a teenager (in love). Ho-ho-ho. This was great time for Zappa music, a year or two before the long improvisations stopped and the set lists became a little more samey and predictable: Tommy Mars puts his stamp all over the place, but especially on Pound For A Brown (which includes the fab Hail Caesar Variations). Terry Bozzio is amazing - you can almost hear him straining at the reigns from which FZ would shortly release him. I thought Dong Work For Yuda would be an acapella version, but it swings like a bastard. Bobby Brown starts with The Story Of The Three Assholes, and is followed by a version of Envelopes with lyrics sung by Mr Mars. Really neat/really sweet. Terry Firma is a nifty Bozzio drum solo. Wanna know the truly great thing about this? When the Zappa's unveiled Frank's bust in Baltimore, America got the Congress CD; we had a four day festival and got this. Ha-ha-ha!
Perfect Partner: Sheik Yerbouti (Zappa Records, 1979)
NAZARETH: HAIR OF THE DOG (Union Square Music, SALVOCD035)
Track list: Hair Of The Dog/Miss Misery/Guilty/Changin’ Times/Beggar’s Day-Rose In The Heather/Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman/Please Don’t Judas Me/Love Hurts (single)/My White Bicycle (single)/Holy Roller (single)/Railroad Boy (b-side of Holy Roller)/Hair Of the Dog (BBC live recording)/Holy Roller (BBC live recording)/Teenage Nervous Breakdown (BBC live recording)/This Flight Tonight (BBC live recording)/Road Ladies (BBC live recording).
As soon as the title track started - all cowbells and belly-bum biting rock guitars - it took me back to first hearing Nazareth as a small lad eating Aztec Bars. And I admit I salivated a little. The band was successful in the pop charts here but it still seemed OK to like them, and they really floated my boat with their splendid cover of Joni’s This Flight Tonight (a live version of which appears here). Hair Of The Dog was later covered by Guns N’Roses, who were big fans (Axl sounds a lot like Dan McCafferty, I think you’ll concur). So why am I reviewing this loud, proud and remastered re-issue? Aside from the fact that it’s a pretty damn great album that has now been bolstered by nine bonus tracks, it’s because of the final cut – a live at the Beeb, bluesy outing of FZ’s Road Ladies. And there is of course another tenuous Zappa link here: Frank described Tomorrow’s My White Bicycle as “one of the best-made singles of its time, and it may have been a little ahead of its time too”. Pretty sure he would’ve liked the Naz’s stab at it– a lot more than that hippy Neil’s, anyway.
MICHAEL KIERAN HARVEY: 48 FUGUES FOR FRANK (Move Records, MD3339)
Track list (with obscure Zappa influences): 48 Fugues For Frank #1 (Greggery Peccary, Pentagon Afternoon)/#2 (The Girl In The Magnesium Dress)/#3 (Jazz From Hell)/#4 (Tink Runs Amok)/#5 (Civilization Phaze III)/#6 (G-Spot Tornado)/#7 (St Etienne: guitar solo)/#8 (Ruth Is Sleeping)/#9 (The Black Page)/#10 (Baby Snakes).
Well, Michael sure knows how to tinkle them ivories! I was a little uncertain about what to expect here, and it's not an easy, relaxing listen, that’s fer sure. And if you come expecting to readliy identify the FZ influences, think again. But anything that makes you wanna dig out those source recordings has got to have something going for it. And this is a great way of paying homage. The disc is comprised solely of solo piano pieces – while the CD booklet contains a selection of ten of Arjun von Caemmerer's 60 extant pieces which collectively comprise the concrete poetry that is Lingua Franka. A tasty little package indeed. Harvey recorded a version of Frank’s Ruth Is Sleeping some nine years ago on his Storm Sight album, and says that fellow Australian von Caemmerer (who was amazed to happen upon this earlier recording) was instrumental in reviving his interest in FZ. Of the album, Harvey has said: “Each of the ten pieces uses four or five ideas inspired by, reacting to, or developing some of Zappa’s techniques. Number One, for instance started out as an exploration of his favourite chord, the added 2nd. Number Two explored the mechanical beauty of some of his Synclavier writing, while Number Four is a rhythmic looping exploration of five beats alternating with seven in a general over-arching 12 beat time. Similarly Number Nine explores the interplay of 21 beat cycles and its prime subdivisions, with extended modal harmony based on the same divisions realized as pitches.” That probably tells you all you need to know.
Perfect Partner: Jeffrey Burns Plays Frank Zappa (Pool Music, 1992)
WESTERN VACATION: STEVE VAI PRESENTS WESTERN VACATION
Track list: Western Vacation/Nocturnal Emissions/Fast Notes People/Send Us More Light/Patty/The Velvet Line/Delicious/Borrowed Time/Burning Flame.
I've been wanting to see a CD reissue of this for sometime, as it's an especially great showcase for the excellent vocals of wee Bobby Harris. The sleeve notes are new (by Steve and his spanking longtime friend, Laurel Fishman), but they fail to mention (or, perhaps, don't make crystal clear) a few things: like Bob (with wondrous back-up from wife Thana) sings the bulk of the vocals; that Tommy Mars is on virtually all of the tracks (and the aptly named Delicious is just him); that Steve Vai appears on just the title track (turning in a typically great solo); that Marty Schwarz (the main man here) plays all other guitars; that Scott Thunes plays bass on the final 'bonus track'; that former Whitesnake drummer Chris Frazier plays on all but Tommy's improv piece (the way he opens Patty up is a joy to behold). But let's not let all this distract us from what is a superb album (I just figured potential purchasers might like to know this nerdy stuff…flavin!). The opening track pretty much sets things out nicely - a fine singalong track, with many neat twists and turns. Wondrous to hear that signature Mars sound punctuating things throughout.
Perfect Partner: The Great Nostalgia by Bob Harris (Crossfire Publications, 2007)
DWEEZIL ZAPPA: RETURN OF THE SON OF... (Z Tornado/Razor & Tie, 7930183102-2)
Disc One: The Deathless
Horsie/Andy/Magic Fingers/Broken Are Hearts Are For Assholes/Bamboozled By
Love/King Kong (with Band Solos)/Montana/Inca Roads.
Disc Two: The Torture Never Stops/Dirty Love/Zomby Woof/Billy The Mountain/Camarillo Brillo/Pygmy Twylyte.
Putting aside the fact that this set duplicates two tracks on the previous Razor & Tie ZPZ CD, one on the Fresh Cuts free Guitar Center disc, and at least one actually-the-very-same recording from the 'free' Chicago 1 YCFOSA download, this is a bloody good album. Starting with a super bad Horsie, Dweezil shows what a truly talented guitarist he has become - not that he was too shabby with Z, but there's a lot more than widdly-widdly-scree to him these days. Hearing Ben Thomas at such close quarters is also a revelation: he sounds really, really good, though Ray White sings the bulk of the songs. And Ray sounds wonderful. But you knew that. In his liner notes, Dweezil describes this as a snapshot of performances by the band as it was and now is, but has chosen to only include photos of the current line-up (who perform just two tracks - Montana and Zomby Woof – taken from 2009’s Manchester show). Scheila also sings lead, on Dirty Love (à la Philly 76 - has anyone else noticed the surreptitious plugging of ZFT releases by ZPZ: FZ:OZ and the Dub Room Special DVD are issued, and Napi's their special guest – and they play Imaginary Diseases; Buffalo and the Dub Room CD coincide with Ray White's stint; more recently, they played summat offa Ruben…). Have to say I felt a twinge of sadness hearing Aaron Arntz - missed him last tour. So here's hoping Chris Norton is at least half as good (though I’m positive he’ll be better than that). Still not sure about the inclusion of Billy The Mountain here, but it's not as depressing as it might’ve been; it just seems really odd to pretty much replicate the record and treat this as ‘akin to classical music’, when the piece included much ad-libbing. But I did laugh along. Again. King Kong has some nice solos, including one from the Dweez's audio engineer friend/guitarist, TJ Helmerich. Bottom line is: ZPZ play all the right notes, and can still improvise like mothers. Despite what some might perceive as my negativity towards them, do you think I won’t go and see them this summer? Of course I will. It’s my avid fandom for ALL things Zappa that gives me these, er, insights. I'm not about spreading 100% positivity throughout the land, using all the frightening little skills that scientists have made available. Oh no.
GREASY LOVE SONGS: FRANK ZAPPA (Zappa Records, ZR 20010)
Track list: Cheap Thrills/Love Of My Life/How Could I Be Such A Fool/Deseri/I’m Not Satisfied/Jelly Roll Gum Drop/Anything/Later That Night/You Didn’t Try To Call Me/Fountain Of Love/“No. No. No.”/Anyway The Wind Blows/Stuff Up The Cracks/Jelly Roll Gum Drop (Alternate Mono Mix)/“No. No. No.” (Long Version)/Stuff Up The Cracks (Alternate Mix)/“Serious Fan Mail”/Valerie (Mono Mix)/Jelly Roll Gum Drop (Single Version)/“Secret Greasing”/Love Of My Life (Pal Studio version).
Great to finally have the original Ruben & The Jets on CD, though even this still doesn't feature the original drum tracks: seemingly FZ had Art Tripp come in and redo them "because he didn't like what Billy Mundi had played". But (unlike on WOIIFTM) GZ does at least repeat FZ's original credit to JCB's lewd pulsating rhythm. And Jimmy is even listed as playing trumpet on Valerie (sic) recorded at the Money sessions. So he just doesn't play any instrument on the album? Fuck off. Word. Also, Paul Buff undoubtedly deserves a less grudging acknowledgement for playing piano, fuzz bass, drums and all the sax parts, surely? And they wonder why the negativity toward the ZFT? When they issue this as an overpriced download, you’ll miss out on the wonderful packaging. Ooh, shiny!
CHICANERY: CHICANERY (dPulse Recordings, B003FSHR7I)
Track list: The Rung Below/Hubert Selby Song/The Midnight Owls/Ice Page Repo/Solid Gold Helicopter/Alien Chant/Cut Me From The Mirror/I.O.D./Chessmaniaques/I Came Back To You/Luminal Dark/Gold Pavilions/Hit The Wall.
While still with Duran Duran, Warren Cuccurullo briefly (and then literally) rocked out with his cock-out, releasing his first solo album (Thanks To Frank) and touring with the material that wound up on Roadrage. He quickly did a right turn and recorded his ambient Machine Language series, and after DD has briefly returned to Missing Persons while still working on lots of other stuff. Sadly, it took a few years before another solo album hit us (Playing In Tongues). And Chicanery has been an ongoing project for a few years now. So, finally, their debut is here. Largely because it features the lyrics and vocals of Brit tone poet Neil Carlill (who sounds like a cross between Billy Corgan and Hugh Cornwell), we are again treated to something quite different from DoUBLEyOuSEe. While (as per PIT) it features Terry and Dale Bozzio, as well as Joe Travers on one track, it's full of concise songs (none more than 4½ minutes) - so no long fluid solos from Warren. But that's cool. The Rung Below hits you like tomorrow never knows, and before you know it you're surfing with the Alien Chant that features some nice bass from space by Bizarro Patanè. What do Chicanery sound like? Solid Gold Helicopter reminds me very much of Garbage, while Hit The Wall evokes The Bees’ End Of The Street - on mescaline. Confused? Generally this music will make you want to perform perverted movements of the body and breakdancing. And other forms of dancing. You can download the pair’s first collaborative efforts at Warren's website, but they're not very representative of the by and large more upbeat material on display here - even Cut Me From The Mirror, featuring Indian sarangi player and singer Ustad Sultan Khan, differs a bunch - not least in length. Sounds like it has the Tuvan throat singers in the mix too. I.O.D. may have producer Simone Sello plucking a violin. Not sure. I’ll ask. Chessmaniaques is madder than Bobby Fischer, but less hypnotic than I Came Back To You. My favourite track is easily Gold Pavillions, which is performed by just Warren, Neil and Simone, with lots of swirling electronics; it just tickles my fanny - and will be released as the extra track with the Hubert Selby Song digital single just ahead of the album's release. Got you juiced? That was the plan.
FRANK ZAPPA: PHILLY '76 (VAULTernative Records, VR 20091)
Disc One: The Purple Lagoon/Stink-Foot/The Poodle Lecture/Dirty Love/Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station/Tryin’ To Grow A Chin/The Torture Never Stops/City Of Tiny Lites/You Didn’t Try To Call Me/Manx Needs Women/Chrissy Puked Twice.
Disc Two: Black Napkins/Advance Romance/Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?/Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink/Would You Go All The Way?/Daddy, Daddy, Daddy/What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?/Dinah-Moe Humm/Stranded In The Jungle/Find Her Finer/Camarillo Brillo/Muffin Man.
The ZFT has come up trumps again with this release: although there are many familiar songs, we've not heard them before with Eddie Jobson's fantastic violin (during an epic Black Napkins), Bianca Odin's lead vox (Dirty Love, an especially soulful You Didn't Try To Call Me and Advance Romance), or even FZ's upfront singing on the sequence of Vaudeville band-era tunes (Flo & Eddie were scheduled to be the opening act and make a guest appearance with their old boss, but their guitar player Phil Reed fell to his death from a hotel window a few days before the gig and they naturally scrubbed such plans). Although Frank sounds a tad shaky at the start of this medley, things really get going when Bianca joins in. Indeed, one of the many great things about this album are the vocals: as well as Frank and Bianca, Terry Bozzio and Ray White get to sing lead (Tryin’ To Grow A Chin and City Of Tiny Lites respectively) - and Patrick O'Hearn sings back-ups - which all makes for a very varied set. During Tiny Lites, we get to hear Ray's great scat singing and it's evident he and Bianca have a great understanding (Lady B's insightful liner notes reveal that 'twas she who introduced Ray to Frank, so we have much to thank her for). On first listen, I have to say I wasn’t crazy about Bianca’s vocal on the sacred Napkins, but it grows on you. The same cannot be said of Eddie’s contribution to the piece, which is something I’ve longed to hear officially released and loved from the first play. The track clocks in at nearly 19 glorious minutes. I wonder if Frank would’ve had such an abrupt intro though? Great to have an official release of Stranded In The Jungle too. During Advance Romance, O’Hearn’s first attempt to solo is quickly curtailed as his bass rig packs in (Uncle Ian and I played our own low notes on the way back from Wigan to make up for this temporary fault). How bluesy does What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are? - in which Alice Cooper is replaced by both Punky Meadows and Steven Tyler - sound? Throughout these two discs, Frank plugs the imminent release of the Zoot Allures album (and why not?) and of course plays some fine, fine solos (he was reaching his peak around this time, right kids?). Chrissy Puked Twice is of course the original tittie for Titles & Beer. So why did the ZFT not go with the more well-known title, as they have for Manx Needs Women despite FZ clearly introducing it as Mars…? Oh well, whatever. Keep these thrilling examples from less-documented line-ups coming - give 'em to me right here in the trunk of your Fillmore.
FRANK ZAPPA: THE INTERVIEW SESSIONS (Chrome Dreams, CTCD7502)
This has eleven tracks, all from different unlisted sources. It starts with Steve Allen's interview just before Frank played Candy’s bicycle. The longest track I recognized as being on that B&W picture disc from a few years back, where FZ talks about his Cucamonga recordings and early influences, from the comfort of a creaky metal chair. Another has him telling very specifically what happened with John & Yoko at the Fillmore. It runs chronologically, and we get to hear (in turn): his thoughts on categorising music; a little about the Baby Snakes fillum and his then-current musical likes (The Slits, Lene Lovich); that Thing-Fish (shock horror) mirrors the AIDS epidemic; about laughing on stage and Frenchness; how Mr Sting came to play with the Broadway band and how the Beatles Medley came to be; some stuff about The Real FZ Book; and the state of Czechoslovakia. The quality is fair, with the more recent naturally sounding better, though some of these are phone interviews for radio. This is, I guess, really for completists - though hearing Frank’s wit and wisdom would make any non-believer sit-up and take note. Plus it adds nicely to the other three Zappa discs Chrome Dreams have made available in recent years. Get yours here.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: THE ROOTS OF FRANK ZAPPA (Snapper Music)
Track list: Space Guitar (Johnny 'Guitar' Watson)/Okie Dokie Stomp (Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown)/Rock, Granny, Roll (Hank Ballard & The Midnighters)/Head Hunter (Johnny Otis)/To The Aisle (The Five Satins)/Little Star (The Elegants)/Ionisation (Edgard Varèse & Juilliard Percussion Orchestra)/Hound Dog (Big Mama Thornton)/Koko Joe (Don & Dewey)/Oh Yeah! (Guitar Slim)/Could This Be Magic (The Dubs)/Story Untold (The Nutmegs)/Third Interlude (Maro Ajemian)/Moanin' At Midnight (Howlin' Wolf)/Standing Around Crying (Muddy Waters)/Don't Start Me Talkin' (Sonny Boy Williamson)/Work With Me Annie (Hank Ballard & The Midnighters)/Interpolations from Deserts: Interpolation III (Edgard Varèse)/Florence (The Paragons)/Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight (The Spaniels).
The obvious question: how does this compare to last year’s Jukebox CD? Well, as it only duplicates a few tracks, it’s a nice companion to it, and sonically it sounds very good. But (unlike the earlier disc) there’s a distinct lack of info about each track and their linkage to FZ, which the poorly written liner notes don’t actually help to clarify. Still, much of the music is great and you can hear some of the obvious influences on the young Frank. You’ve probably seen previous Roots Of… CDs by Snapper and their distinctively similar artwork. Given that MOJO and Uncut often give away similar compilations, I’d never bought one before. But I’d say this is a must-have if you’ve already got and liked the afore-mentioned Jukebox CD.
WARREN CUCCURULLO (featuring Terry Bozzio): PLAYING IN TONGUES (Edel Records/Barfko-Swill)
Track list: The Definitive Magical Miss Tickle Backwards Alphabet Song/For The Masses I, II, III/Wreckelection/Meem/Think Kartoonz/Zoomout/Raging Bullshit/Sid Arthur's Message/Intermission Possible/(Part 1) ImagineOrkestra Rehearsal Absolutely Free Form/(Part 2) Smile/(Part 3) They're Mintee/(Part 1) Evreedaze Halloween Bash From Imaginon - Hello Spoky/(Part 2) Holographic Jesus And The Cee Gee Alien Attack/Prophomation Confirmed/Weedew/Simple Man/We're All Targets.
