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Frank Zappa - The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life CD (album) cover

THE BEST BAND YOU NEVER HEARD IN YOUR LIFE

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.29 | 138 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Lots of fun! This is the second album depicting performances from Frank's 1988 tour, and unlike Hard Way (or the later Make a Jazz Noise Here) it's structured to resemble a "normal" concert. Whereas Broadway the Hard Way focused excessively on Frank's political commentary, this album strikes a terrific balance between Frank's tweaked sense of humor (which is still largely based in political and social matters) and a bunch of really great performances.

One thing that really stands out about this album is just how retro it feels in a lot of ways. The setlist basically pretends the 80's never happened; I don't know if Frank decided he didn't really like that material anymore, or if he had a major bite of the nostalgia bug, or if he felt that all of the political stuff in the Hard Way set should be balanced by more familiar material, but the setlist on here could have easily come from a late 70's show. The first disc ends with four tracks from One Size Fits All ("Florentine Pogen," "Andy," "Inca Roads," "Sofa 1"), all of which sound great here, and there are several other tracks that dip way back into the band's past. They even go so far as to revive "Who Needs the Peace Corp?" (immediately following it with a quick blurb of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"), complete with the infamous monologue, and it sounds freaking great. Other blasts into the past include: "Heavy Duty Judy" (one of the instrumentals from Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar); "Cosmik Debris" (from Apostrophe); "Find Her Finer;" "Zomby Woof;" "Zoot Allures;" "Mr. Green Genes;" "The Torture Never Stops;" "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" (from 200 Motels !!); "More Trouble Every Day;" "Penguin in Bondage;" and even "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (which bores me a little still, but I still think it's neat that it's included). Holy crap what a setlist!

Just as important as the setlist is the sound, or rather the makeup of the touring band. The biggest coup of this tour was the return of a full-fledged horn section, an aspect of Zappa's 70's touring bands that made those so enjoyable (and the relative absence of which was a major detriment to the mid-80's bands). Yes, there are still lots of clearly synthesized noises coming out of the keyboards and guitars, but they just don't seem as ominpresent as in recordings from a few years earlier. The horns are used with gusto and with great frequency, often appearing in largely unexpected ways (more later), and they definitely strongly contribute to the album getting such a high rating.

Of course, the high rating also comes strongly from the amusement factor. The humor on this album can be pretty neatly split into political humor and music humor, and both kinds are a riot. Apparently, during the tour Zappa would routinely alter the lyrics to various songs to give amusing commentary on various scandals and amusing events, and the topic of choice for these recordings was the Jimmy Swaggart sex scandal. As on Broadway, the focus on this specific scandal dates the album to a specific period, but at the same time the abuse and mockery foisted upon Swaggart is so intense that it becomes really hilarious. I'm not a big fan of the four minute monologue in the middle of the second disc, but other than that, hearing the group rip the ever loving piss out of him is just an awful lot of fun.

The musical gags are even better, though. There are a lot of short interludes in which the band plays snippets of 20th century music history, from the theme to "Bonanza" to the aforementioned "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and they only contribute to the goofy vibe of the whole. The main fascination lies in the full-fledged covers, though. In addition to a fine 6-minute rendition of Ravel's "Bolero," the first disc features a hilarious reggae version of "Ring of Fire," which was supposedly going to be sung by Johnny Cash himself until his wife got sick and he had to back out. The second disc kicks off with really strange covers of "Purple Haze" and "Sunshine of Your Love," voiced by Ike Willis in his Thing Fish voice and filled with effects like kissing sounds when Ike sings "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." Some might consider them blasphemous, but I find them great. And, of course, the honor of best track goes to the closing reggaish cover of "Stairway to Heaven," filled with yet more strange noises and instrumental effects, and culminating in the horn section doing an almost note-for-note rendition of the guitar solo. Led Zeppelin purists would probably find it appalling, but I love it.

In short, this is almost certainly Frank's best live album since Roxy, and a pretty essential part of any Zappa collection. Plus, as it's a document of Frank's final tour, I'm glad it shows that his shows were able to go out on a pretty high note.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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