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Frank Zappa - Buffalo CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.15 | 69 ratings

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4 stars This archival release from 2007 documents a complete (or nearly complete) concert by the 1980 Zappa touring band, around the time of You Are What You Is. And as unappetizing as that may sound to a Roxy and Elsewhere or Hot Rats fan, I think this just might be the best archival Zappa release yet to surface from the vaults. It's a hot performance (like really hot) by a highly underrated ensemble, has fantastic sound quality, features a generous helping of established and future Zappa classics, and Zappa's guitar soloing was at a peak. There's a good reason the late 70s and early 80s concert material generated not one but two guitar solo albums (the Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar series, and then Guitar a few years later).

First, two quick words: Vinnie Colaiuta. Probably the most explosive drummer Zappa ever had, and he truly explodes on this thing. Not content to just sit back and set the tempo, time and time again he throws in some crazy fills or rhythmic accents that continually push the band to its limit; in some other context this might be annoying, but with the stop-on-a-dime-omigod-what's-next nature of a Zappa show, this only serves to raise the intensity even higher. Just check out "Keep it Greasy" for proof.

The set list, though good, has few surprises. Beginning with "Chunga's Revenge", an instrumental guitar solo feature, one can already tell that this is an "on" night for Frank - he carries the solo a couple of minutes longer than he usually does as a result. Then we get a 3 song medley of vocal songs from You Are What You Is before hitting the crowd-pleasing "Cosmik Debris", which by 1980 had lost a lot of its charm and novelty. "Keep it Greasy", from the recent Joe's Garage album, is propelled to a new level by Vinnie's drumming. Faster than a speeding bullet, this one. "Tinsel Town Rebellion" follows, an early version of a song which would eventually appear on the album of the same name, and at this early stage it's still a pretty weak number. "Buffalo Drowning Witch" is the precursor to the later "Drowning Witch", at this point just a goofy scat-sung "meltdown" number which is nothing special but definitely a treat for fans. "Honey Don't You Want a Man Like Me?" gets a great rendition here, as does the new song "Pick Me, I'm Clean", which has a surprisingly long and exploratory guitar solo inserted in the middle. "Dead Girls of London", a song Zappa co-wrote for violinist L. Shankar, was a frequent set list entry in these days, and it's a short, catchy rocker. "Shall We Take Ourselves Seriously?" is a brief poke at cultural snobs, and the first set and CD ends with the majestic "City of Tiny Lites", extended to ten minute length by yet another dazzling guitar solo.

Set two opens with "Easy Meat", a song dating from the Flo and Eddie days (but never released as such), as well as the newly-fast version of "I Ain't Got No Heart", originally on Zappa's first album Freak Out. Both of these songs are similar to their performances on the later Tinsel Town Rebellion album. Then we get a mammoth marathon version of concert favorite "The Torture Never Stops"; at 23 minutes, it thankfully isn't just one long guitar solo, but several improvisational sections including a keyboard solo by Tommy Mars. Two punky tunes from Sheik Yerbouti follow, and these benefit greatly from Colaiuta's amphetamine charge. "Andy" brings us another welcome taste of Roxy-era material, a complex number with myriad shifts in direction and tempo, and polished off with yes, another great guitar solo. Maybe the best "Andy" I've heard. "Joe's Garage" and "Dancin' Fool" bring us back to fun vocal territory (I think Zappa was a bit wary of straying too far from the vocal material -- I think he sensed or thought that his audience was more into the "funny stuff"). Then we have a long monologue piece which is always fun to hear (hear it for yourself). And finally, a quartet of snappy numbers that close the show on an energetic note: "Stick it Out", "I Don't Want to Get Drafted", "Bobby Brown Goes Down", and "Ms Pinky".

No collection is complete with just one Zappa album, but I'd be tempted to say that if you're a fan of the earlier jazzy Zappa and just want one album to represent the late 70s/early 80s period, this is the one to get. You pretty much get it all here.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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