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Frank Zappa - Ahead Of Their Time CD (album) cover

AHEAD OF THEIR TIME

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.26 | 61 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Oh man, what a bizarre live album (at least, the first half of it is). This is a complete recording of a relatively short live performance (Frank mutters something near the end of the band having to leave early to catch the subway before it closed) that The Mothers put on back in 1968, and while Frank claims in the liner notes that the overall performance was just fair, it's definitely a fair performance that deserves to be heard a few times by any fan of the group.

The primary attraction of this show lies in the first half, which includes 14 members of the BBC symphony playing some weird chamber music pieces that have a really bizarre half- improvised play built around them. The summary given by Zappa in the liner notes is essentially that a civil war breaks out within the group over what the band's direction should be, which causes factions of the group to go in different directions. Three of them leave out of protest over another's desire to play wacky crazy electronic music, and go off to form a "well disciplined" group consisting of themselves and the 14 BBC symphony members ... as robots. Meanwhile, Motorhead wants into the group, but they don't want him because he can't read music, so he proceeds to try and sneak in through other means. Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) then declares to the others that they'll never get laid playing music like that, and that if they want to get laid they gotta play rock'n'roll music and drink beer. The story goes into weirder territory as the evening goes on, but suffice it to say that some of the other features include Black dressed as Jimi Hendrix and Roy Estrada dressed as the Pope (!!!). I will definitely admit that it hurts quite a bit not to have the visual side of this play easily available (it's included in the Uncle Meat movie, but that's not a very easy find, nor very watchable overall, or so I'm told), and as the lines of dialogue start to thin out and the chamber music itself starts to take over, I do find my attention drifting a bit. Still, it's an extremely funny listen for a couple of runthroughs, even if it doesn't have much replay value beyond that.

The second half, then, is basically a "normal" Mothers of Invention performance, and it's got its ups and downs. "King Kong" eluded me the first listens, but eventually this shortened portion at least became as interesting as the studio version. Everything else in the first portion of the second half, except for the brief "Help, I'm a Rock" blurb, is just far too unmemorable and not interesting enough for my tastes. On the other hand, though, I'm sure not offended by any of it either; I enjoy all of it plenty while it's on, even if I inevitably end up treating it mostly as background noise (and, come to think of it, I remember "Pound for a Brown" having some pretty terrific guitar passages). The second half of it, then, is a blast, a perfectly segued medley (all instrumental, of course) of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," "Harry, You're a Beast" and "The Orange County Lumber Truck" (divided in two parts with "Oh No" sandwiched between them; these would eventually make their way onto Weasels Ripped My Flesh). The last of these, which closes the show, is an absolute blast of lovely jammy jazziness, built around a simple and pretty theme, with great sax and guitar solos all around. And besides, it actually has a real groove to it; go Jimmy Carl Black!

So that's your archive release. I kinda wish there were real pictures from the play portion in the liner notes instead of all these drawings, since that would help make the first half come to life for me in a better way than it actually does, but that's just a fairly nit-picky complaint. If you're a M.O.I. fan, and especially if you love the jazzier "King Kong" type of stuff more than I do, you'll want to pick this up very quickly.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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