For The Masses I, II, III and (Part 2) Holographic Jesus And The Cee Gee Alien Attack include references to Mylo's Destroy Rock & Roll (the latter even samples Duran Duran’s Come Undone) - something Warren once said he'd like to sample and use to introduce future solo shows. I'd love to hear that (when are we gonna see you treading the boards again, Warren?). Al Malkin, in his guise as fast-talking manager of many Grammy award winners, Sid Arthur (“when I talk, you listen”), amusingly refers to Warren as 'Cucamonga' and talks about how he brought Shankar to the top during Zoomout. This album really is quite unlike anything Warren has ever released before (and older readers may recall I raved about Trance Formed, The Blue, Road Rage and Thanks 2 Frank); it’s even better! Terry's drumming of course impresses throughout, but there's many other fine musicians here - including (notably, on We're All Targets) some of the ZPZ guys and gal. And Dale Bozzio's in the mix, too. The album has an Angelo Badalamenti/Twin Peaks feel running through it, with lots of lyrical guitar solos (of which, Sid Arthur’s is probably the stand-out). Yes, Warren's conspiracy concerns provide much of the album’s lyrical content, but that all just adds to the feeling of this being something a bit special - and you should be aware that Warren does possess a great sense of humour. What time is it, Andee? Time to download this album.
FRANK ZAPPA: LUMPY MONEY (Zappa Records, ZR 20008)
Disc One: Lumpy Gravy (Primordial) - I Sink Trap; II Gum Joy; III Up & Down; IV Local Butcher; V Gypsy Airs; VI Hunchy Punchy; VII Foamy Soaky; VIII Let’s Eat Out; IX Teen-Age Grand Finale/Are You Hung Up?/Who Needs The Peace Corps?/Concentration Moon/Mom & Dad/Telephone Conversation/Bow Tie Daddy/Harry, You’re A Beast/What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?/Absolutely Free/Flower Punk/Hot Poop/Nasal Retentive Calliope Music/Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/The Idiot Bastard Son/Lonely Little Girl/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance/What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body? (Reprise)/Mother People/The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny.
Disc Two: Lumpy Gravy (1984 UMRK Remix) - Part One/Lumpy Gravy (1984 UMRK Remix) - Part Two/Are You Hung Up?/Who Needs The Peace Corps?/Concentration Moon/Mom & Dad/Telephone Conversation/Bow Tie Daddy/Harry, You’re A Beast/What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?/Absolutely Free/Flower Punk/Hot Poop/Nasal Retentive Calliope Music/Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/The Idiot Bastard Son/Lonely Little Girl/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance/What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body? (Reprise)/Mother People/The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny.
Disc Three: How
Did That Get In Here?/Lumpy Gravy “Shuffle”/Dense
Slight/Unit 3A, Take 3/Unit 2, Take 9/Section 8, Take 22/“My Favorite
Album”/Unit 9/N. Double A, AA/Theme From Lumpy Gravy/“What The Fuck’s Wrong With
Her?”/Intelligent Design/Lonely Little Girl (Original Composition - Take
24)/“That Problem With Absolutely Free”/Absolutely
Free (Instrumental)/Harry, You’re A Beast (Instrumental)/What’s The Ugliest
Part of Your Body? (Reprise/Instrumental)/Creationism/Idiot Bastard Snoop/The Idiot Bastard Son (Instrumental)/“What’s Happening Of
The Universe”/“The World Will Be
As most people seem to agree, the first and last discs are the ones to head for - all that unreleased wondrousness. But even disc two has its moments (like the Thing-Fish sung opening to the finally available 1984 remix of Lumpy Gravy; makes you wonder about Rip Rense's claim that, some sixteen years laters, Jerry Lawson found a novel way to squeeze in the word "duodenum" on The Persuasions' Frankly A Cappella vershum). For my lumpy money, How Did That Get In There? is the big highlight - a 25 minute FZ construction, some of which is familiar from LG, but not all. Yes, the original orchestral mono edit for Capitol Records that opens this whole thing is wonderful, but the start of disc three is just a revelation. And that particular disc gets better and better (though I could probably live without the interview interruptions - they would be better placed at the very end, like on MOFO, as they're listen once or twice affairs): the instrumental tracks from WOIIFTM are absolutely belter – IBS in particular. And how apt that this final disc should end with a few words from God. More soon.
Track list: I Can't Breathe/How Are You Doing, Really?/Relentless Pursuit (Live)/Eyes Of The Dead/A Private Lesson/Found Again/Silicone Hump (Live)/Not So Cute/The Eye of Agamoto/See My Aura (Live)/Progress/The Milky Way/Mothersolo (Live)/Medulla Oblongata/For Love of Bach/Amsterdam/Un Gawa/Sweet 15/Takeoff (Live)/Aegospotamos/Acid Rain Pelting the Underground (Live)/What Should You Do? (Live)/Sacrificial Smoke (Remix).
Following on from the re-release of Vile Foamy Ectoplasm and Works, this third
JIMMY CARL BLACK: CROSSFIRE DOWNLOAD BUNDLES
Some while ago I posted this page about
Crossfire's JCB download-only packages, providing track and musician details.
What I didn't add was any notes about this joyous stuff. So here goes. Rarities
on Can I Borrow A Couple Of Bucks Until The End Of The Week? include the
immediately post-Mothers Tom Wilson produced High And Mighty, the unedited Eternal
Question, the Big Sonny single Love
Me Two Times/Love Potion #9 and Jimmy's 1980 single Albuquerque Bound/Thank You,
Mr. Bill. Where's My Waitress? includes
both Black Olive tracks with Sandro Oliva from 1993 (Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance and Willie The Pimp - the latter with Don and Bunk), a stereo remix of Mayonnaise Mountain (featuring a
magnificent vocal from Ray Collins), some live and studio Geronimo Black
tracks, some Holzhaus, Black and Terrazas live material, a couple Jack &
Jim tracks, and the ultra-rare Lo Boys single from 1976 (Play Your Music/Funny Money).
My personal favourite of these downloads, If We'd All Been Living In
FRANK ZAPPA & SPECIAL GUESTS: AAAFRNAAA FZ BIRTHDAY BUNDLE (Zappa Records, iTunes Plus)
Track list: Dancin’ Fool (Disco Version)/More Trouble Every Day/Gorgeous Inca/Ancient Armaments/America The Beautiful/You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch/Saturday Girl/Alice/Espanoza/Dumb All Over/Twenty Small Cigars/Lacksadaisial/Dirty Love.
Nice to have the original edit of Ancient Armaments in the official digital domain at last, if still not on a conventional CD. More Trouble Every Day by the 88 band smokes – with Frank soloing over a 13-like vamp; this, and the gorgeously laid-back Inca solo from 79 are the two maion reasons why you should invest in this. Diva’s two songs (Alice and Espanoza) are, again, pretty terrible. When I interviewed Joe Travers back in 01, he said “I don't write music, I just play everyone else's.” Well, this now sees his debut as a composer: his Lacksadaisial (sic) features Scheila Gonzalez on sax and reminds me a lot of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. His cover of 20 Small Cigars is pretty spiffy too. More details can be gleaned here: http://www.zappa.com/fz/aaafnraa/2008aaafnraaa.html
JON LARSEN: THE JIMMY CARL BLACK STORY
Disc One: En Route/Hi Boys And Girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black/An Early Glimpse Of Planet Ruth/Spaceship Bigear III/Turn It On, Elliot/A Helping Hand From Unca Mickey/Opal, You Hot Little Bitch/Jimmy Carl Black's Dachs Reduction/Mayday From Space/First Encounter In Space With A Real Martian/Oh No, She's Trying To Rip My Spacesuit Open/A Creature Is Lurking In The Shadow/Jimmy-As-A-Ghost.
Disc Two: My Name Is Jimmy Carl Black/The Atomic Gadget On Anthony-That Happened In Our Little Town/No Trumpets In Rock'n'roll-The Keys/California In 1964-In Walked Roy Estrada-The Soul Giants/Then We Went To Hawaii-LSD/Back To LA-Frenchy's A Go-Go-The Original Suzy Creamcheese/San Francisco And Fillmore West-Freak Out Comes Out-Turn It On, Elliot!/New York City-Absolutely Free-Off-Off-Broadway At The Garrick Theater/Europe 1967-Barbarella And Roger Vadim-Zappa Food Poisoned In Italy/He Didn't Like Hippies-Jammin' With Jimi Hendrix/Miami Pop Festival-Freak Out At The Cast Away Hotel-Arthur Brown/Captain Beefheart-Dealing With Herbie-Linda Ronstadt/Back To California 1968-The Mother's Second European Tour-Royal Festival Hall/Janis Joplin-Grace Slick-Jefferson Airplane/Donuts In Austin 1973-New Mexico-Big Sunny And The Little Boys-Bandidos/Albuquerque-Clearly Classical-The Blob Shaped lp/Zappa Music Again-The Austin Grandmothers 1988-Settlement With Frank/Eugene Chadbourne-Germany-Dreams On Longplay/Meeting Moni-Not On Sunday, Not In Bavaria/The Grandmothers 1998-Eating The Astoria-Leukemia.
The first disc has some great harmonica, marimba and
violin dominated, mainly mid-tempo, pieces. Spaceship Bigear III is a bit of
stand-out for me – quite dreamy. Yum. Occasionally,
the ghost of Jimmy Carl Black – the first Indian on Mars - turns up to help
narrate the continuing the story of Captain Zurcon’s exploration of the dark
side of our solar system. And the guitars are rightly a little more upfront
this time. Dach’s Reduction, Mayday and First Encounter are from the unabbreviated JCB sessions for the Strange News From
Mars disc, and additionally feature Tommy Mars. Otherwise, it’s Mr Larsen
and his local crew. The sprightly Oh No,
She's Trying To Rip My Spacesuit Open reminds me of the Austin-era
Grandmothers, while A Creature Is Lurking
has a Sexual Harrassment feel to it.
The second disc is a whole other other: basically just JCB rapping ‘bout his
actual life. If you listen closely, you’ll hear yer actual Stones playing. As
noted in my review of our
FRANK ZAPPA: JOE’S MENAGE (VAULTernative Records, VR 20081)
Track list: Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?/The Illinois Enema Bandit/Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy/Lonely Little Girl/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance/What's The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?/Chunga's Revenge/Zoot Allures.
be saying they can’t hear Norma Jean Bell (who makes this ‘a less documented
line-up’), but she warbles on Chunga’s
and toots her alto a bit elsewhere. So there is some evidence. This includes
yet another Enema Bandit but it’s
early and fresh, and I also like the funky Honey.
But it really is a crying shame that we didn’t get Swallow My Pride or a proto-Any
Downers instead of the Mothers medley that’s pretty much the same as FZ:OZ (though Andre Lewis has trouble
with his organ at the end of Ugliest Part,
sending Frank into some Wizard Of Oz and
It Can’t Happen Here references).
ZAPPATIKA: THE SHORT BUT LEGENDARY FLIGHT OF THE DODO (FreakOutProduktionz, 2008)
Track list: The Secret Word/Music Is The Best/Wino Willie’s Montana Hop/Gregor The Swami/Snakeman/Dirty Animal/Finally Got It Right/The Short But Legendary Flight Of The Dodo/Mysterious Masala/Frankie’s Tune/Joe’s Cajun Garage/Heavy Shark/Indian Joe/I Don’t Think So!/Deception In The Night/Age Of Megabot.
Must admit I was a little slow cottoning on to ZAPPATiKA, who hail from my homeland. But when I finally did, I thought: this is the way! They’re “a very badly disguised” FZ tribute band, who incorporate lots of ‘fat’ beats, modern noises, and long airy multi-overdubbed guitar lines – as well as copious FZ references - to create their own unique sound. My favourite track so far is actually a non-Zappa slow guitar instrumental piece. Originally titled Boris The Jazz Dog, band leader and guitarist McInnes wrote it a long time ago, and always had a sound in his head for the lead guitar melody which he could never quite capture. Until now – “I finally kind of got it the way it is in my head!” he exclaimed. So, now the song is simply known as Finally Got It Right. I think you’ll agree. Where to start with the Zappa references? Well, just a quick scan of the track list will give you a good idea. They crop up all over. But as I say, there’s also much originality on display here. No straight covers. Indeed, only Joe’s Cajun Garage is actually credited to FZ, though the band readily admit that the debt is large. Looking forward to big things from these guys. Check out the album promo here: http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=44773211
J21: YELLOW MIND:BLUE MIND
Track list: Within The Space Of 7 Breaths/The Truth Behind The Veil/Earthspiritual Surgery/Felicidad/On The Shores Of The Cosmic Ocean/The Edge Of Now/Yellow Mind:Blue Mind.
Experimental guitar player J21 (aka Joseph Diaz, who put together the Eyeinhand Sampler CD a few years back) has produced a great debut album here. Mixed and produced by former T-Ride, Snake River Conspiracy guitar god Geoff Tyson, and featuring performances from Trey Gunn, Graham Bonnet and Ed Mann, it's essentially a guitar-based rock album, but has lots of nice spacey interludes and acoustic playing. The CD can be bought from J21's website (www.lawof21.com) as a digital download, and the booklet (with some great artwork) can be downloaded for free from there also. The album's title comes from Don Preston. "I did an email interview with him for the Arf-Dossier 10 years ago," says Joseph, "My last question (not published in the mag) was if he could gave me a title for my next album. He answered me "Yellow Mind:Blue Mind". For some years, I forgot about it, and then when looking for a title for the record I remembered it, and I really think it is perfect for the record. I tried to contact Don recently to tell him about it."
VARIOUS ARTISTS: FRANK ZAPPA’S JUKEBOX – The Songs That Inspired The Man (Chrome Dreams, CDCD5023)
Track list: Riot In Cell Block No. 9 (The Robins)/Louie Louie (Richard Berry)/Work With Me Annie (Hank Ballard and the Midnighters)/Ionisation (Edgard Varese)/My Starter Won't Work (Lightnin' Slim)/Okie Dokie Stomp (Clarence Gatemouth Brown)/Leavin' It All Up To You (Don & Dewey)/I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline) (Howlin' Wolf)/The Closer You Are (The Channels)/Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash (The Clovers)/Louisiana Blues (Muddy Waters)/Song (Cecil Taylor)/Bacon Fat (Andre Williams)/Rubber Biscuit (The Chips)/Bagatelle (opus 9) (Anton Webern)/Symphony (opus 21) (Anton Webern)/W.P.L.J. (Four Deuces)No No Cherry (The Turbans)/Out There (Eric Dolphy)/The Story Of My Life (Guitar Slim)/Three Hours Past Midnight (Johnny Guitar Watson)/Directly From My Heart (Little Richard)/Stranded In The Jungle (The Cadets)/Rite Of Spring (extracts) (Igor Stravinsky)/Nite Owl (Tony Allen).
Way back a long time ago, before I’d heard Edgard Varese or the Them Or Us album (mainly because it had still to be recorded), I tuned into FZ being a fraudulent disc jockey on BBC Radio 1’s Star Special. He announced “I think that it's appropriate to make this segue because these are two of my very favourite records and I think they should be heard as a pair. The first is The Closer You Are by The Channels, and this will lead directly into Hyperprism.” What I then heard made me instantly see where Frank was coming from. Well, this album does that in spades. Hear Lightnin’ Slim exhort Lazy Lester to “blow your harmonica son”. Hear the originals of songs Frank actually covered over the years. Hear the songs he frequently referenced in interviews. During the above-mentioned radio show, he also played I Asked Her For Water by the Howlin' Wolf (“another person with exquisite diction”). This CD is really well researched and put together by Derek Barker, whose excellent liner notes reveal that Richard Berry sings both the first two tracks on this compilation. This is a must-have for any self-respecting Zappa fan. And we have more to look forward to from Chrome Dreams: they’re part-way through the production of a Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention Under Review 60s documentary DVD, having already filmed interviews with Billy James, Art Tripp, Bunk Gardner and Don Preston.
FRANK ZAPPA: ONE SHOT DEAL (Zappa Records, ZR 20007)
Track list: Bathtub Man/Space Boogers/Hermitage/Trudgin' Across The Tundra/Occam's Razor/Heidelberg/The Illinois Enema Bandit/Australian Yellow Snow/Rollo
Well, the release of this was kinda curious, but at least it’s here and
now we can see and hear what the ZFT has excavated from the Vault for us. As
Gail notes, it’s like a sandwich with Occam’s Razor (that’s the On The Bus solo kept simple, stoopid) the meat in the middle. And a
tasty little treat it is for sure. One of the things that leapt out at me (and
I really should know this by now, having purchased Roxy & Elsewhere shortly after its release) is what an
inventive bass player Tom Fowler. Bathtub
Man is a blues with atypical Duke and Brock (FZ’s co-composers on this one)
silliness that extends into great solos from George and Frank. Space Boogers has Chester keeping
straight 16ths on the hi-hat, a little like Dummy Up, while George and Frank
squirt notes at each other. It sounds like it’s from a soundcheck. Trudgin' Across The
Tundra is part pf a 30 minute improv by the Petite Wazoo called Seven, the second half of which appears
in edited form as D.C. Boogie on Imaginary Diseases. It features some odd
sheep-like bleats from the horn section. Then follows that
mighty full unfettered Inca solo with
a slightly controlled but still amazing Vinnie. Heidelburg is A Solo…
from The Guitar World According
To FZ cassette (so that just leaves the
MIKE KENEALLY: WINE AND PICKLES (EXOWAX 2409)
Track list: 2CTV/Feelin' Strangely/Li'l/Backwards Deb (3rd person)/Bubble Creek/Never Ever Wrong/Unused Hum/I Heard About What You Said/Inhale (with Lyle Workman)/4S/Skull Bubbles (uncut)/Stop For Flashing Red Light, Part One/Lonely Man (studio)/Selfish Otter (uncut)/A Concise Piano Statement/AeroDef/Kevorkian 3/Thou Shalt Not Kill/Paloma (alternate version)/Kevorkian 17/The Endings Of Things.
Comprising mainly outtakes from Dancing, Dog and Nonkertompf, this is a fine MK sampler showing off the many facets of this multi-talented guitarist/keyboardist/composist. His vocals are oddly reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright on Feelin’ Strangely (which features some nice guitar work, including from Rick Musallam)…and like Roy Estrada mid-Stop For Flashing Red Light. Li’l is just a wondrous instrumental that gives me the same sit up and beg for more feel that most of the Guitar Therapy CD does. Thou Shalt Not Kill would sound at home on Wooden Smoke, and The Endings Of Things is a great, great outtake; sounds like he couldn’t get the vocals just right, but it’s a beautiful song. This disc provides a great overview of the many talents of MK, so go get it.
Track list: Happy Metal/Taste Of Snakes/Freedom Jazz Dance/Like A Virgin Queen/The Bad Wolf.
