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Frank Zappa - Roxy & Elsewhere CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.37 | 359 ratings

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4 stars What I enjoy above all the many great things about this album is how naturally Frank Zappa's warm, witty, intelligent and very human personality shines right through. He was not only an extraordinary musical talent but also just a guy who liked to have a good time on stage with his band members and his adoring audience. These live recordings make me wish I could have seen this incarnation of The Mothers in the cozy confines of a smoky nightclub with no expectations of witnessing some kind of extravaganza of lights and props, just seizing an opportunity to hear a fantastic ensemble expertly playing music that they loved.

FZ starts things off with an oral briefing of what the song they are getting ready to perform is about (battery-operated "devices," it would seem) and, at the same time, establishing a casual, unpretentious mood for the entire show. "Penguin In Bondage" has a slow funk feel and you get a nice, long dose of FZ's unique guitar stylings that will not remind you of any other guitarist. He was grandly different. Next on the bill is "Pygmy Twylyte," a song about some poor fella who abuses both uppers and downers and is "hurting for sleep in the Quaalude moonlight." It's a very tight rocker that shows off the various vocalists' instinctive coordination. A sort of soul jam ensues titled "Dummy Up" (a playful poke at James Brown) that features saxophonist/flautist Napoleon Murphy Brock's raspy singing voice. He utters some ad-libs about walking down the street in his hat before encountering a sly pusher (rhythm guitarist Jeff Simmons) who wants him to try smoking a white gym sock wrapped inside a high school diploma. Weird? Not at all. In FZ's world there's nothing weird about that. During the intro to "Village of the Sun" FZ wistfully relates that the tune was written for Palmdale, the California town he grew up in. The song is a smooth, urban MOR ditty with close harmonies that could have easily been covered by Earth, Wind and Fire if it weren't for lyrics that refer to the city's notorious turkey farm which emits an odor that can "take the paint off your car and wreck your windshield, too." This leads directly into back-to- back instrumentals that allow the incredible talents of the musicians to stand out. "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" has some incredibly fast unison riffs streaming from the horns and Ruth Underwood's punctuating vibes. It's a highly complex score containing a myriad of moods and changes that rival fusion pieces from groups like Return to Forever. "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" is a continuation of excellent music with Bruce Fowler getting a chance to show off his impressive trombone skills along with George Duke pounding out a nice ride on electric piano. Later the double trouble drum duo of Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey fiercely duel back and forth with some rapid-fire solos that top it all off like cherries on a sundae.

FZ next gives lip service about his undying love of low-budget monster movies before launching into one of my all time favorite Mothers' songs, the LOL funny "Cheepnis." This is a prime example of a Zappa epic-scale production that not only entertains but enlightens. In a nutshell FZ narrates this horror story about a giant poodle dog named Frunobulax (who sports a great big slimy, hairy poodle thing) that the National Guard is attempting to lure into a cave so they can destroy it with napalm. Much like he did on classics like "Montana," "Cosmik Debris" and "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" FZ utilizes the imagination of the whole band to embellish the story with inventive musical segments and hilarious vocalizations. It's not to be missed. "Son of Orange County," a cool, sexy jazz number is about former President Richard M. Nixon ("I am not a crook") and it's a hoot. The repeating chorus of "I just can't believe you are such a fool" comes complete with pig snorts and a wild, out-of-control, distorted guitar lead from FZ that will curl your toes. "More Trouble Every Day" is an energetic, driving version of this song that originally appeared on the '66 "Freak Out" album and it's a barnburner. (In 1977 when I heard Chester Thompson and Phil Collins use the signature drum pattern from this rendition at the end of the live version of Genesis' "Afterglow" I nearly fell out of my seat! I'd been air-drumming to it for years.) Along with some creative sound effects from the boys in the band, FZ delivers a rip-your-head-off guitar solo to treasure for all time to come. In the preamble to the long closer, "Be-Bop Tango," FZ tells the group to be extra sharp because he wants to get the notes perfect and the song is, as he admits, "a hard one to play." After a dense, intricate beginning Bruce Fowler steps forward once again to wow everyone with more exemplary trombone work before FZ takes over as the emcee for a maniacal dance exhibition. While some may find the extended interaction with Lana, Brenda and the entire audience as they attempt to physically interpret Duke's insane vocal-with-piano scatting tedious, I beg to differ. I find it to be a true reflection of the Mothers' ability to not take themselves too seriously. Besides, you can tell the crowd is loving every second of it. The album fades out to the strains of a thumpin' blues shuffle and I'll bet everyone in the room was dancing.

There will never be another Frank Zappa. Sadly, we lost the only one we'll ever have way too early. There's been no one like him before or since and that makes this recording even more special because this kind of intimacy between a band and their fans just doesn't occur often in today's world, if ever. If you cherish the mirthful side of this musical and social icon then this album is a must have for you. Rest in peace, Frank, we miss you. The world's a darker place without you in it.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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