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Frank Zappa - Roxy & Elsewhere CD (album) cover

ROXY & ELSEWHERE

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.38 | 235 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Dang, now this is a great live album! Well, let me hedge that a bit: most of the album is taken from a 1973 live performance at The Roxy in Hollywood, but this material was so extensively overdubbed for release that it can just as well be considered a studio album. The remaining three tracks, however, are "pure" live performances taken from various road tapes, without any overdubbing, so I guess that when it all adds up, this album should be considered a live one. Basically. What really matters, though, is that it's a great album, and except for a nearly 17 minute mistake at the end (which knocks it out of contention for best Zappa ever), this is arguably the most brilliant synopsis of Zappa's greatness available.

Of the three "pure" live tracks, two of them are among the album's biggest highlights. "Son of Orange County" is a fabulous adaptation and expansion of "Oh No" with elements of "The Orange County Lumber Truck," and it has a neat gimmick in the way Frank and Napoleon so strangely sing *I I I* in "I I I just can't believe that you're such a fool." It has great moody guitar work, too; it's a pity that Weasels couldn't have had a longer "Oh No" performance on it. There's then an immediate segue into "More Trouble Every Day," a slow blues reinterpretation of the great FO! original. It's tough to say which is better, this or the original; the flurry of words in the original still gives me an incredible rush, but man, there's just so much cynical passionate intensity in this slow version that there are a lot of days where I'd have to give this the nod (and oh man, Zappa playing the blues is just way too incredible). The third is mostly a rhythmic comedy skit with a funky background (except for the first minute and a half that actually has Napoleon Murphy Brock singing as opposed to talking), but unlike such things in the Flo and Eddie years, this one's actually funny, mainly because it has nothing to do with sex (it's about one band member trying to entice Napoleon into first smoking a high school diploma and then a college degree in order to get smart and high). It's relative filler on the album, yes, but it's a lot of fun, so I don't really mind.

So that leaves the other seven tracks, the first six of which are AMAZING on the whole. The centerpiece is the four minute "Echidna's Arf (Of You)," immediately followed by the ten minute "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?," which taken together essentially make up a rock/jazz/funk/neo-classical/WHATEVER symphony that features more interesting melody and rhythmic twists and turns than I could have imagined before ever listening to them. To say that this is complicated is to say nothing, but that's hardly the sole reason I adore this pairing; after all, say, The Grand Wazoo had lots of complicated parts too, and much of that album bores me. Nah, what gets me is the combination of the immaculate precision of the guitars and keyboards and brass and percussion in nailing every single one of these shifts and calls-and-responses, on the one hand, and the sense of hot, sweaty energy that goes into their performances, on the other, which completely removes any sense of this music being played by a soulless machine. Of course, knowing that this was overdubbed kinda spoils the fun a whee bit, but whatever; it's still sheer brilliance from a composition point of view, and it entertains me like mad to boot. Heck, even the extended percussion sections work here!

The other four tracks (again, the fifth will be dealt with later) aren't as great as this pair, but they're still a blast. "Penguin in Bondage" is introduced by Frank giving a hilarious monologue about S&M equipment (made hilarious not due to the subject matter, but rather because of how he's able to make his subject matter so obvious despite admittedly "circumlocuting" the topic to avoid getting censored), then goes into a jazzy, bluesy, funky piece that blasts, say, "Dinah Mo Mum" into oblivion. The following "Pygmy Twylyte" is just two minutes or so, but it features an AWESOME guitar sound over some great rhythm work, so it's nowhere close to filler. "Village of the Sun" is relatively close to a "normal" song, at least as normal as anything on this album can be, and features a passionate Brock delivery about a place in Palmdale where people raise turkeys and the air is bad. And finally, "Cheepnis," which has another hilarious monologue introduction about bad monster movies, has lyrics about, well, bad monster movies, which take the form of a little play about a Giant Poodle Monster over a fun tune with a great "chorus" melody. To say entertaining is to say nothing about this.

So why only a ****? It's because, as well as it conveys the absurdity of Zappa concerts, and as funny as it might have been to see in person, 17 minutes of "Be Bop Tango" is just way way too much. There are some funny spoken moments, and the concept of having audience members dance on stage to Duke's scat singing is amusing, but 17 minutes??!! I actually liked this track the first time I heard it, but on listen two, the novelty value was exhausted, and my goodwill was gone. Arrrgh, and to think that if he left this off and (maybe) cut out "Dummy Up," he could have had a rock solid single live album that would be one of the greatest things I'd have ever heard in my whole life.

Still, this album is a MUST for any Zappa fan, and the most vitally necessary album he'd made (to this point) since the glorious pinnacle of Burnt Weeny Sandwich. Take away the lowest point, and you have as solid of a ***** as one could ask for from the man.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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