I hadn’t fully appreciated what a busy king bee JCB had been in the run-up to his 70th birthday, what with tours with the Muffin Men, the JCB Band and Eugene Chadbourne, his collaboration with Jon Larsen, the commencement of Crossfire’s reissue campaign of his back catalogue, the release of the How Blue Can You Get? and Hearing Is Believing CDs, and this. Recorded in May 2007, it marks a bit of a change musically, being performed without any guitars, three blow monkeys, two babes (on keys and percussion), and one DJ T “The Thief” on electronics. Having said that, the first track is not such a radical departure, being an R&B workout with typical oration and rock steady drumming from the Indian of this happy metal band. Track two follows a similar pattern – opening and closing vocals (this time by Valentina Black – no relation, “but I wish she was!” quippeth Jimmy), with a lengthy horn-led mid-section – but it’s a more up-tempo spacey psychedelic affair. Dr Chadbourne comments that Bruno Marini’s organ is dripping with pesto on the cover of Eddie Harris’s title track. Perhaps they should have renamed it Freedom Jazz Discharge for this outing. Like A Virgin Queen is perhaps the most atypical thang here – a flute propelled disco platform underpinning airy vox from Valentina. The Blacks duet on the final track, obviously influenced by Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves and starring Valentina as Little Red Riding Hood, Jessica Fletcher as the Grandmother, and Jimmy Carl Black in the title role. Oh yeah. I like it. I like it a lot.
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA: SOUNDTRACK EXCERPTS FROM THE ZPZ FILM (Razor & Tie, 7930182993-2)
Track list: Tell Me You Love Me/Florentine Pogen/Cheepnis/Cosmik Debris/I’m The Slime/Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast/Father O’Blivion/Black Page #2/Peaches En Regalia/Zomby Woof/The Torture Never Stops.
With no visuals, you’re able to focus on the sounds and here you note the differences from the original recordings – noticeably, Scheila’s back-up vocals, Aaron’s keyboard fills, and the re-arranged ‘almost Chinese’ part of Cheepnis. You also hear the amazing playing of percussionist Billy Hulting and Jamie Kime’s subtle contributions. Did Dweezil really not realise that Napi was able to pull off his amazing performances as special guest because of his five year’s of ‘rehearsals’ with Project/Object and the Grande Mothers? There’s a couple of great guitar solos here: the first from Steve Vai during Zomby Woof (he makes the song his own), and then young Dweez’s on Torture, which starts slowly until he flicks a switch and burns the house down. Possibly because of the way I’m The Slime and Black Page #2 segued into another piece or a Dweezil rap (he says “thank you very much, everybody” a few times on this disc), the audience cheers sound a little odd at the end of these pieces, but that’s a minor quibble: ZPZ are the best FZ tribute band around at the mo’.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: 20 EXTRAORDINARY RENDITIONS – THE IDIOT BASTARD SON (Cordelia Records, CD043)
Track list: The Idiot Bastard Son as interpreted by: Die Beistelltische, Jerry Outlaw, The Vegetarians, Oldgreygoat And His Girls, Ensemble Ambrosius, Freedom In Hats, Evil Dick & The Banned Members, The FoolZ, John Tabacco, DOOT!, Nigey Lennon, The FrazKnapp Fusion Project, The Thurston Lava Tube, Project/Object, Pojama People, Bogus Pomp Orchestra, Todd Grubbs Group feat. Bo Smith, The Wrong Object Vs The Friendly Dogs, The Whip It Out Ensemble and Gamma.
What can I say? Well, it wouldn’t be right…but maybe I can quote Simon Prentis (Frank's Semantic Scrutinizer)’s email to me after the London Grande Mother’s show: “…back to Gamma's and your immaculate IBS extravaganza. Now THAT'S how it should be done. I'm sure Frank would have LOVED it, but regardless, it does it for me fer sure. I think you've just found a template for 'exploiting the back catalogue' so to speak. Each and every one of the different versions comes at the song from a different angle, mining something unique from the mother fractal without 'fetishing the commodity' in any way whatsoever (always the downside with 'tribute bands' as far as I'm concerned). What a great concept. What a great selection. What a great bunch of bands. And what a wonderful way to revisit and celebrate the work without resorting to nostalgia for the old folks. Respect!”. High praise, indeed. Read some more-a here. And there’s a proper review (plus interview with yours truly, and an exclusive Bonus track) at http://www.davemcmann.com/reviews.html
FRANK ZAPPA: TRANSMISSIONS (Special guest reviewer: Dave from G&S Music – who isn’t stocking this item!)
Track list: I'm The Slime/Purple Lagoon/Peaches En Ragalia(sic!)/Dancin’ Fool/The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing/St Alphonso.
Transmissions is just about as bad as you might imagine it could be. Like the Music In Review DVD, you get a "book" and a disc in one package, but which is CD case size. The book is a short biography written by Jeff Perkins, who I hadn't heard of before. His qualification for the job appears to be that he likes Frank's music and works in journalism. He's written 20,000 words which are mostly his opinion on a few CDs and a potted history, mostly of the early Mothers. A quick read through didn't show up any glaring errors of fact but no insights either. The CD has six tracks (all taken from the December 76 and October 78 Saturday Night Live shows): audio and "enhanced video" versions of each. The audio runs exactly 20 minutes. The video plays in Quicktime and, initially, I couldn't get it to work. I lost interest at that point. The sound quality is poor as well. In a word, avoid. Put out by the people that Gail should really be after.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: ZAPPANALE #18
Disc One: "The
psycho I've become..." (Larry "Wild Man" Fischer)/Pärt Preston
(Don Preston’s Akashic Ensemble)/Help, I'm A Rock-It Can't Happen Here (Don
Preston’s Akashic Ensemble)/Reggie Don't Sweat It (Monty & The
Butchers)/Apostrophe (Monty & The Butchers)/Tapas Nocturne (Christophe
Godin And Mörglbl)/Pygmy Twylyte (Christophe Godin And Mörglbl)/Uncle Meat
Suite (I Virtuosi Dal Pianeta Talento)/Village Of The Sun-Echidna's Arf (Of
You)-Don't You Ever Wash That Thing? (Project/Object)/Filthy Hobbits (Trigon)/The
Disc Two: "GOD!" (Paul Green Kids)/Electricity (Kimono Draggin' featuring Stephen Chillemi)/G-Spot Tornado (Octafish)/Sofa (Sex Without Nails Bros)/"He screwed me..." (Larry "Wild Man" Fischer)/Whales (Space Debris)/Grandchild of Mr. Green Genes (Polytoxicomane Philharmonie)/Dog Breath Variations (The Great Googly Moogly)/Debra Kadabra (Wolfhard Kutz featuring Lol Coxhill)/Meeting Of The Spirits (Jazzprojekt Hundehagen)/Petrushka-Muffin Man (Harmonia Ensemble)/"Nice talking to ya..." (Larry "Wild Man" Fischer)/Tell Me (Chad Wackerman Trio)/I'm The Slime-Dumb All Over-The Message (Finale).
Bonus Disc: "I'm famous in Germany..." (Larry "Wild Man" Fischer)/Central Community Crisis (Don Preston’s Akashic Ensemble)/Any Downers (Monty & The Butchers)/Février Afghan (Christophe Godin And Mörglbl)/Andy (I Virtuosi Dal Pianeta Talento)/Big Swifty (Project/Object)/Zeitgeist Related Accidents (Trigon)/Let's Get Bizet (Kimono Draggin)/Nothing (Octafish)/Uncle Remus (Sex Without Nails Bros featuring Napoleon Murphy Brock)/Flight 858 (Polytoxicomane Philharmonie)/Fifty-Fifty (The Great Googly Moogly)/Black Napkins (Jazzprojekt Hundehagen)/King Kong (Harmonia Ensemble)/Eat That Question (Finale).
Can you imagine the feeling of walking away from the Zappanale with the hard-drive of all that weekend’s music tucked under your arm? Frickin’ gorgeous. John and I soon set to marking up the tracks to be included on these discs, but were beset by technical problems. We eventually overcame them, and this is what finally transpired. Friggin’ gorgeous. Shame it couldn’t have been a 3-CD set, but with the Bonus disc it kinda is. I figure the main aim is for these to be a souvenir of the event as well as a sort of sampler so that you then go check out more of the featured bands’ material (and of course listen to the ‘riginal sources; I personally finally went out and replaced my old Bird Of Fire vinyl with a 5-CD Mahavishnu box set). After a lengthy period of time, and for no apparent reason, I played these discs again recently and they actually blew me away. I guess I shouldn't blow my own trumpet, but it's really the musicians that make it what it is. At times ragged, this is mostly a very fine selection of finely played fineness. Shame there probably won’t be a similar souvenir for #19.
BRITTEN SINFONIA WITH GUEST STAR EDDIE GOMEZ (BASS), MILTON COURT, LONDON, 18 NOVEMBER 2015 (by two special guest reviewers)
Geoff Wills: As part of the London Jazz Festival, Britten Sinfonia presented a concert of Third Stream music, ie. music that blends elements of classical and jazz. Star bass player Eddie Gomez (ex-Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Steps Ahead) was a guest soloist on pieces by Claus Ogerman and Simon Bainbridge, and music by Igor Stravinsky and Darius Milhaud was also played. Of special interest in the programme were two pieces by Frank Zappa, namely Igor’s Boogie and The Perfect Stranger, and these were immaculately performed. My only complaint was that it was a pity that more Zappa wasn’t played (Igor’s Boogie only lasted a minute), but overall this was an enjoyable concert, further demonstrating Zappa’s acceptance in a jazz-related situation, and showing that, even if you can’t join the mainstream, at least you can join the Third Stream.
James Richardson: First off, I’m a huge fan of the Britten Sinfonia. Their energy and interpretation of all the compositions they perform leaves you breathless. This evening was no exception.
As part of the London Jazz Festival it was Eddie Gomez’s evening. He crafted his style of bass playing with Bill Evans in the mid-60s and through most of the 70s. I first became aware of him performing with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock in the 70s and it was thrilling to see him (now 71) laying down all those musically acrobatic bass runs in Claus Ogerman’s Symbiosis (1974) as well as featuring in the world premiere of Simon Bainbridge’s Counterpoints (2015). In my opinion, not the fitting climax to the evening. A jagged and difficult composition which never really did it for me.
However, the first half of the concert was the thing. A beautifully balanced selection of mainly Stravinsky and Zappa. The two Stravinsky pieces – Tango (for solo piano) and Ragtime (for 11 instruments) – particular favourites of mine and were both beautifully played. They were the bread to the sandwich filling of Frank’s Igor’s Boogie (1970). An elaborate new arrangement by Philip Cashian. I’m so used to the beautiful, and fairly simple Burnt Weeny recording that this new arrangement, and the breakneck speed it was played at, left me a little dazed…and thrilled. It only lasted for one minute. They should have played it twice!
And so to the main event …. Frank’s The Perfect Stranger (1984). What a brilliant performance. The great thing about the Britten Sinfonia is that they’re not shy in showing off. I mean that in a good way. The Boulez recording we know so well sounds polite and genteel compared with this performance. I loved the way the harp took centre stage and swept everything else to one side as well as bringing all the playing to a climax. A special mention should go to Jacqueline Shave who is not only the orchestra director but also first violin. In her torn black jeans and signature fetish leather boots, she played up a storm, not only in The Perfect Stranger but also for the whole evening.
I love The Perfect Stranger. This was a perfect performance.
It would be stupid not to mention Darius Milhaud’s La Creation Du Monde…again the Britten Sinfonia gave a terrific performance of it. Tucked away between the two Gomez performances in the second half, it wasn’t the star of the evening – that went to The Perfect Stranger - but it was a close second. Thrilling.
ZAPPANALE #25, BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 17-20 JULY 2014
THE GRANDMOTHERS OF INVENTION, UNDER THE BRIDGE, LONDON, 1 MARCH 2014
Set list: Call Any Vegetable/Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin/Mother People/Who Are The Brain Police?/T’Merhsi Duween/The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue/Absolutely Free/Who Needs The Peace Corps?/I’m The Slime/The Eternal Question/The Orange County Lumber Truck/More Trouble Every Day/The Duke Of Prunes.
Encores: Sofa No. 1/Peaches En Regalia.
This gig was originally scheduled to take place late last year, but got postponed. In the interim period, Napoleon Murphy Brock has left the band he’s been fronting since 2002 (was he pushed, or did he jump?) and Don Preston has lured back out of semi-retirement his old mucker Bunk Gardner. Added to the line-up is the man who played bass with Wazoos Grand and Petit, as well as on one of the sacred three: yes, Dave Parlato. So yet another iteration of the band that was originally formed in 1970 (according to JCB’s recollections). As this was their first live outing in this formation, it was to be expected that they’d be a little shaky - with Don, now thrust back into the spotlight, forgetting some of Frank’s lyrics - but I have to say that he and Bunk provided better value for money than fellow octogenarians B.B. King and Chuck Berry. And the backline of Chris Garcia (GMOI drummer/percussionist/vocalist since 2003), stunt-guitarist ‘Mad’ Max Kutner and Parlato were flawless.
Before the music, the three alums held a little Q&A session (“a 15 minute personal talk with the audience about their Zappa experiences") which concluded with an amusing New Age health routine. But Kutner was first to raise the roof, with a paint-blistering solo during Invocation And Ritual Dance. Don revived his recitation of the Captain’s Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish during Who Are The Brain Police?, and did his always funny egg trick towards the end of Eric Dolphy. Then he and Bunk removed their dinner jackets to reveal some groovy psychedelic shirts for Absolutely Free. When the band struck up I’m The Slime, things noticeably got upped a notch, with Kutner’s solo followed by one from Bunk on sax and Don on iPhone. Don whipped out his third-hand for the big Orange County medley and before I knew it my sensible head was telling me not to miss my last train. Instead, I missed the two encores. D’oh!
Overall, an enjoyable night out. It’s always good to see Don and Bunk, and an added joy to see Mr Parlato for the first time (for me, anyway). I’m confident that by the time they reach Zappanale in July, they’ll be tighter than a chicken’s sphincter.
BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA: 200 MOTELS – THE SUITES, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, SOUTHBANK, LONDON, 29 OCTOBER 2013
Although GZ sez she wants this score (painstakingly pieced together by Ali N Askin, Todd Yvega and Kurt Morgan) and other selected works and arrangements by FZ to be rented by chamber orchestras, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any repeat of this stage presentation on anything like the same sort of scale ever again. At least, not without Gail’s supervision. And not in the very near future, either, since conductor Jurjen Hempel and the Southbank have been working towards putting this production on for nearly ten years. The fact that we had two such performances on different sides of the Atlantic within the space of one week still boggles the mind.
Hempel did a magnificent job of navigating the BBC Concert Orchestra through the 13 suites (which were performed as one continuous piece, lasting 90 minutes). Soprano Claron McFadden (reprising her role as the Rock & Roll Interviewer from Y2K’s Holland Festival) was absolutely stunning – and not just in voice, but in her depiction of the character too. Ian Shaw and Brendan Reilly's portrayal of Mark and Howard was SOOOO PROFESSIONAL, though a little less fun and flamboyant than the actual buxom twosome. The London Voices dutifully waved their luminous dildos and appeared to be having fun. Ditto the personable Sophia Brous, who appeared to be helpfully cajoling and reassuring her fellow groupie, Diva.
Richard Strange as Rance came across more like Max Von Sydow playing The Colonel from Monty Python, but grasped his part (fnarr!) with great confidence. The contribution of the ‘rock band’ stage left was comparatively small but skillfully driven by Joe Travers, and provided some nice contrast to proceedings. Of note was fact that the band also included two Zappatistas in Steve Lodder (keyboards) and Annie Whitehead (trombone) - and of course Scott Thunes on his trusty bass. Donning an Afro-wig for a wired representation of Jeff Simmons was a revelation; Scott had apparently asked to play this character (who he memorably met at the Roundhouse in 2010) and was overjoyed to be selected for it. He was word-perfect and seemed to will his good and bad consciences to up their game.
Which brings me to the flaws (and there were only a few). These came more in the narration – most obviously the missed cues by Diva and Jessica Hynes (a late addition to the cast, and thus presumably under-rehearsed). But more significantly for me, from Tony Guilfoyle’s portrayal of Frank. Wearing a wig, false 'tache, imperial and speaking in a fake American accent, he looked and sounded more like Groucho Marx. This confusingly made the telling of the unreleased story of The Pleated Gazelle less humorous than it should have been.
But overall, it was a marvellous thing to behold and the orchestral passages were buoyed nicely by the thread of a story we know well. In fact, the closer it came to ending, the sadder I became. All too soon, Penis Dimension had swiftly segued into Strictly Genteel, making for a spine-tingling grand finale. I doubt I’ll ever witness anything like this again.
But then, with the BBC broadcast imminent, the involvement of some young cult stars (both here and last week in LA), Zappa’s works at this year’s Edinburgh Festival/Proms, and the continuing efforts of DZPZ, maybe I should be optimistic about future possibilities for Frank to be more widely recognised as the musical innovator/supreme composer that he undoubtedly was.
On the Sunday before this event, the Southbank had Gail talk about her life, the 60s and Frank where she admitted that ‘Roxy By Proxy’ had not been a success, with only a handful of licenses sold. She also paid a very nice spontaneous yet heartfelt tribute to the Vaultmeister, who she said saved her ass after Frank passed away. Also, I finally got to meet the delightful Pauline Butcher (here we are together). And right before the main event, three of the cast ‘performed’ the Drool Britannia chapter from The Real FZ Book, then Gail & Joe & Scott & Jurjen rapped awhile about the origins of the music for 200 Motels, which was initially intended for a piece called Music For The Queen’s Circus and was to have featured Cathy Berberian.
All in all, a near perfect one-off experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
(Photo courtesy of Clint Walker)
LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC: THE CONCERT 200 MOTELS - THE SUITES, WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL, LOS ANGELES, CA, 23 OCTOBER 2013 – special guest reviewer: Tom Brown
I’m going to preface this by telling you what a steadfast fan I’ve been of 200 Motels since I first ran across the 200 Motels album in 1971 (several months before the film was released), and played the bejesus out of it. I loved it immediately and found it to be a groundbreaking experience rife with the usual and wonderful music I had grown to expect from my favorite composer. There were no other Pop groups (I use the term loosely) that I knew about that were capable of writing and performing rock n’ roll combined with orchestral music, along with the smutty and low-brow humour that we all know and love. But then they didn’t have anyone named Frank Zappa writing for them either. A month or so later it was announced that 200 Motels the movie was going to have its world premier at the Doheny Plaza Theatre (Beverly Hills no less), and my beautiful live-in girlfriend being a hardcore fan of Frank’s music herself managed to get us tickets. Upon our arrival we parked just across the street from the theatre to see Frank standing casually in front of the venue talking to several fans. We were both consumed with excitement of seeing our musical hero in person and proceeded to vacate the car as fast as we could so we might introduce ourselves to the maestro. Unfortunately by the time we crossed the street he was gone, but every freak in Los Angeles was there and decked out in their finest and freakiest costumes. Among them were two women with outrageous orange make-up denoting a pig’s face, which qualified as the most impressive costume of the evening. However there were many others who were waving their freak flag high as well. At least for this one night the Doheny Plaza Theatre had been turned into the proverbial Freak City. It was the finest display of pure, unmitigated freakiness I’ve seen before or since. If one was living in or around Los Angeles in the early 70s you’ll know what I’m talking about. Upon entering the theatre we immediately spotted Don Preston walking across the lobby by himself and heading toward the exit. But time she was a-wastin’ and we quickly located our seats to insure that we weren’t going to miss anything. The strong smell of cannabis wafted throughout the theatre like a summer breeze. We had just taken our seats when the first joint of the evening was being passed down the aisle and into our grasps, which continued and didn’t stop until the movie came to its end. There were no ushers prowling the aisles telling people to extinguish them. Hard to imagine now, although when we returned the following evening to see it again it was a different day in more ways than one. Gone were the freaks and no one was smoking anything, legal or otherwise. Freak City had moved on. As we all know by now we each take something different away from a film and unfortunately a great many people including a number of Zappa fans will profess to this day that the movie is unwatchable. It is if one has no interest in FZ and is offended by the self-indulgent atmosphere and endless inside jokes that the film conveys up to the last frame. I have to take the position that I find the music brilliant for its time and beyond. In addition I found all of the characterizations to be spot on considering that the only professional actor in the film was Theodore Bikel (not sure if we can count Ringo or Moon as a professional actor). What can I tell ya? It works for me, no thanks to Tony Palmer. It was one of many memorable evenings I’ve had with my favorite contemporary composer. And now let’s check out the 2013 version at the Disney Concert Hall…
…Night Of The Living Newts. 200 Motels At The Disney Concert Hall, October 23, 2013…
200 Motels Lives! (Sort of.) (For the most part.)
I remain astounded that the orchestral score to 200 Motels was performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Wednesday night, but there we were. Along with the usual coterie of hardcore Zappa fans (hate to tell you this, but unlike the movie premier I did not see one freaky person), mixed in with the middle-aged, conservative Disney Hall subscribers, most of which had never heard anything by FZ. In fact in my absolutely perfect seat, dead center on the second level I was sitting next to one. A nicely dressed, matronly looking woman, early 50s, who told me that she heard that we could expect to hear something she referred to as “Raunchy”. After puffing out my chest so she might take note of the ‘Dog Breath Saloon’ T-shirt I’d decided to don for the occasion my reply was quick and to the point, “That’s funny”, I told her, “I’ve been listening to 200 Motels for over 40 years and it has always seemed relatively normal to me” (Frank would have been proud I’d like to think). A grimace formed on her face. She recovered quickly though and then inquired, “What’s his real name?” Every neuron in my brain was spastically twitching and urging me to blurt out “Rondo Hatton”, but I got a grip on myself and told her the truth. Why be cruel? She had no idea who Zappa was. But she had obviously seen the signs posted throughout the venue that read…This performance contains mature content and language, as well as strobe light lighting effects (which came from the chorale during the ‘Interview’ segment.) She had no idea that there was a movie, and/or album and after hearing that we were in store for something ‘Raunchy’ I informed her of such an item and advised her to avoid if at all possible. I don’t think she was really ready for what was to follow, and when the concert concluded she was out of her seat showing me her posterior as she rapidly scurried away. Didn’t even say goodbye. But I’m reasonably sure that she was not impressed with the musical content in the slightest. You either get it, or you don’t. Adding to the strangeness of it all was a man sitting to my right in his late 30s who admitted to being a Zappa fan, and then revealed he had never heard or seen 200 Motels. Fortunately the concert was just about to begin so I never got an explanation how he could have possibly missed it being a fan as he claimed. Makes me wonder. Mercy.
This magnificent event was in conjunction with the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s 10th Anniversary (10 years to the day!), while the great Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (115 pieces not counting the chorale, and 5 piece rock group), in addition to the masterful Los Angeles Master Chorale (32 voices strong and they appeared to be having more fun than anyone in the building. One of the highpoints of the night in my opinion, especially during the unparalleled, all-time grand finale, Strictly Genteel. Hot damn. Curled my fuckin’ toes). Although none of the rock n’ roll music included in the score, which plays an integral part in the extravaganza, was performed, they had Ian Underwood, Scott Thunes, Joe Travers, Randy Kerber and Jamie Kime providing the rock ensemble ambience, which was used sparsely at best. This was serious shit. The orchestra was wearing tuxedos. Get it? In spite of the stern dress code of the orchestra they all conveyed the idea that we were all here to have an unusually fun evening, which began the minute the Chorale took the stage. As they filed on stage claiming a riser above and in back of the orchestra it looked like the keystone cops had arrived. They seemed to be jostling one another and striking strange poses. Mucho animation. Some of the women would stand and hold their arms outstretched before blowing kisses and waving to the audience. Soon they all began waving and kissing, which prompted the audience to wave and kiss back, while the orchestra commenced to do the ‘wave’. Funny stuff. In addition there were players in the orchestra whose tuxedos were in disarray. One was wearing his bowtie on his head, which provided a milieu that combined with everything else we had seen thus far that this probably wasn’t going to be the usual staid and serious concert. There is no doubt in my mind that Frank would have approved of the pre-show levity on display.
I know Gail was adamant that the orchestra be surrounded (as it is in the film) by a concentration camp enclosure, but it was not that obvious as far as what the minimal set conveyed unless you were very familiar with the film. There was a large, bright red neon chair to the left of the stage where Larry the Dwarf sat, who was clothed in the same purple sweater and pants exhibited in the movie, as was the actor playing Frank. The distinguishing factor between them was the harness that Larry wore throughout the performance although no wires were attached. Michael Des Barres represented the character Rance, and of course appeared right after the glorious Semi-Fraudulent/Direct-From Hollywood Overture was rendered, to recite the opening lines from the film and he almost got it right, but misspoke a line, as did other characters though-out the performance. No biggie, but Jesus. However Esa-Pekka’s meticulously and magisterial conducting was on fire and the orchestra reciprocated by giving us a thoroughly spirited performance. Now the down side of all of this…the actors/vocalists were indeed competent, but not for something like 200 Motels. They were on key, but the ‘eyebrows’ as FZ always referred to were missing in action. Ironically enough they sounded like they were performing in a Broadway extravaganza, which is not my cup of tea. Not for this project. It was far too slick and not enough commitment to the actual material in my humble opinion. Although they did do justice to This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich. Not bad. I have no idea if Mark or Howard were even contacted and asked to participate (which would have been a major victory for the production), but if they were I imagine that money would have been a factor. As always. And what the fuck was the guy playing Lonesome Cowboy Burt doing on stage? He came out of a side door at one point (unannounced) and commenced to intimidate Mark, Howard and Jeff by hovering over them and actually slapping them several times. He then wandered through the orchestra with his intimidation face on reciting some lines from the film “Are you a boy or a girl,” and so on. The strange thing being is there was an abundance of dialog he was spewing that was not in the original score, and it wasn’t the slightest bit amusing. I read that Gail wanted to do a tribute of sorts to Jimmy Carl Black by having his big ‘cowboy’ number performed, and perhaps this was a compromise, but I can guarantee that anyone not knowledgeable of the film or soundtrack had to be totally confused why this guy was out there doing his terrorization tactics routine that I found to be totally devoid of humor. It went on far too long and I was glad to see him go when the segment ended. And who was responsible for putting that extraneous dialogue in his mouth?
Blurry images were projected on the wall in back of the stage that were for the most part unrecognizable, although I was able to discern the smiling duck face from the ending of Dental Hygiene Dilemma. Pretty much a waste of time and effort, although having the lyrics to some of the pieces projected intermittingly was a nice touch.
The very attractive and alluring Hila Plitmann was the soprano soloist, and she was never better when she was stripped of her outer clothing (I’m not making this up) to reveal a bright yellow teddy, which may have been a first for the Disney Concert Hall. Makes me hot and horny indeed, including every male in the audience. Yet again there was a vast amount of mysterious, extraneous dialogue coming from her that made me wonder where the hell it came from. If any of it came from Frank, I had never heard it. And how could the guy playing Zappa wind up in the nun-suit painted on old boxes? Am I the only one who was bothered by this? Once again there was additional spoken parts coming from the lovely Hila along with the basso profundo who added his vocal to the mix. I was so thankful that Esa and the orchestra was doing such an incredible job, which saved the evening in my estimation, because once we got to I’m Stealing The Room the eyebrows had disappeared again as far as the vocals are concerned. It was the same with Penis Dimension during Mark and Howard’s dialogue, “Manuel, the gardener…” and so on, and I felt slighted that the performers obviously didn’t take the time to listen to their cadence and vocal inflections to actually grasp the schoolyard humor aspect of it all. However having the entire chorale waving glowing wavering dildos (standing in for the torches used in the film), along with Diva (Janet) and Sheila Vand (Lucy) made up for it. Another first for The Disney Concert Hall I suspect. When the opening notes to Strictly Genteel came forth and the basso profundo guy (Morris Robinson) began to sing the long-ignored lyrics of this classic piece I felt luckier than ever to be there to see the first performance in 40-some years of this being performed with the lyrics. Although Frank closed a great many of his concerts with this up until 1988, it was always without the lyrics. To my knowledge this was never performed live with the libretto, only in the film. And it was goddamn magnificent. So much so that I actually experienced one of those rare bolts of energy coursing through my body during this close to perfection rendition, which immediately made me forget some of the mysterious and nonsensical additions to the script that I had endured up to this point. Can you say ‘uncanny’? It was breathtakingly superb. With the orchestra and chorale hitting all the right notes, I began to wonder how anyone could hear this and not be convinced that they were hearing one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Then again maybe I’m a bit biased as you can probably tell by my relentless rant, but I’m betting that no Zappa aficionado on the planet would take that argument on. After the song and the joyous and rousing ovation concluded I headed for the stairs to hopefully find my car and several guys in front of me were mulling over what they had just seen and heard. “If there was a story in there I couldn’t follow it,” said one. His buddy replied “Hey, it’s Frank Zappa. He was always hard to follow”. Their voices faded into the crowd as I moved toward the exit to locate my transportation so I can’t be sure if they enjoyed themselves or not. I certainly did in spite of my complaints re the actors and mystery dialogue in conjunction with a few left turns into a brick wall, none of which the orchestra or the chorale was guilty of.
Once I was on the freeway heading back to my plastic motel room (Astro motel, Culver City. Room 4. Will someone drop by and bring me some pot?), all I could think about was that I must be the luckiest homeless person in LA to be able to attend the event, thanks to a long-time friend (who is not even a Zappa fan) who generously purchased a ticket for me (but not for himself) because he knew how important it was for me. And then the memory of the interview I conducted with my good friend Arthur Barrow several years ago came to mind. Arthur was at Frank’s house one evening working on something and Arthur told him he thought 200 Motels was fantastic! A masterpiece even, and Frank replied that he hated it because of all the mistakes that the orchestra made. (You can read it in my book, Confessions Of A Zappa Fanatic, available at Amazon.) It made me wonder what Frank would have thought of this performance and came to the conclusion that he would have been extraordinarily pleased that his score was finally being heard after so many years and played with the spirit and exactness that the orchestra and chorale had displayed. I certainly was, and yet again I was in attendance at another major one-time Zappa event taking place in LA, without the funds to buy myself a ticket. Best thing to happen to me in months. Serendipity abounds, and I am truly thankful.
Thanks to Frank, Esa, the LA Philharmonic and the astounding LA Master Chorale.
I have one last person to thank and that would be the one who decided not to make one mention of Gail, or invite her onto the stage. You made my night! Newt me!
ZAPPANALE #24, BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 1-4 AUGUST 2013
THE MUFFIN MEN, THE BEAVERWOOD CLUB, CHISLEHURST, 2 APRIL 2013
Set list: Zoot Allures-Yellow Snow-Black Napkins/San Ber'dino/Trouble Everyday/City Of Tiny Lites/Jones Crusher/Pilchards En Regalia/Cold Winter Gale (for JCB)/Eat That Question/Village Of The Sun (with Inca quote ending)/Whippin' Post/Cosmik Debris/King Kong (reggae)-Chunga's Revenge-Let's Make The Water Turn Black/My Guitar.
What band could go from being stuck on the ‘road to hell’ (M25) for four hours to arriving at a venue, unloading their gear, setting-up and commencing a blistering hour and a half set in less than 30 minutes? You got it! The mighty Muffin Men played to a reasonably sized (and hugely appreciative) crowd at the Beaverwood Club. Having witnessed the power quartet in action just last month at Festival Moo-ah, I had no hesitation in seeing them again. They really are that good. And this time around we got a slightly different set-list, including the addition of Cosmik Debris - sung by keyboardist Phil. In the same way that they take Pygmy Twylyte to a whole different place, they're now doing so with Black Napkins: a very impressive song already, but they lift it up to a blistering climax. Which is one of the reasons why I say pah to Dweezil’s objections to people wanting “to change the music”. We all love the originals and always will, but please don't get all precious about it: it's just entertainment. And that’s simply what the Muffin Men are all about.
FESTIVAL MOO-AH!: CORBY, ENGLAND, 8/9 MARCH 2013
DWEEZIL ZAPPA AT THE ROUNDHOUSE, LONDON, 9/10 NOVEMBER 2012
ZAPPANALE #23/HEAVY GUITAR DAY: BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 1-5 AUGUST 2012
MOSAE ZAPPA, HEERLEN, THE NETHERLANDS, 1-2 JUNE 2012
THE ARISTOCRATS: THE PEEL, KINGSTON-UPON-THAMES, 7 MARCH 2012
Set list: Bad Asteroid/Greasy Wheel/Boing!...I’m In The Back/Furtive Jack/Blues Fuckers/Flatlands/See You Next Tuesday/I Want A Parrot/Train Tracks-drum solo/Waves/Sweaty Knockers.
Encore: Erotic Cakes.
This was an awesome first UK gig by this most awesome trio of musicians (Bryan Beller/Marco Minnemann/Guthrie Govan). If you get the chance to see them, do it - you will not be disappointed. They are even better live than on record. Here’s a glimpse of what I saw, via J-Roc’s Beller-cam: http://youtu.be/jgh-plqN8ds. The support band, the more song oriented Godsticks, were also great; they surprised us by pulling off a great rendition of Echidna’s Arf.
ZAPPANALE #22: BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 19-21 AUGUST 2011
THE MUFFIN MEN featuring DENNY WALLEY: THE CAVERN, LIVERPOOL, 20 APRIL 2011
First set list: Zoot Allures/Don't Eat The Yellow Snow/Black Napkins/San Ber'dino/Crew Slut/Cold Winter Gale/Dead Girls Of London/City Of Tiny Lights/Jones Crusher/Suction Prints.
Second set list: My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama/Peaches En Regalia/Pygmy Twylyte/Tryin' To Grow A Chin/Suicide Chump/Whippin' Post/Wonderful Wino/Camarillo Brillo/Muffin Man/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.
Encores: Eat That Question/Magic Fingers.
If the Muffins won’t come down to me, then I gots to go north to see ‘em, right? Having spent a Beatles’ weekend in Liverpool earlier this year, I decided a trip back there would be easily do-able, and Uncle Ian was happy to drive part of the way to make things even easier. We arrived in time for a swift drink in The Grapes (the Fabs’ boozer), then hit the Cavern and met Roddie and Denny. They told us the gig was to be a little later than advertised, so we were thankfully able to grab a quick bite too. Back to the Cavern and a familiar face awaited at the door to the back room – the guy from Wolverhampton who attended the second Zappateers’ festival in Bradford-on-Avon – with a spare ticket. Sweet! In I goes and the band are on stage about to start. Sad to see tables and seats in front of the stage, but nice to see both Mikey and Waco in the crowd. Starting as per the opening triptych from Feel The Food (ah, what memories!), Napkins saw Denny playing sans steel finger, and knocking out some real nice licks. The other ‘new boy’, Phil Hearn, then played a saxy keyboard solo, before Jumpy let rip in characteristic stirring fashion. Roddie tells me that Phil is really a guitar player (and huge Keneally fan); well, his keyboard work was outstanding – especially when you learn that he only had five rehearsals with the boys before hitting the road. San Ber'dino was the first dance number of the night, but terpsichorean actions are kinda hindered with all them tables in the way (we managed to infiltrate ‘em better a little later though). Denny really lit up Crew Slut with his slide, and Roddie ended it in typical Muffin fashion with a reference to Rhino’s present for Mary looking like chips and mushy peas from Whitechapel…she’d love it. Tiny Lites saw Denny’s first lead vocal of the night, and things were warming up nicely for a splendiferous end to the first set: the Captain’s Suction Prints was mind blowingly great, with Phil perfectly replicating the horns. A quick piss and beer break, then straight into some traditional dance music with My Guitar and Peaches. Next it was Rhino’s time to play drums like Napi and sing like Chester (or something) on the piece they’ve really been making their own these past few years: Pygmy Twylyte. During this song, darling Ben had to reprise his act of gallantry with the over-exuberant guy from the Black Country. Knirps and smirks. I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the Muffins in concert, but it’s more than any other band and this was one of their very best performances - coming at the very end of their tour probably helped. Missed the horns a bit during Eat That Question, but this was a very minor grumble. The arrival of Denny has been a positive boon and I hope he continues to join them in the futchum.
GUILDHALL UBU ENSEMBLE: TWENTIETH CENTURY ROCKS, LSO ST LUKE’S, LONDON, 24 MARCH 2011
Set list: Chamber Sympony (John Adams)/Octandre (Edgard Varèse)/Dérive (Pierre Boulez)/The Dog Breath Variations-Uncle Meat/The Girl In The Magnesium Dress/The Perfect Starnger/Questi Cazzi Di Piccione/Harry, You’re A Beast-Orange County Lumber Trick/G-Spot Tornado (Frank Zappa).
Largely conducted by Matt Groening lookalike, Simon Wills (who donned a poncho for the FZ pieces), this was a fairly low-key affair, similar to Manson Ensemble’s final evening of the Roundhouse festival at the Royal Academy of Music. St Luke’s is a fine old church, restored for use as a rehearsal space for the LSO and sundry concerts (Elton John performed here in 2006), and it was gratfifying to have a few people say they were only there because I listed the event in my diary. The Ensemble is comprised of a bunch of young uns, who appeared to be chuffed to be playing these tunes. The Adams’ piece had three movements (fast/slow/fast) and was, in part, inspired by 50s cartoon music. Most enjoyable (enhanced by the outbreak of audible heavy breathing during the final movement from one young violinist, who was really going for it).
DIVA ZAPPA’S BRUCE, MAISON BERTAUX GALLERY, LONDON, 3 FEBRUARY 2011
Her biggest art show to date, and it's in London. Maybe it's the water, mama, maybe it's the tea? No, this obviously came about as a result of The Mighty Boosh connection, Noel Fielding having had a couple of exhibitions in this here cake shop (Maison Bertaux is London’s oldest patisserie); indeed, Prince Vince’s scribbles from his Bryan Ferry Vs The Jelly Fox show are all over the walls still. Noel was of course in attendance for this, the launch party, as were his little brother Michael (who turned his back on me!), Edward Tudor-Pole, Sean Bean, Jane Horrocks (who looks stunning in real life - forget the image you may have of her from Life Is Sweet and Ab Fab. Shwing!). The place was heaving, so at various points I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with these celebs (and was able to get Diva to show me her white ink tache tattoo), plus Sister Moon and GZ. I had a nice chat with Dave Gamson of the Roundhouse, who was there to talk to Gail about the possible second annual festival this year. I bemoaned the demise of the Electric Proms, which he seemed to think had had a fair old run. I had a longer natter with Alan Clayson, who I'm finding to be a very pleasant eccentric gentleman indeed. He feels the planned FZ biog is the one he was destined to write, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all pans out. Anyway, the reason we were there was to check out Diva’s knitwear art pieces and couture canvas. There were over 50 pieces of this very colourful stuff hanging in the gallery upstairs - you can check some of them out here, but if you're in the smoke during the next five months, why not drop in and see them for real? It’s very interesting stuff (the embroidered canvases especially), and you'll also glimpse her work in progress, Emilio Estevez - which will eventually be a mile-long scarf. For the record, the show is named Bruce because Diva is always watching the film Die Hard, so the spirit of Mr Willis apparently inhabits all of her pieces. And the scarf is named after Martin Sheen's eldest because of an obscure film he made with Moon in the early 80s. Prior to this event, I did seek to interview Diva but was told by the gallery that, due to the family's sensitivities towards knowledgeable fans/fan sites, this had not been relayed to the girl herself. Instead, they've opted to expose her to the no-nothing mainstream media who've just read the press release before going in. I guess the family has no desire to present a better image to the fanbase? As GZ readily admitted at the Roundhouse, she's a control freak. But surely any publicity is good publicity? Oh well, they call the shots. End of.
ZAPPA AT THE ROUNDHOUSE, LONDON, 5-7 & 13 NOVEMBER 2010
ZAPPANALE #21: BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 13-15 AUGUST 2010
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, THE BRIGHTON CENTRE, BRIGHTON, 22 JULY 2010 & HIGH VOLTAGE FESTIVAL, VICTORIA PARK, LONDON, 24 July 2010
Brighton set list: Purple Lagoon/Stink-Foot/Inca Roads/Daddy Daddy Daddy/What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?/Lonely Little Girl/City Of Tiny Lites/Blessed Relief/The Blue Light/Pick Me, I'm Clean/The Little House I Used To Live In/Latex Solar Pimp/Apostrophe/Advance Romance/T'Mershi Duween/Big Swifty/Montana/Peaches En Regalia/Echidna's Arf/Keep It Greasey. Encores: Yellow Snow/Easy Meat/Cosmik Debris/I'm The Slime.
High Voltage set list: Purple Lagoon/Florentine Pogen/Cosmik Debris/Inca Roads/Big Swifty/Easy Meat/Latex Solar Pimp/Apostrophe/Keep It Greasey/Peaches En Regalia.
When ZPZ started, I felt Dweezil seemed to sit back a tad - after all, he had Napi and Vai and Bozzio along. But now there's no question: he's definitely the main man, with his guitar solos pretty much stealing the show and his between song banter now a lot slicker. It was fantastic that he'd obviously noted my request for Dragonmaster at Brighton at DweeziZappaWorld, as he referred to "Mr IBS" and relayed the story behind the song for us all. It also struck me at my first few ZPZ gigs how the whole band appeared fully engaged at all times: in Brighton, Scheila and Bill and Ben sat out for a few periods, with Billy really only contributing one big solo (during Big Swifty). And Jamie Kime didn't even get to solo by the sea (but did at High Voltage). Okay, bottom line, brass tacks and all that: I think ZPZ are now better than ever and Brighton was the best gig I've seen them play (with the possible exception of Vicar Street); there was none of that carefully rehearsed ad-libbed hand signal stuff, and the Dweez just blazed his way through some great solos. His playing really has improved dramatically in the past few years, and Canadian John was especially thrilled with his quote from Rush's Tom Sawyer during Apostrophe. At High Voltage, someone was heard saying they might as well go home after ZPZ as they'd seen the best band of the weekend. High praise, eh? With a much shorter set, they were a lot livelier with the songs tailored for a less-discerning (but bigger than Brighton) audience. But that's not to say the Dweez wasn't mindful of us anoraks: when he introduced Big Swifty, he said it was from the Grand Wazoo album; the second the band finished playing it, he corrected this statement! Oh yeah - it's great to see Thomas Nordegg is now back in the fold. Most peculiar, mama.
ZAPPATISTAS, PIZZAEXPRESS, LONDON, 14 JULY 2010
Set list: Peaches En Regalia/The Grand Wazoo/Let's Make The Water Turn Black/Sofa/Eat That Question-Sexual Harrassment In The Workplace/King Kong/Sleep Dirt/Big Swifty/Waka Jawaka/Heavy Duty Judy/Harry, You're A Beast/Son Of Orange County/Oh No!/Lumpy Gravy/I'm The Slime.
Having trekked up to Wigan last year for the 'Tistas no show on Frank's birthday, I made sure they were playing this time. Mr E wasn't enjoying the best of health, but he manfully manipulated his wang bar and, I think, this was quite possibly the best I’ve seen his splendid seven-piece ensemble. While they make no attempt to replicate the sound of the records (no one can touch ZPZ in that regard), when they improvise on stuff like King Kong, that's when they're really happening, maaan. They made me wanna listen to the version on YCDTOSA as soon as I got home - which, if I hadn't have drunk so much red wine, would've been later that night. Yelp, bellow, rasp et cetera. Thorpe Bay’s nice this time of year, isn’t it? Wonderful to hear their take on Waka Jawaka. Much better than Shakira’s vershum. Er. Princess says they played Heavy Duty Judy like a Machine Gun. Shame there wasn’t a few more there as John is a truly great guitarist and more should appreciate that fact. Annie Whitehead played a couple of great solos – in fact the whole band took a turn. And most importantly of all, they all looked like they were having fun. Great night.
ZAPPANALE #20: BAD DOBERAN, GERMANY, 14-16 AUGUST 2009
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, O2 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE, LONDON, 14 JUNE 2009
Set list: Apostrophe/Montana/Village Of The Sun/Echidna’s Arf (Of You)/Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?/Cosmik Debris/Inca Roads/The Black Page Drum Solo-Black Page #1/Black Page #2/Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station/Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy/Peaches En Regalia/Son Of Orange County/More Trouble Every Day/The Grand Wazoo/Outside Now/Bamboozled By Love.
Encores: Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/Zomby Woof/Willie The Pimp.
“The gal I love is up in the gallery. The gal I love is looking now at me. There she is, can’t you see, waving her handkerchief, as merry as a robin that sings on a tree.” Yes, boys and girls, Gail was in attendance, sitting up in the balcony right alongside Mr Noel Fielding and his Mighty Boosh co-star, L’il Missy Diva. And how proud she was to be gazing down upon her eldest boy and his chums. Dweezil later said he thought this “was one of the most fun shows we've played from any tour we've ever done. Amazing audience…” Pity that the set consisted of nothing released after 1979 or any MOI originals (with the exception of More Trouble Every Day’s lyrics, I suppose). And though the new singer, Ben Thomas, has a good strong voice, he didn’t actually get to use it to lead too many of the tunes presented here: the overworked Scheila Gonzalez sang lead on Village Of The Sun and Son Of Orange County and Joe Travers sang Cosmik Debris, while a number of songs featured unison singing. So it would be nice to see Dweezil’s born-again vision of a non-FZ associated band performing more like one in future - and covering a less-narrowly focused crowd-pleasing era of his father’s music. Having said that, they played what is – in the parlance of our times - still great material very competently and looked like they were really enjoying it on a number of occasions. Dweezil himself seems a lot more relaxed as the front-man these days, though his cringe-worthy attempts at emulating Frank (eg. his spoken word intro to Black Page #2 and use of hand signals to conduct the band/audience) should be binned. While ZPZ do now seem to be attracting a young and more diverse audience, it was heart-warming to see a couple of coves invited up on stage to dance during Willie The Pimp festooned in Zappateers/Zappanale apparel (Ob & Evil Prince, be they you?). So, what else to report? Echidna’s featured many soli, including a great one from the under-appreciated Jamie Kime. Having industriously plunked her keys through the mid-section of Inca, talented Ms Gonzalez failed to hook her horn up in time and missed a beat. Lacksadaisial? Hardly. It didn’t really matter. Son Of Trouble Every Wazoo had a bunch more solo spots, with DZ doing his hand-jobs and Ben showing off his fine musical powerhorn technique and Nordestino Brazilian Rap meets Afro Cuban Vocal thang (thanks, Gary!). Oh, and Diva jumped up for the Black Page #2 ballet lesson. Click this pic to make it come to life:
ZAPPATiKA, THE PLOUGH INN, WALTHAMSTOW, 18 MARCH 2009
First set list: Spanish Highwayz/Wonderful Wino Man/Scarlet Pimp/Sexual Harassment In The Workplace/Space Flip/Rainy Dayz/Santani Variati/Leroy/Bamboozled By Love/The Torture Never Stops/Lazy Gun/City Of Tiny Lites (a-la-rapido).
Second set list: My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama/Sleep Dirt/My Little Pony-Dark Room/Thru The Wormhole/Crocodile Smile/Watermelon In Easter Hay/Titties & Beer/Cosmik Debris/Black Napkins/Bobby Brown/Dirty Love/Muffin Man/I’m The Slime.
I first encountered front-man McInnes at Zappanale last year, and he’s quite some dude. He really bigged-up his band of merry men and so I very much looked forward to seeing them in action. And here was my first opportunity. The Plough is a little out of the way place, but Uncle Ian and I found it easily enough and had time for a few beers and a play with the pub moggies. The band were a little late starting as their young bassist had mislaid his passport. Emergency arrangements were made, and... to punish him, they played one of their songs extra fast. Poor lamb! So. Gamma, having counted them in, they were away. Many of their own songs are sprightly little instrumentals with some pretty obvious influences (guess what Santani Variati sounds like). Leroy, though, has fun lyrics about wanting to be a rock star and tonight quoted Michael Jackson’s Beat It. The FZ stuff was pretty faithful, though McInnes’s spacey lead lines spiced things up. And while the Keltik minstrel is indeed a great front-man, his band should not be overlooked: Bongo Fury on percussion and “odd noises” adds much, but I think the laid-back second guitarist, Zomby Woof, is their secret weapon – ably doubling up on lead (notably on Tiny Lites) and playing some solid rhythm. Sadly no Dr Lau on keyboards tonight – perhaps he’s really just a shadow? And what a shame more folk didn’t turn out to witness this. I myself couldn’t stay to the bitter end and so missed loads of classic Zappa (which Princess Helen assures me was rockin’). But to miss it all for no reason at all? Special thanks go to Mr Bean who gifted me a bottle of Lagunitas WOIIFTM beer. I’m not worthy, etc. But I sure as hell didn’t say no! Why would I? Tell me why.
FIVE PEACE BAND: ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL,
Set list: Stella
By Starlight/Raju/The Disguise/New Blues, Old Bruise/Hymn To Andromeda/Dr. Jackle/Señor
CS. Encore: In
I was most surprised to see all of the gear set up so closely together on what is a fair sized stage. And Vinnie’s kit, compared to Mr Bozzio’s, looked miniscule - but what a joyous racket he made on it (which made you ponder why Terry Ted has such a huge one). First out were the two stars of the Five Peace Band, Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, for a duet on Victor Young’s lovely old jazz standard, Stella By Starlight. Then came the rest of the band: bassist Christian McBride, alto-saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and one Vincent Colaiuta hitting things. Throughout, Vinnie was the most animated – applauding his colleagues and looking genuinely thrilled to be part of this band. But he has every right to stand/sit shoulder to shoulder with these great players. Chick explained that they’d be doing two sets so that we could compare one with the other. I have to say I found the first to be generally a little more accessible, with it building to a right old frenzy with a busy VC on McLaughlin’s New Blues Old Bruise; unlike the Industrial Zen album version, this one didn’t fizzle out in a drizzle of electronic frippery. The second set was a little less fusion-y, though again was filled with some great playing. Christian McBride played mainly stand-up acoustic throughout the night, and was just wondrous. I guess if there was anything to be disappointed about, it was the lack of solos from McLaughlin. Sure, he did a few fine runs, and burned bright as Señor CS built to its thrilling denouement. But I think I was hoping for a little more from him. Of course, Chick was on good form, switching between Moog and grand. And the fact that the two stars let Kenny, Christian and Vinnie share the limelight was a measure of how much respect exists between these five great musicians – who we’ll probably never see play together again. Shame.
CONCERT FOR JIMMY: BRIDGE HOUSE II,
Well, what a strange venue – as Ben Watson noted, “like visiting a club
on the moon”. This concert was suggested by Dave McMann when we were trying to figure out how we could help the
ailing Jimmy Carl Black following
the diagnosis of his inoperable lung cancer in August. We were both deeply
affected by Jimmy, who managed to touch us just by being himself. A cursory
scan of the various Zappa fora following Jimmy’s death on 1 November shows that
we were far from alone. I first talked with Jimmy in October 1993 when the Jack
& Jim Show played at The Swan opposite Fulham Broadway tube – yeah, right
near the home of football drinking beer with an idol of my youth. Nirvana! I
was with Fred Tomsett, the editor of
T’Mershi Duween, who was doing most
of the talking, having met Jim before. I just bought them the odd beer. Months
later, the Grandmothers played Dingwalls near Camden Lock. There’s me sat in
the middle of this darkened room with the late Paul Mummery, when up pops Jimmy
– singles me out, comes over, says, “Hi Andy, how
are ya?”, puts his arm round me. How special did that make me feel? And
thus started our friendship. I last spoke with Jimmy in August after that
devastating diagnosis, as he was preparing to leave hospital. He said he
actually felt OK, but had been told that he wasn’t. It seemed that it was just
the chemo he’d been undergoing these past few years for his leukaemia that made him “feel like shit”. So a
concert to raise funds for his mounting medical bills seemed a perfect idea. So
who’s the obvious choice to play such a concert in the
KENEALLY (plus special guest, Dave Gregory): RIFFS BAR,
Set list: Hello/Ankle Bracelet/1988 Was A Million Years Ago/Potato/Thanksgiving/Joe/Song Of The Viking/Airport-Hallmark/Tranquilado/Desired Effect/Floppy Hat/2001/Sleep Dirt/Skull Bubbles/Cowlogy/The Idiot Bastard Son/Paranoid Android/Splane/Live In Japan/Aye Aye Monster/Skies Of LA-Improv-Cold Hands/Pride Is A Sin/Father’s Day/Inca Roads/Rosemary Girl.
I think this was only the second solo visit by Mike to
ZAPPANALE #19: BAD
THE 3RD INTERNATIONAL ZAPPA CONFERENCE: PARIS, 5-6 JULY 2008 – special guest reviewer: Evil Dick
ICE-Z 3, ICE-Z 69 or The 3rd International Zappa
Conference…what was this conference called?
As it turned out, it was called all three things depending on who you
spoke to. This time it was the turn of
MUFFIN MEN: THE BOARDWALK,
Set list: Willie The Pimp/Plastic Factory/Road Ladies/Great White Buffalo/Pygmy Twylyte/Jones Crusher/San Berdino.
King Kong/Big Leg Emma/The Indian Of The Group/City Of Tiny Lites/Wino Man/Zoot Allures/Yellow Snow/Black Napkins/More Trouble Everyday/Flower Punk/My Guitar.
WATSON AND DIDIER MERVELET ON 1968,
MUSIC, CAPITALISM: CONWAY HALL,
Before this lecture, Didier (Sécrétaire Generale of
Les Fils de l’Invention) confided in me that this would be Ben reading a paper
and "I’m supposed to add (improvise) some entertaining
interpolations". And he did. Say what you like about Ben, he’s an engaging
performer – though he claimed he had to stick to his script because of nerves.
But as someone pointed out during the subsequent Q&A/discussion, he was
just as lucid, interesting and charming when improvising. And the interventions
from Didier throughout were no different. It was during the subsequent
discussion that Ben spoke of the reasons for his avid interest in Zappa over
the MC5, Sun Ra, Hendrix, et al (because of the wider references to music of
all kinds, mainly). So what was the crux of their biscuit? Ben provided a
critique of anniversaries and sectarian attempts to carve up the past by referencing May 1968
(the time of the student protests and general strike in
ZAPPATEERS NL FESTIVAL, 14-15 MARCH 2008
THE GRANDE MOTHERS:
Set list: Hungry Freaks Daddy/Let’s Move To Cleveland/Lonely Little Girl/Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance/Chunga’s Revenge/Call Any Vegetable/The Idiot Bastard Son/Uncle Meat/Obligatory Drum Solo-T’Mershi Duween/Pygmy Twylyte.
Peaches En Regalia/Montana/Big Swifty (interpolating I Come From Nowhere and Evelyn, A Modified Dog)/I’m The Slime/In The Sky/Let’s Make The Water Turn Black/Harry, You’re A Beast/Oh No/Son Of Orange County/More Trouble Every Day/San Ber’dino/Sofa No. 1/I’m The Slime.
Encores: Little House I Used To Live In/Merely A Blues In F/Mother People.
lucky enough to meet the guys backstage beforehand and presented Don with a
copy of the 20 Idiot Bastards CD (after
all, it’s his logo on the back – see top of this page too). Napoleon and
BOB ZAPPA with Bob Stannard: FRANKIE & BOBBY - GROWING UP ZAPPA (CRZ Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9964779-0-1)
“We shared unique experiences that will disappear with me unless I make these stories public,” says Bob in his introduction to this truly enlightening, well written and revealing tome about the early life of our fave composer.
We all know about the Zappa family's nomadic existence, and this book strives to demonstrate the affect this had on shaping Frank's later life. Bob believes the constant moves caused the pair to grow up as misfits and led to them becoming fiercely independent. Having said that, they were clearly very close and protective of one another and, after they both fled the nest and went their separate ways, Bob talks of the anger he felt at not being around to support his brother in Montreux and London in December 1971. He also speculates whether his father's constant job changes were entirely down to his desire to better the family’s existence and his career or were enforced by his various employers. Francis certainly never fully explained the reasons for so many moves, and also would never show any shortcomings in his make up - either as a father or employee.
Despite their shared experiences growing up together, Bob sheds some light on how the pair turned out so differently and on what drove Frank to become the super-creative person he was.
With siblings Candy and Carl being that much younger than Frankie and Bobby, the constant moves during the first two decades of Frank's life don't appear to have had quite the same impact on them.
During the family’s time in Lancaster (a particluarly bad period for the pair, with troubles at school and an unsympathetic father), FZ became interested in UFOs and necromancy, and later told Bobby mysteriously that he'd made a bargain with the devil. We also learn that Frank never met his half-sister Ann from their father's first marriage, and that he was to have produced an album by Richie Havens but the singer-songwriter objected to his plan to name the album The Mad Gummer (Cal Schenkel mentioned this in an interview a few years back, and Bob describes Cal's planned artwork for the record).
After Frank became a Mother, he invited Bob to join him during the run of shows at the Garrick to act as his personal assistant. It was hoped he would wind up with a more permanaent role in his entourage. Frank was happy for Bob to drive up to New York with a couple of his old Claremont friends, one of whom was Dick Barber. Of course, it was Dick rather than Bob who wound-up securing a job with Frank.
The book is illustrated with many rare snaps of the family's early years as well as Frank's painting of an urn (as seen on the History Detectives - see here) and Edward Bearsley's companion piece to the painting used on the cover of Alice Cooper's Pretties For You.
There are so many stories you won't find anywhere else about Frank's formative years and I won't spoil things by detailing them all here: instead, grab a copy and read them for yourself - you won't regret it.
GEOFF WILLS: ZAPPA AND JAZZ – DID IT REALLY SMELL FUNNY, FRANK? (Matador Books, ISBN 978-1-78462-391-3)
The basic premise of this book is to disprove Charles Shaar Murray’s assertion (in his otherwise excellent BBC radio programme, Jazz From Hell) that Zappa wasn’t a jazz fan. Many of us already know that Frank was a chronic fibber-teller who would often belittle things he clearly admired (ie. The Beatles), and Wills sets out his case with aplomb, successfully pooh-poohing Zappa’s Duke Ellington begging for $10 story along the way.
Whereas the book might get the casual FZ fan (are there any?) running to their Zappa collection, it caused this casual jazz fan to Google-a-go-go and riffle through his meagre jazz records wanting to learn more about the likes of Bird, Dizzy, Mingus, Rollins and Kenton. With his undeniable knowledge on such matters, Wills’ is able to provide some incredible insights into the copious Third Stream/Bebop/jazz waltz references in Frank’s canon, as well as detailing how his music influenced 70s jazz-rock.
So Zappa’s universe continues to expand as Wills adds another dimension – all in an unpretentious and readable way. Highly recommended.
Order your copy direct from the publisher here.
DENNIS DUNAWAY and Chris Hodenfield: SNAKES! GUILLOTINES! ELECTRIC CHAIRS! MY ADVENTURES IN THE ALICE COOPER GROUP (Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-1-78305-993-5)
Having been a huge fan of the Alice Cooper group since 1971’s Killer album, I couldn’t wait to read this bio by bassist Dunaway. The fact that Alice Cooper got its first big break from FZ of course added to my interest in the band who, at one time, gave the mighty Zep a run for their money in my teenage affections.
While this book focuses very much on the close-knit unit’s early struggles and eventual rise to fame (there’s no mention of No More Mr. Nice Guy in the all too brief section on the recording of the platinum Billion Dollar Babies LP, for example), FZ’s involvement doesn’t merit too many pages. But it’s an interesting and entertaining read nevertheless. Dunaway has a nice turn of phrase (on sexual awakenings, he describes how “Sharon galvanised the gonads of guys up and down school halls,”) as well as a great eye/memory for detail - possibly because, unlike Alice and guitarist Glen Buxton, he didn’t dive so deeply into the drugs and alcohol that became readily available the higher the band climbed.
While influenced by UK bands like the Yardbirds and The Who, Alice Cooper started as a psychedelic rock band with a theatrical bent and Dada aspirations that would invent glitter rock and slowly morph into the shock rockers the world knew and loved. When Zappa took them under his wing, he wanted the group to change its name to ‘Alice Cookies’ and have each track on their first album as a separate biscuit-sized record, housed in a sealed can...until manager Herb Cohen pointed out the likely costs. After the Pretties For You and Easy Action albums, Zappa’s interest dwindled and the band knew they had to break away if they were to become a success. Hooking up with managers Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg, they survived for a time by selling copies of Dylan’s Great White Wonder bootleg. Then they were introduced to the still teen-aged producer Bob Ezrin, who loved what they were trying to do and helped mould them into the mega-selling band they quickly became. Their first collaboration (for Ezrin truly was their George Martin), Love It To Death, was initially issued on the Straight label until Warner Bros steamed and the band really took off. Warners would release the subsequent albums, the next three (for me and many others) representing the band’s finest hour – well, two years actually. There’s mention of Cohen reappearing during this period, but Dunaway omits to explain that the group continued to have business ties with Straight up until the School’s Out album.
Some while after singer Vincent Furnier assumed the Alice name and mainstream acceptance became an inevitability, the song writing credits started to be divvied up, management and media started to home in on the front man, and the rot started to set in. In 1974, with talks of solo albums and a ‘marriage Sabbatical’, Alice would slope off with Ezrin and return with what is generally accepted to still be his greatest solo offering, Welcome To My Nightmare. And then it was “goodbye guys, maybe I'll see you around some time.”
In spite of this, Dunaway remained friends with his old school and track buddy, and he talks with great affection about the original group’s reunion in 2011 for its induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame - sadly, nearly fifteen years after guitarist Buxton had literally wasted away.
So, a bittersweet tale, but one worth checking out if you have an interest in the original (and best) AC group and tales of Seventies rock and roll excess. I think Miss Axelrod would be much impressed.
JIMMY CARL BLACK: FOR MOTHER’S SAKE - THE MEMOIRS AND RECOLLECTIONS OF JIMMY CARL BLACK 1938-2008 (Inkanish Publications, ISBN 9781493588725)
Coming five years after his passing, the autobiography of the original Mothers Of Invention drummer reveals his Native American heritage (though posthumous research by the editors casts some doubts on the accuracy of this), disparages FZ’s abilities as a driver, and contemplates how ‘the Indian of the group’ managed to father five children with all the marital strife and philandering that occurred as he pursued a career in music. The ‘memoirs’ part of the book comprises a chronological series of vignettes as told to Muffin Man Roddie Gilliard in the back of a tour bus as they gigged their way around Europe between 1994 and 1997. Aside from playing in one of the best American rock bands of the 1960s, JCB also got to jam with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan, appear in a film with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, paint houses with Arthur Brown, make doughnuts out in the west Texas town of El Paso, and play Knebworth with Captain Beefheart as part of his Magic Band with Elliot Ingber and Bruce Fowler. These adventures are all relayed in Jimmy’s own inimitable way.
A musician for all of his adult life, his first love was R&B but he also tried his hand at black gospel, disco and jazz. Inevitably his time with Frank takes up the bulk of the book, but he also had an eventful life away from the Mothers. And he’s very candid about the people he despised as well as those he had more time for. Despite the way in which the Mothers were disbanded and the subsequent ‘Old Masters’ lawsuit, Jimmy always retained a fondness for Frank and tells of the tears he shed with Don Preston and Bunk Gardner mid-tour in December 1993.
Married three times, Jimmy’s second wife died in 1995 after which the ‘recollections’ are skilfully stitched together from interviews, album sleeve notes and the autobiographical digest he wrote for his website. These are all Jimmy’s words, and his story is one you’ll have a ball reading.
Available in print or Kindle editions. Visit www.jimmycarlblack.com for more.
HOWARD KAYLAN: SHELL SHOCKED - MY LIFE WITH THE TURTLES, FLO AND EDDIE, AND FRANK ZAPPA, ETC... (Backbeat Books, ISBN 978-1617808463)
Howard relays his life story with great wit and aplomb. The tale about how he and Mark Volman avoided the draft, with cousin Herbie Cohen’s help, is trouser-wettingly hilarious. He’s honest and open about the drug use, his myriad infidelities and the bad business decisions that conspired to split the Turtles up - and the fact that turning down Becker and Fagen’s offer to join their new band might have been an error! Where else might you find out that Tom Jones named his penis Wendell? And if you didn’t already know who the ‘The Fabulous Musician’ was that released a torrent of purple spew from an appealing blonde from the clues in Champagne Lecture and The Real Frank Zappa Book, Howard lays it out for ya. He’s also explicit about Nigey Lennon’s party piece, and he clarifies why Mark started out as Eddie before becoming Flo when the photo on the duo’s first album got reversed. (I was always a little confused as to why, in interviews, Howard said he was the Phlorescent Leech in the Mothers. Now I know.) After many years of lawsuits, Flo & Eddie won the right to use the Turtles name and gained control over the band’s recorded output. This enabled them to set the legal hounds on De La Soul when they used a sample from You Showed Me on Transmitting Live From Mars (Interlude) without permission (in what was very much a test case; many others therefore have the dynamic duo to thank for the credit that automatically ensues from such nefarious activity nowadays).
Given the book’s sub-title, I was a little surprised Howie didn’t mention the abortive rehearsals with Frank in 1987, but then he did help me cover that comprehensively in Zappa The Hard Way. Nor is there that much on the legendary Hollywood Vampires, but that’s maybe because none of them can remember too much about that ‘lost’ period!
Towards the end of the book, Howard ruminates on the demise of his father, FZ and close friend Harry Nilsson, but ends on how he’s now happy, content and clean. Very clean. Despite the many ups and downs, it’s fair to say that, career wise, Howard has led a somewhat charmed life.
Penn Jillette’s humourous foreword essentially articulates Zappa’s view about high and low art all just being entertainment, and kicks things off in fine style. All in all, one of the best rock bios I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a few!). But on a point of order, there’s no way you could have read Sounds on your first transatlantic flight, Howard: it didn’t commence publication until 1970. Sorry!
H.T. BROWN: CONFESSIONS OF A ZAPPA FANATIC (HTB Publishing, ISBN 9781481122115)
Well this is different. Chats with Arthur Barrow and photographer John Livzey, meetings with Wild Man Fischer, gigging with Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan, a close look at songs Frank chose to cover, a visit to the Broadside, negative audience reactions to support bands, a Synclavier demo by the Maestro himself. And so on. Obviously one for fellow fanatics, but in this follow-up to his book, Summer Of Love, My Ass!, long-time Zappa fan Tom Brown – you know, the guy who compiled the first two Beat The Boots sets for Rhino – has assembled several articles and interviews that together make for a right riveting read.
Revealing many things about Frank you won’t find in conventional biographies, Tom writes it all in an endearing and entertaining style. He is unafraid to speak his mind, too - which he does throughout, particularly on the subject of Mrs Z (though he does perhaps justify his animosity in the chapter covering his visit to the Zappa tape vault).
There are further insights into the Beat The Boots sets, life inside the Zappa household, Flo & Eddie’s recording style, Frank’s sandwich making skills, and more. Seriously interesting stuff for hard-core fans.
Tom knows his shit. Now, if only he can gain access to his own ‘vault’ (most of his possessions are currently locked in storage), he might find enough material for a second volume.
PAUL CARR (Editor): FRANK ZAPPA AND THE AND (Ashgate Publishing, ISBN 9781409433378)
Being neither a musician nor an academic, articulating your thoughts about Zappa and his music can be a little challenging. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily appreciate him or his work any less. While this book is squarely aimed at the latter camp, there’s still much to tickle the more casual Zappa fan – not least the copious footnotes and lists of other relevant source material that comprise about one third of the book. But between all that, there’s much to agree and disagree with (eg. while I personally deem FZ’s film work as somewhat half-arsed, Manuel de la Fuente makes a good fist of singling him out as a unique filmmaker in rock – albeit by completely overlooking the work of Bernard Shakey). And if you found the books by Kevin Courrier, Kelly Fisher Lowe and Ben Watson of interest, you should get this. But perhaps you’d first like to read what Mr Watson himself has to say? Okay, check this.
PAULINE BUTCHER: FREAK OUT! MY LIFE WITH FRANK ZAPPA (Plexus Books, ISBN 978-0-85965-479-1)
The story of a prim and proper part-time model/typist who Frank whisked from Twickenham to Hollywood to be his secretary, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Contains lots of inside information about the true state of the grubby log cabin and Gail & Frank’s strange relationship, Pamela Zarubica’s role as FZ’s social agent, Pauline’s brief affair with Cal Schenkel, and Ian Underwood’s creation of the ‘clonemeister’ post. It’s interesting that the man who spent his final years glued to CNN never seemed to read a book or newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV during Pauline’s four year ‘life’ with him - yet he still had a fully formed opinion about the state of US politics and thought he stood a realistic chance of becoming President. Indeed, one of the stated reasons for employing Pauline was to help him with a book he had been commissioned to write – a political perspective. It never happened, of course. Pauline’s time with the Zappas was very eventful, with an assassination attempt, constant work-related squabbles with Gail (who she says “has three speeds: slow, very slow, and stop”), and general in-house strife. But she also had many good times, getting to see moments of pure brilliance as well as witness some of Frank’s more fanciful projects (the GTOs, Wild Man Fischer, etc.). Like Zarubica, Pauline loved Frank but was not in love with him – though she admits that had he not been married, things might have been different between the pair (which could’ve applied to Underwood too), and the book does detail Frank’s rebuffed advances for ‘nookie’. She clearly did not see him as the God-like genius everyone else around him at the time seemed to, and was not terribly enamoured with much of his musical output. Certainly she was very different from the others Frank surrounded himself with, which seems to be another reason he liked having Pauline around. She originally wanted to call the book Reflected Glory, My Time With Frank Zappa, and this is an honest, accurate – and very well written - account of her thoughts and feelings at the time, based as it is on her diaries and letters home. Entertaining and occasionally laugh-out loud funny, too. With books like this – factual ones, covering in detail specific eras, tours or pieces of equipment – Mr Clayson will have much useful raw material to help him write the definitive official biography. Whether that’s what we’ll get remains to be seen - so, meantime, this fills in some of the blanks between 1968 and 1972 very nicely.
FRANK ZAPPA: THEM OR US (THE BOOK) (Pinter & Martin, ISBN 978-1-905177-56-1)
Like the books of the late great Kurt Vonnegut, the Zappa canon is loaded with cross-references that definitely add to the fun. Inside Them Or Us (The Book) we get mentions of stupid girls named Debbie, the stench from an accordion, poodles dogs & sofas (naturally), and great swathes of words from Billy The Mountain, Hunchentoot, Joe’s Garage Acts I & II, Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch and Thing-Fish. It’s odd then that someone who often dismissed his own lyrics as mere decoration for the wondrous music what he wrote should believe that they’d make a decent film script. And that’s essentially what this is, in its original computer print-out dot matrix font (complete with the odd typo), a facsimile of 1984’s self-published tome presented in conventional paperback form by the UK’s Pinter & Martin - in a binding that won’t fall apart! Frank would later update, edit and truncate this ‘story’ and present it to a bemused Terry Gilliam as the Dwell screenplay; Gilliam (probably justly) declined to helm such a vehicle. For those of us unlucky enough to have witnessed Bunny Bunny Bunny at the Roundhouse, it’s clear that Frank was no Bergman. Certainly not a Mike Leigh or Woody Allen. Maybe not even an Ed Wood…light years away from Michael Bay. And that's an awful lot, girl. But he did write some entertaining songs. And this book (narrated in part by Francesco Zappa) is still pretty diverting, if not an easy read. Definitely a must-have for the hard-core into Frank’s conceptual continuity...er, concept. Bonzer dog-doo, with a fried egg on top of spam.
ANDREW GREENAWAY: ZAPPA THE HARD WAY (Wymer UK, ISBN 978-0-9557542-4-1) (Special guest reviewer: Pauline Bird (née Butcher) – Frank’s former secretary and author of Freak Out! My Life With Frank Zappa)
In 1988, Frank Zappa hung up his guitar for good and never played with his band again. The reasons given publicly relate to squabbles between members of the band. Frank Zappa stated, “everyone in the band hated Scott Thunes so much they simply refused to play with him anymore.” But was this the real reason? Could it have been an excuse, a cover up for something else – ie. Frank’s ailing health? Could Frank have been feeling increasingly unfit to cope with the relentless concerts across America and Europe night after night – 81in all in 127 days, in other words, one concert every one and a half days, including travelling.
Andrew Greenaway has tackled this anomaly in his excellent book, The Hard Way. He shows how it was that these eleven men lived and played in harmony through dozens of concerts because of their respect and admiration for Frank Zappa. And what astonishing concerts they were too. Andrew manages to convey the brilliance and uniqueness of this band not only through his own descriptions but also from the band members’ own praise for the astonishing variety of music they created. But even this respect could not stop cracks opening up and let’s face it, any group of people locked together without a break for this period of time would snap and to my mind it is surprising not that they imploded but that they endured as long as they did.
Through interviews with various band members, Andrew pieces together the evidence and attempts to tease out the truth. So you could say this is a ‘why done-it’ book. Other band members, including Thunes, give their explanations and Andrew relates several incidents of verbal and physical abuse.
Read this meticulously researched book which every Zappa fan will want to read, as well as those like myself who stumbled across this great man, and find out the answer to why Broadway, The Hard Way was Frank Zappa’s last band.
VINCENT BAKKER: THE GANGSTER OF LOVE – JOHNNY “GUITAR” WATSON: PERFORMER, PREACHER, PIMP
More appreciated outside his native US; never fully crediting his musicians; Andre Lewis was once a band member; guitar not his first instrument; influenced by the rapid fire, multi-note guitar shuffle style of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown; died too soon, before his mother…yes, Johnny “Guitar” Watson had a few things in common with Frank. And it’s all detailed here in the first ever comprehensive biography of The Gangster Of Love. It’s important to note that English is not the author’s first language (he’s from Amsterdam), which means you occasionally have to re-read things to get their true meaning (something he acknowledges by relaying an interview he conducted with curmudgeonly pianist, Eddie “Gip” Noble), but Vincent’s enthusiasm for his subject more than makes up for this. If you look, you will discover: Watson was a long-time friend of Obie Jessie (composer of Mary Lou); Watson played guitar on Chuck Higgins’ Pachuco Hop (“let me twirl you!”). Yes, there’s much of interest here, including a whole ‘Zappa on Watson’ chapter that reveals how JGW “never got into” Frank’s music, and why he didn’t go on tour with his friend. Why not check out http://www.myspace.com/johnnyguitarwatsonbook and order yourself a copy?
SCOTT PARKER: THE ZAPPA SUPPLEMENT ONE - A BOX OF HISTORY AND THE MUD SHARK SAGA (SPB Publishing)
I wasn’t sure that a book looking into The History And Collected Improvisations Of The Mother Of Invention and all the Mud Shark bootleg elpees would hold the same sort of appeal as Scott’s two slightly-broader The Recordings Of Frank Zappa series of books. But I does! I didn’t know Frank ‘wrote’ two different pieces called Kung Fu, did you? What about the uncredited (string) bass player on Burnt Weeny Sandwich. It’s all in here, but it’s kinda hard to review properly coz it’s so engrossing.
SCOTT PARKER: STRICTLY GENTEEL The Recordings of FRANK ZAPPA and the Mothers of Invention - Volume Two 1970-1971 (Parker Books)
And so, the second of a possible eight volumes of Scott’s ‘Recordings of FZ’ series. This covers 1970-71, which for many is both a period that got them into Zappa and one which is probably less revered than it deserves to be. Especially in terms of released material (Burnt Weeny, Chunga’s). Once again, the level of detail included is outstanding. Talk about guilty pleasures – you know you want to see the Hebrew lettering on the Israeli pressing of Weasels and song titles translated into Spanish. I note that Barfko-Swill is now selling a t-shirt featuring the famous bowler-hat photo from Volume 1. Here’s hoping they do similar with the lovely photo on the cover of this volume.
PAMELA DES BARRES: LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER - BACKSTAGE SECRETS OF ROCK MUSES AND SUPERGROUPIES (Helter Skelter Publishing, ISBN 1-905139-17-9)
Miss Pamela’s new book is based on interviews she conducted with self-proclaimed groupies, rock wives and others. In it we learn of Gail Zappa’s psychic powers: she’d see major world events before they happened and, in 1964, she knew that an important person was to enter her life and so screwed around for a few years waiting for him to happen along. As a young girl, seems our Gail felt different from everyone else and believed the Stones’ Out Of Time was about her. Before Frank, she turned down Tom Jones, broke The Who in America, had an ‘uninteresting’ relationship with Jim Morrison (who she met, age 5), blanked Bob Dylan, and got a couple of Lovin’ Spoonfuls. We also discover that: Tura Satana taught Elvis how to shimmy and orally pleasure women (both upstairs and downstairs); Cherry Vanilla did publicity balling for Bowie and Vangelis; and the artist formally known as Yusuf liked Patti D’Arbanville to dress as a schoolgirl.
SCOTT PARKER: HUNGRY FREAKS, DADDY The Recordings of FRANK ZAPPA and the Mothers of Invention - Volume One 1959-1969 (Parker Books)
Imagine someone picking up where Norbert Obermann’s Zappalog left off and correcting the entire bootleg track list errors left be by the Torchum Team, and you’ve got an idea of what this book’s like. Add to that some helpful narrative along the way and you’d best zip your anorak’s up tight ‘cause you’re in for a thrilling ride. Scott doesn’t try to emulate Greg Russo’s detailed tome, but it is similarly a labour of true love - from the detailed breakdown of the component parts of the unreleased Capitol Records version of Lump Gravy to the corrected bootleg track lists. Check out Scott’s website for more info, including ordering details: http://www.scottparkerbooks.com.
AHMET ZAPPA: THE MONSTROUS MEMOIRS OF A MIGHTY McFEARLESS (Puffin Books, ISBN 0-141-38309-7)
Review coming just as soon as I’ve read the thing...but obviously you’ll wanna know stuff like this: the main character (Minerva McFearless)’s mother’s middle name is the same as Gail’s first (Adelaide), and her father is played by Ahmet himself in the book’s accompanying illustrations; a painting of Minerva’s great-great-great-grandfather (Maximillius McFearless) is based on a Them Or Us/True Glove-era photo of FZ (see below); and another illustration uses the pic of Frank from the rear of the Lumpy Gravy sleeve.
KELLY FISHER LOWE: THE WORDS AND MUSIC OF FRANK ZAPPA (Praeger Publishers, ISBN 0-275-98779-5)
Although Miles’s tome appears to have been generally well received, it seems most of the recent FZ books have been more academic studies of his work rather than straightforward biographies like Barry’s. Well, who really needs another bio? But I was still a little sceptical about this after Kevin Courrier’s scholarly effort. However, it’s actually very readable and thought provoking. It sets its stall out early on and Lowe doesn’t come across as no smart arse, though he’s clearly very knowledgeable - both about Frank and the pitfalls of rock journalism. And I like the way he’s dismissive of hard-core anal-retentives who crave every slightly different version of Frank’s recorded output (but, yes, I freely admit to feeling like Waylon Smithers when Malibu Stacey gets a new hat, and will of course avidly fetish Charles Ulrich’s Project Object book once it’s finally baked). It doesn’t actually get off to a good start, referring to Joe’s Garage and a ‘Fender Camp,’ on the first page...it gets better, though.
FRANK ZAPPA 1969-1973: FREAK JAZZ, MOVIE MADNESS & ANOTHER MOTHERS (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD580)
Largely a Hot Rats classic album slash analysis of the Flo & Eddie years, this new film by Tom O’Dell does though touch on the Grand Wazoo and Roxy bands - with George Duke describing Chester Thompson as “a grumpy old man”! In addition to George, there are ‘new’ interviews with Aynsley Dunbar, Don Preston, Jeff Simmons, Mark Volman, Max Bennett, Sal Marquez, Ian Underwood and Tony Palmer (as well as writers Ben Watson, Billy James and Mark Paytress); these are what really make this documentary extra-special. Bennett tells how Frank placed no real restrictions on the musicians during the recording of Hot Rats – he was given just the chord changes, but no notes to play. He also tells the tale of how a strung–out “Sugarcane” Harris turned up late for a session and started playing his violin with a hairless bow. Underwood tells how Frank’s new post-Mothers jazz-rock direction suited him just fine, with Watson weighing in to describe Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way as soporific while Frank was all about waking you up.
The film states that the Vaudeville band came together by chance, with both Simmons and Dunbar expressing dismay at Frank’s decision to involve Volman and Kaylan. They were both won over of course, because the pair were “funny as hell”. Paytress finds the seedy and salacious lyrics of this period a little too much to stomach and infers that many at the time were similarly dismissive - though Simmons says that everywhere they went everyone seemed to love it.
Regarding 200 Motels, Palmer says he had to keep pressing to see a script, and a few days before taping commenced Frank brought in a huge trunk full of paper, proclaiming “There it is!” Presumably because of Palmer’s association with Gonzo Multimedia, there are clips aplenty from both this motion picture and The Lost Broadcasts/Zappa On Zappa. Chrome Dreams has also fearlessly included many other visual and audio clips, with most of the latter being credited to Ryko. They have though commissioned Chris Ingham to compose some Zappalike music.
After the movie came out, Volman repeats the notion that Frank may have felt performing Divan brought on the problems that culminated in the disbandment of this version of the Mothers in December 1971. With Frank now recuperating and preparing for his next musical adventures, Sal Marquez relays the story of how he came to work for him transcribing the music for Waka/Jawaka, and before you know it, it’s all over. After a mere 157 minutes! But that’s not it, no siree. We also get a short extra titled On The Road: Mother Memories, with outtakes from the interviews with Dunbar, Simmons, Duke (on ‘the booger bear war’) and Volman (saying how he wasn’t proud of the band’s off-stage excesses). For anyone who’s seen Christopher Guest’s hilarious mockumentary, A Mighty Wind, it’s uncanny how much Flo now resembles Eugene Levy’s character, Mitch Cohen. A coincidence? I don’t think so!
Anyway, if Chrome Dreams keep coming up with the goods like this, I can’t wait till they get to the Broadway tour! A must-see.
MORGAN ÅGREN’S CONUNDRUM: A PERCUSSIVE MISADVENTURE (Bend Bars/Lift Gates Films, 8-84501-99144-5)
As well as being a supremely gifted drummer, Morgan is also a very likeable person. Thus a documentary was obviously a great idea, so kudos to Carl King for making it a reality. As well as numerous examples of Morgan’s prowess, we also get to hear Mike Keneally say that after the 1988 Broadway The Hard Way tour, FZ wanted to form a six-piece band comprising: FZ, MK, Ray White, Scott Thunes and Mats & Morgan. Wouldn’t that have been something (though Joe Travers strangely qualifies this by saying that it may only have happened had Chad Wackerman been otherwise engaged)?
What else? We see that Marco Minnemann is probably a better guitarist than a tennis player, that Simon Phillips cares almost as much about coffee as his recording equipment, we get fashion tips from Tosin Abasi (wow, I hope the sessions shown with he, Morgan and Janek Gwizdala result in an album) and Morgan visits the Trout Mask house.
As a non-musician, I am always impressed by seeing the time, effort and thought that goes into musicians like Morgan’s art - like how much of it is memorised rather than improvised. But when it’s stuck behind a bunch of other musicians, all that hard work can either go unnoticed or the music on top may just be rancid. Happily, Morgan invariably plays behind other great musicians and when he’s in front of you it’s hard to keep your eyes off him.
In spite of a couple of poncey talking heads you’d like to smash together (and I’m most certainly not talking about Dweezil or Devin Townsend here), this documentary will at the very least make you want to go out and try some fermented herring. But more than likely it will leave you wondering why the hell Morgan isn’t a household name.
THE LOST BROADCASTS: ZAPPA ON ZAPPA (Gonzo Multimedia, HST109DVD)
Here is the full, unedited, uncoloured, un-subtitled interview Horst Königstein (who did the translations for the two Peter Gabriel German albums) conducted with Frank in Bremen for the Beat-Club. In glorious living black and white, it's more like a surreal version of the Beeb's old Face To Face interrogations than a normal 'pop' TV interview. Frank is asked how he thinks people perceive him (a political rebel) and how he thinks of himself (composer). Königstein makes notes as they go along on a large blackboard behind them; when he runs out of room, FZ hands him his cap to rub off some of the earlier chalkings. By the end, it's quite a collage! Frank talks about how the Government and big businesses control TV and how it impacts on the minds of young America; he urges youths to stop demonstrating and become part of the media, military, police, etc. to bring about change from within and to reach larger numbers of people. Horst has Frank recite the lyrics to Concentration Moon, and Frank in turn has Königstein read out the words to a Republican pop song (see here). Also discussed are Bizarre Records, the GTOs, Rolling Stone magazine, film editing, MGM's censorship of Absolutely Free & WOIIFTM, the ‘Berlin Survival’ story, and the members of the new ‘swinging’ Vaudeville band that had been together just a fortnight at time of filming. Horst asks a few overly complex questions, which FZ handles good-naturedly. Frank clearly enjoyed this interview, as he asks for copy to show in the US. Your darling Harold Wilson and Edward Heath also make brief cameos, the former having just lost the June 1970 General Election to the latter. FZ asks rhetorically, “What's he gonna do now?” Well, he came back four years later, Frank. In the eight minute sub-titled broadcasted interview (also included), it looks like Coy leaves the green gels in the truss. But the full 86 minute thing is a joy to behold: Frank, as you’d expect, comes across as witty and erudite – and Königstein manages to hold his own really well. Kudos to Voiceprint for another great archive release.
THE LOST BROADCASTS: CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND (Gonzo Multimedia, HST112DVD)
Track list: Mascara Snake (Bass Solo)/Click Clack 1/Click Clack 2/Golden Birdies/Band Intros/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 1/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 2/Steal Softly Thru The Snow/I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 3.
Recorded in a TV studio in Bremen (for the Beat-Club, with no audience) in 1972, mid-tour between The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot albums. The Mascara Snake (aka Hair Pie) bass solo starts with a blue screen before Rockette Morton (aka Mark Boston, looking like Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks) appears - or rather, primarily it’s his hands and bass we see. A portly Captain then strolls on to impishly announce, “And this is the mascara fake!” Once the solo ends, the camera switches to a monocled Ed Marimba (Art Tripp), who appears to be wearing a small pair of psychedelic underpants on his head, with a very animated and behatted Boston now on six string and Roy Estrada out on parole. I mean bass. Click Clack 1 is largely focussed on the Captain, his taped together mics and harp. And it seems we’re getting everything that was filmed here, so a bit of a second stab of that one too - which collapses shortly after the harp solo. Golden Birdies signals some visual effects so beloved of 70s TV producers whereby Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) is superimposed on the rest of the band, etc. Tripp appears to emit a short fart during Band Intros, as the lens fails to actually capture exactly who’s who. Never mind. There’s a fair bit of feedback during I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 1, and Beefheart seems a little distracted by a studio technician. So he stops the song and walks off. The band start version 2 without him, but he returns in time to warble as only he (and Howlin’ Wolf, and possibly some others) can. Or could. Steal Softly Thru The Snow is played as an instrumental (with two basses), and sees Tripp and Beefheart - on soprano sax - duetting for the song’s thrilling denouement. I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 3 signals some more FX and is the only part of this performance that was actually shown on the Beat-Club. Now, thanks to Gonzo and Voiceprint, it’s readily available for all to marvel at. And well worth the wait it was too. Great sound and picture quality throughout. Oh, and by the way: the hirsute other former Mother, Winged Eel Fingerling (Elliot Ingber), is fairly anonymous behind his shades, with the camera really only dwelling on him occasionally, and most notably when he’s not actually playing (when the miffed Beefheart walks off).
FROM STRAIGHT TO BIZARRE: ZAPPA, BEEFHEART, ALICE COOPER AND LA’s LUNATIC FRINGE (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD568)
The most professional and well put together documentary film from these guys yet takes an in-depth look at Frankie and Herb’s twin record labels. It features some exclusive new interviews, with: Sandy Hurvitz (aka Essra Mohawk, on her bizarre relationship with FZ); Kim Fowley (making, um, prophesies about the future of Wild Man Fischer); GTOs Mercy (the original Scary Spice) and Pamela (on Permanent Damage); a modest Jeff Simmons (who expresses gratitude for people’s appreciation of his Lucille album, which he is more dismissive of); Drumbo and Zoot Horn Rollo (on Decals, and the genesis, recording and release of Trout Mask). One recurring theme throughout is how the future of many of the Straight/Bizarre releases hinged on FZ’s reaction to different ‘incidents’ – eg. the Alice Cooper group and the GTOs getting stoned/busted; Wild Man Fischer lobbing a bottle at Moon Unit; Sandy Hurvitz asserting herself in the studio. There’s many a nice quote - eg. Jerry Lawson asking “Who the fuck is Zappa?” on being told of Frank’s interest in the Persuasions - and some insightful ones, too (eg. Ben Watson’s comment that looking at all of the Straight/Bizarre releases is to see Frank’s many influences). Some nice extras also: Lawson chatting about yellow snow, skinny chickens and listening to Frankly A Cappella (released in 2000) with FZ! (if you think that’s odd, he also attributes Hot-Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel to the Carnegie-era Mothers); and Harkleroad and French reminiscing about the Magic Band’s arrest for shoplifting while living at the Trout House. Well worth a peek.
CHAD WACKERMAN TRIO: HITS LIVE (Drum Channel DVD, DV10003801-H01)
This live performance was filmed in the Drum Channel studio, with no audience - and, more importantly, no electronic explosions triggered by clumsy stage hands! The 'concert' footage is interspersed with brief chats with the Trio (seems these guys all met through FZ: Doug Lunn met Chad when he auditioned for Frank in the early 80s; and Mike Miller was invited to play with Chad in the Banned From Utopia by The Fowler Brothers), with separate introductions to each song by a solo Chad. He describes Balancing Acts as almost prog-rock, and indeed it is. Tell Me starts with a nice drum solo, as per the version on the Zappanale #18 CD. Bang. The gentle Holland is so gorgeous, I could wear it as a scrunchie. The City also opens with a CW solo, as he channels his first NY visit, then builds to a great McLaughlin-esque guitar solo. Twang. This must be a great gig for MM, who gets to shape the tunes and play oodles of solos, though he also has the job of replicating the missing vibe parts from Chad's compositions. Throughout you see what fine, fine players these are. And unlike Bozzio, Chad actually uses every bit of his kit, and Doug plays all five strings on his fretless bass. Talk to me. Although this is played totally live, with no studio trickery, some clips of Chad appear to have been sped-up. But really, he's just super fast. Wow. The bonus material consists of Mike's The Good Guys, played as a tribute to the late Mark Craney. It rocks. And Introduction, which has possibly been relegated from the main feature because MM has to sight read for most of it. I think the intimate studio setting suits them a lot better than a field in Germany.
FRANK ZAPPA: THE FREAK-OUT LIST (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD555)
The first 30 minutes of this documentary focus on FZ's classical/orchestral influences, then it looks at his R&B likes (some of the stuff that's featured on Chrome Dreams' excellent Frank Zappa's Jukebox CD), emphasising Johnny "Guitar" Watson's impact on Frank's guitar playing. It's then on to doo-wop (including a present day interview with The Cadillacs) and, finally, jazz. We are guided through these by an insightful Ben Watson (who, God bless him, bigs up Jimmy Carl Black), various music professors, Don Preston (who boasts that he introduced many of the classical remnants incorporated into Zappa's oeuvre), author Greg Russo (who has his own extra, talking us through ‘Frank Zappa's Record Collection’), GZ’s new best friend, Alan Clayson, and (scooptastically) George Duke and Ian Underwood – really nice to see them involved. Significant other things: crystal clear snippets of one of the Saturday Night Live performances (unlike those countless DVDs that flooded the marketplace a year or so back) and Ensemble Modern rehearsing stuff for The Rage And The Fury. One of the nice other touches is the Zappa-referencing excerpts from: Wagner's Valkyrie, performed by the RPO; Schoenberg and Rite Of Spring, conducted by Boulez; Holst's Jupiter by the LSO; and Once, At A Border (Tony Palmer's film about Stravinsky). It uses the list on the inside cover of Freak Out! as a touchstone, rather than taking us through it name by name – which would’ve been deadly boring to watch. If you enjoyed Chrome Dream’s previous FZ & The MOI In The 60s DVD, you’ll love this.
TONY PALMER’S FILM OF FRANK ZAPPA’S 200 MOTELS (Voiceprint Records, TPDVD127)
I guess we can forgive Palmer's lack of Zappa knowledge (for example, he doesn't know who Motorhead is, can't remember Jeff Simmons' surname, and thinks Herb Cohen was Frank's only manager and they never had a cross word), but not sure about his dismissal of Frank's orchestral works - especially when he adds some thing about McCartney being able to get away with it because he's a genius. Palmer does though point out some things you may not have noticed before (his nod to his pal, Kubrick; how some of the effects were achieved) and relays many interesting anecdotes from the making of the film. And it's really his commentary that makes this a must-buy DVD - you wouldn't get this on a ZFT-approved product, that's for sure. The quality of the film is maybe a little better than my old Warner Bros VHS videotape, but there's no discernible improvement in the sound. Shame. Also, the 16:9 aspect ratio appears to mean they've squeezed the image throughout so that little is chopped from the screen - so the camera adds more than 10lbs.
THE DRUMMERS OF FRANK ZAPPA: ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION AND PERFORMANCE (Drum Channel DVD Collection: Vol. One, DV10005801-H01)
Track list: Terry’s Intro And Ralph’s Audition/How Chester Got In The Band/Ruth’s Story Meeting Frank/More Stories And Chad’s Audition/Discussion Of Other Player’s Audition/The Black Page Of Frank’s Music/Playing In The Band/Performance. Total time: 140 min.
I imagine most folks have seen some of this online, but it's wonderful to have the complete thing collected together on one DVD - something I actually prayed would happen; thank you, Drum Channel! In the roundtable discussion, Ruth Underwood is easily the most endearing, and she brings along some of Frank’s sheet music for the others to marvel at. Chester Thompson and Chad Wackerman are both pretty modest, but have great tales to tell. Ralph Humphrey and Terry Bozzio come across as very eloquent (which is not to say that the others are dummies – far from it), and Terry keeps things moving apace. It's a real nice mix of informal reminisces - about: the 'clash of the titans' (the Mothers Vs Mahavishnu); scary in-concert auditions; learning Kung Fu and Approximate; hanging with Frank; Ruth's cocktail version of Freak Out!; playing quintuplets LOUD; Phil Collins trying to learn More Trouble Everyday; and lots of other really entertaining stuff. Terry reveals that the intro to The Black Page was ripped off of Tony Williams on the Stanley Clarke album. One of the highlights is undoubtedly when Ruth calls Chad “dear” (Chad told me, “Ruth is great. That's the first time I had a chance to speak with her.”)! The 42 minute ‘performance’ part (featuring all but Ruthie, sadly) is pretty cool: obviously Chester & Ralph built up a great rapport back in the day, and Chad & Terry have done many duet concerts together since; seeing all four men-in-black improvising together is sure fine looking, man.
STEVE VAI: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Favored Nations, FN2610-9)
Disc 1: Paint Me Your Face/Now We Run/Oooo/Building The Church/Tender Surrender/Band Intros/Fire Wall/The Crying Machine/Shove The Sun Aside/I’m Becoming/Die To Live/Freak Show Excess/Apples In Paradise/All About Eve/Gary 7/Beastly Rap/Treasure Island/Angel Food/Earthquake Sky.
Disc 2: The Audience Is Listening/The Murder/Juice /Whispering A Prayer/Taurus Bulba/Liberty/Answers/For The Love Of God.
I think we finally have THE live Vai doovdé. Much as I loved the Astoria and Sound Theories discs, and Steve’s performances in the G3 fillums, at times these all lacked a little extry something. This one seems to have it all for me: it features a great band (enhanced a goodly deal by the two violinists, whose Apples In Paradise duet is a delight) and is beautifully/professionally filmed; Steve doesn’t come across as too cloying or insincere, as he sometimes can (he even apologises for his James Brown jiving); and much humour is added by the between song sub-titles. Unlike many so-called music videos, you get close-ups of the band’s hands here, so all you musos can check what’s really going down (eg. on Steve’s delicate little solo that is I’m Becoming). And the sound is phenomenal. I saw this band live in London, and was lucky enough to be in the front few rows. This video puts you even closer to the band, and really makes you get up out off your seat and shake your thang – especially during Die To Live and Freak Show Excess, wherein Steve’s long-time on-stage foil, Dave Weiner, perfectly duplicates his master’s every note, and Keneally’s bass-boy, Bryan Beller, gets to strut his stuff. The fact is, these guys make it all look so easy and, perhaps more importantly, enjoyable. How anyone can smile and dance while actually performing this music is quite remarkable. The half-naked, heavily tattooed Jeremy Colson is also fun to watch: a bit like Placebo’s new drummer, he’s kinda cartoony. But an amazing player - his left arms swings mesmerize me. Treasure Island - an acoustic duet, with Jeremy wearing his portable kit - will make you smile. And the preceding Beastly Rap allows for some Frank-inspired banter. The truly great thing about Steve is that he takes his music very seriously and is always changing tack - simply refusing to rest on his laurels. Yes, we get some old favourites along the way, but they are always presented in new and interesting ways (aside from the violins, Zack Wiesinger adds his lap steel during the encores). The whole thing last over 3½ hours. Phew!
FRANK ZAPPA AND THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION IN THE 1960s (Chrome Dreams, SIDVD545)
This includes the last filmed interview with Jimmy Carl Black (sadly, I think I was the last person to actually interview him), plus new ones with Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Art Tripp, Billy James (ANT-BEE), Alan Clayson and Ben Watson. The archive footage used of Frank & the Mothers in the 60s is just shortish clips, used legally under review and criticism fair dealing provisions present in both European and American copyright acts. This, plus the professional editing and narration, make this a cut above the Music In Review DVD or any of those Edgehill/Classic Rock things. Yes, it's not an official ZFT-sanctioned documentary. But it's also not 'complete and utter bullshit', as someone who hadn't even seen it claimed at the Zappa Forum. In fact, it's really well put together and includes some footage I'd never seen before - of a young, clean-shaven FZ with Ray Collins - plus short extracts from a really good 'print' of the Steve Allen show when Frank played sister Candy's bicycle. Watching that, you can see the amazing resemblance between Frank and his oldest son.
FRANK ZAPPA: THE TORTURE NEVER STOPS (Honker Home Video, HHD 1221)
Track list: Black Napkins/Montana/Easy Meat/Beauty Knows No Pain/Charlie's Enormous Mouth/Fine Girl/Teen-age Wind/Harder Than Your Husband/Bamboozled By Love/We're Turning Again/Alien Orifice/Flakes/Broken Hearts Are For Assholes/You Are What You Is/Mudd Club/The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing/Dumb All Over/Heavenly Bank Account/Suicide Chump/Jumbo Go Away/Stevie's Spanking/The Torture Never Stops/Strictly Genteel/The Illinois Enema Bandit.
Extras: Teen-Age Prostitute/City Of Tiny Lights/You Are What You Is (promo).
Review coming soon. But it’s good!
THE MUFFIN MEN: MUFFINZ MOOVIES (2004-2005) VOLUME THREE
The saga continues, though this time there’s less chat
and more music. The documenta’y part covers two action packed years, and starts
with Roddie’s 50th birthday party which saw some old faces return
for a one-off gig in Liddypool. Fun to see Bammo, Rhino and Jumpy on stage
together again. There’s a return to
STEVE VAI: VISUAL SOUND THEORIES
Track list: Kill The Guy With The Ball/The God Eaters/The Murder Prologue/The Murder/Answers/Lotus Feet/I'm Becoming/Salamanders In The Sun/The Attitude Song/Gentle Ways/Liberty/For The Love Of God/Shadows And Sparks/Frangelica Pt. I & II.
Bonus features include: an Orchestra-only performance of Bledsoe Bluvd./an interview at De Oosterpoort with Steve Vai/feature length commentary with Steve, Michael Mesker and Jason Feinberg.
Saturday - August 04, 2007: chen unst (Germany); Team Zappa (Norway); Octafish (Germany); Kimono Draggin’ (USA); Sex Without Nails Bros. (Austria); Space Debris (Germany).
Sunday - August 05, 2007: Polytoxicomane Philharmonie (Germany); The Great Googly Moogly (Sweden); Jazzprojekt Hundehagen (Germany); Harmonia Ensemble (Italy); The Chad Wackerman Trio (USA); Good Bye till 2008 Session (all musicans).
Photos: From artists, crew, backstage, audience & festival ground.
From Christophe Godin And Mörglbl’s set (wrongly credited to Kimono Draggin’), they’ve included a snippet of his excellent Village Of The Sun outro (practically a new song in itself) and his wacky take on AC/DC’s Highway To Hell. This hopefully contrasts nicely with the CDs (see above).
FRANK ZAPPA: MUSIC IN REVIEW (Ragnarock Films, CRP2569)
Ben Watson told me, “They paid me a derisory fee [£150] to sit in front
of a drum set and answer questions read out by an accomplice paid a slightly
less derisory fee. I suspect a torrent of ‘opinion’ by second-string talking
heads in the manner of most current cheap docus. On the other hand, it does
have ME in it so it's obviously highly collectable.” Indeed. While
there is much to condemn about this (the fact that it only covers the period up
to Apostrophe (’), for starters),
there’s also much to commend it. Certainly I’ve seen worse; the Zeppelin Making Of A Supergroup DVD springs to
mind. And unlike that, there’s at least some ‘talking heads’ whose opinions you
actually respect and want to hear (hi
Ben!), as well as actual clips of yer actual subject (albeit grainy ones
from the Saturday Night Live 76 and
78 shows, Stockholm 73 and 68’s Colour Me
Pop). Melody Maker writer Chris
Welch met Frank in the late 60s, but otherwise has never exactly been a
prominent fan – indeed, he inadvertently
lets slip comments about “inflicting” this “dreadful”
music on people. He also slams the 200
Motels film as a “disaster”. Gem Howard-Kemp apparently worked for Frank
for three months on an early
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA DVD (Strobosonic, STROBO-D-100)
Disc One: Andy/Call Any Vegetable/Tell Me You Love
Debris/I’m The Slime/Pound For A Brown/Don’t Eat The
Yellow Snow/St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast/Father O’Blivion/Inca Roads/Eat That Question/I’m So Cute/Tryin’ To Grow A Chin/Punky’s
Disc Two: Black Page #1/Black Page #2/Regyptian Strut/Peaches En Regalia/Montana/Village Of The Sun/Echidna’s Arf (Of You)/Zomby Woof/Black Napkins/The Torture Never Stops/Oh No/Son Of Orange County/Trouble Every Day/Sofa. Bonus Material: Cheepnis/Interview with DZ.
Filmed with 12 HD cameras at the Rose Auditorium in
Portland and the Paramount Theatre in Seattle last December. The
FRANK ZAPPA: CLASSIC ALBUMS APOSTROPHE (‘)/OVER-NITE SENSATION (Eagle Rock Entertainment, EREDV625)
The first time I watched this I nearly dribbled, I was concentrating so hard. It’s a definite must-have DVD, featuring some tantalising - and not nearly enough! - studio footage (you can see them recording Zomby Woof and parts of the Yellow Snow suite); sped-up on the road shots; black and white film of a rehearsal with Ponty (playing Zomby); a short clip of Bianca Odin singing Dirty Love live in 1976; Kerry McNab in the studio now and then; and on and on. There’s lots of stuff not used on the records (vocals, studio chatter and such) heard when Joe Travers and Dweezil dissect certain tracks, and a wondrous segment of Ruth Underwood today showing us Frank’s beautifully handwritten score for Rollo Interior and playing a small part of the Idiot Bastard and an almost perfect section from St Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast on her marimba. Gail and three of the kids appear, so we hear Moon parley about being embarrassed by her father’s lyrics. David McMacken talks about designing the Over-nite artwork, and many of the musicians who played on these two albums (Ruth and Ian Underwood, Napi, Ralph Humphrey, Bruce Fowler, George Duke) look back at those times. Dweezil claims you can find “every aspect of Frank’s music squeezed into [these] two perfectly formed records”. The bonus material features longer extracts of Joe and Dweez at UMRK, highlighting the Ikettes contributions and a whole bunch of the ‘cool little elements’ from Dirty Love, Nanook Rubs It (including an edited out section) and Dinah-Moe Humm (where they both look amazed to hear Frank espousing the concept of the pigmy pony - so they maybe haven’t listened to the version on Have I Offended Someone?). There’s also the Zappa Plays Zappa band competently playing Camarillo Brillo in Joe’s Garage (with Napi resplendent in red Prawns With Horns t-shirt) and Montana from the Roxy (as per at zappa.com) and I’m The Slime by the In New York band from Saturday Night Live in 1976. If you’re still waiting for your copy to arrive, you’re in for a real treat.
ED SEEMAN PRESENTS FRANK ZAPPA & THE ORIGINAL MOTHERS OF INVENTION, 1967-1968 (Personal DVD)
A 40 minute psychedelic excerpt from 14 hours of
footage shot be Ed, this includes the Mothers (Billy, Roy, Don, JCB, Ian, Bunk,
Motorhead, FZ) live (at the Garrick Theater and Royal Albert Hall), in
Apostolic studios, and hanging around in London with Suzy Creemcheese (Pamela
Zarubica), groupies and Tim Buckley’s manager. There’s a nice sped-up piece of
Cal Schenkel making a Zappa dummy for the WOIIFTM sleeve with Gail and Ed. Like
Muffin Moovies 2, there’s also a meeting with Arthur Brown. There’s some nice
clips with Gail and baby Moon in Frank’s
MOOVIES TWO & THE MUFFIN MEN LIVE @ ZAPPANALE,
The documenta’y picks up where the last one left off and is indeed a very worthy sequel. I guess some might criticise the fact that there are very few complete live performances of songs, so for them there’s the entire performance from Zappanale #14. Also, this is precisely why Ben Watson’s contention that nobody really wants us talking heads (yes, me and him is both one) misses the point, because it is the heads that effectively tell the story of the band. Includes a segment on the excellent When Worlds Collide which can be viewed on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzUk9-McXs4
. Moovies includes a few bonus items, like the
travelling to and from Zappanale, as well as a chunk of their set with Jimmy at
the festival. There’s also a highly amusing interview by an unknown fan when
Jimmy met his old pal Arthur Brown on tour. The Arf Society’s Bands DVD from
Zappanale #14 used a very dark camera for much of the Muffin’s segment;
“luckily we had Esther (Leslie) standing in practically the same place, so we
replaced all the duff camera with our shot, plus we added an audience bootleg
camera for the odd angle or two” Roddie told me. And now this looks really
nifty. In all the excitement of hooking Napi up with the boys and travelling
all day to see them together in
UBin Twinz presents dErailRoaDed - InsiDe tHe MiNd oF LarRy ‘WILD MAN’ FiScHeR (Plexi Limited, 802 plexi)
I first saw this at the National Film Theatre in 2005, where we were treated to a Q&A session with the film’s producer, Jeremy Lubin. Jeremy told us that the project came about the day Fischer approached him in a restaurant, stared into his face and proceeded to tell him: he’d been named ‘Wild Man’ by Solomon Burke; had appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In; made an album with FZ; recorded a further three for Rhino Records; and sung a duet with Rosemary Clooney. Following such an intriguing introduction, a semi-believing Lubin (and his partner, the film’s eventual director, Josh Rubin) had a Google and found it was all true. They realised his story would make an interesting documentary and were amazed that no one had done it before. They later realised that no one else would have had the time and patience to complete it (as was the case with HBO). The mentally ill are not known for their predictability, after all. Filmed over a three-year period, this film shows Larry in his 60s convinced that Steven Spielberg wants him dead and others want to cut his dick off and throw it in the ocean. He remains convinced he’s the best rock singer in the world, while his mild mannered brother disagrees. The Wild Man Fischer Story is used to good effect at the start of the film - listening to that really had my bemused kids laughing. At one point, Larry claims that FZ wanted a son just like him but, having discovered him, Frank disowned him the day he smashed a bottle near baby Moon. Despite the subsequent acrimony (we see puppets re-enacting the scene when Dr Demento played an enraged FZ Larry’s song Frank live on his radio show), Fischer says the highpoint of his career was the concert he played with the Mothers at the Rosebowl. And footage of FZ (who Larry describes as a ‘good businessman’) from 1970 pops up a couple of times - as well as a more recent interview with Gail. It is indeed an interesting and engaging film, but it only scratches the surface of why Larry turned out a paranoid schizophrenic. He’s no Syd Barret-type drug casualty but, ironically, drugs are responsible for enabling him to lead a comparatively normal life these days - though robbing him of any artistic urge (or his ‘pep’). Whatever the reason, The Ubin Twinz should be applauded for their persistence. Long may this continue, but it looks like we’ll have to wait for a future special edition to hear Fischer’s initial reaction to the film (seems he’s still to pluck up the courage to watch it), as the audio commentary with Larry on this DVD is just some spliced together phone conversations with the Man. But there’s 49 minutes of bonus footage, including ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic singing Merry-Go-Round, and a nice extract from Dennis P. Eichhorn’s comic book. Now check out the Derailroaded MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/derailroaded)...
Firstly, I’m glad to report to fellow European denizens that this disc being encoded in the NTSC video format does not prevent me from playing it on my way old Region 2-only DVD player. So, yeah - it’s really region free, really free, really really free, really me...er. Anyone who saw Keane’s Bedshaped video will know that the influence of the amazing Mr Bickford lives on. Like me, Bruce has a thing about miniature things- Julie Sexburger says, ‘Just as well. K-yuk! K-yuk!’ But one of my favourite places on earth is the model village at Babbacombe. Fact - and so I can empathise with his love for the little guys he creates. And the smaller the better, so it would seem. He sincerely believes that animation is the single most important thing in the world. Here he states that Bill Gates should be ploughing his millions into animation studios, and that we should be making films about wars rather than actually fighting them. Sound. Computer generated animation appears to be beyond Bruce’s means, so it’s all really painstaking stuff. But he’s truly passionate about what he does, and what he does he does brilliantly. This film obviously features much of his work (with a great soundtrack by Shark Quest), but the subject of it is he and his father, George - a retired aerospace engineer suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease - who took his son to see Bergman’s Wild Strawberries when he was a kid and interviewed him about it the next day. (Bruce thinks you should just watch films - not discuss them.) Filmed at the turn of the century, in a way this reminds me of Crumb - though not so shocking or perverted, It is actually a delightful, at times quite profound, little film. Now pray with me that Bruce outlives the 255-year-old Chinaman; George passed away at the end of 2005 (so sadly me and Bruce have something else in common). This DVD has been released by Bright Eye Pictures in his memory. It features a bunch of extras, including deleted scenes and some previously unreleased BB animation clips. To get your juices flowing, here’s a photo from the Andre Cholmondeley Collection (circa. 2004), showing Bruce’s handiwork - ladies and gentlemen, it’s the 1973-74 band. [This is NOT featured in the DVD, but...]