Frank Zappa - Chicago '78 (recorded 1978, released Nov 2016)

Disc One
Chicago Walk-On   1:20
Twenty-One   8:26
Dancin' Fool   3:29
Easy Meat   5:41
Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?   4:21
Keep It Greasy   3:41
Village of the Sun   9:15
The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing   3:29
Bamboozled By Love   8:32
Sy Borg   4:36
Disc One Length: 52:49
 
Disc Two
Little House I Used to Live In   9:38
Paroxysmal Splendor (includes: FZ & Pig / I'm a Beautiful Guy / Crew Slut)   7:14
Yo Mama 12:28
Magic Fingers   2:37
Don't Eat the Yellow Snow 18:36
Strictly Genteel   8:25
Black Napkins   8:01
Disc Two Length: 66:58
 
Total Time:    1 Hour 59 minutes, 47 seconds

If you're a big fan of Zappa's guitar playing, this live recording from the vault is just what you're looking for. It features Ike Willis on vocals and backing guitar, Denny Walley on slide guitar, Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf on keyboards, Ed Mann on percussion, Arthur Barrow on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and, of course, Frank Zappa on lead vocals and many guitar solos. Sound quality is very good - the liner notes mention that the album was compiled from sources that varied from half-inch 4-track masters to a cassette recorded off the soundboard. You'd never know it from listening to the album though, it all sounds as good as any other Zappa live album.

After opening with an odd collage of pre-recorded audio snippets similar to the bits that glue together the tracks on Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar, the album launches right into Twenty-One, a guitar showcase with a convoluted backing track that I'm assuming is in the time signature of 21/8 (I tried to count it, but kept getting lost). How that piece never ended up on any of the guitar showcase albums that Frank released is a mystery - it's that good.

Unfortuately after that opening gem, the album falls into the "crowd pleasing" songs that long-time Zappa fans have already heard hundreds of times like Dancin' Fool, Easy Meat, Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me, etc. The performances are good and there are some nice guitar solos, but...I really, really didn't need yet another version of these songs.

Towards the end of disc one the program starts to include some rarer stuff. Is this the first official live release of Sy Borg? Or Little House I Used to Live In? I'm not positive about that, but after those other set list standbys, it's great to hear some less often played songs. We also get a nice Yo Mama and there's the medley that's oddly titled Paroxysmal Splendor with opens with a chunk of Greggory Peccary (for some reason renamed as "FZ & Pig").

There's also a lengthy version of Village of the Sun that features lots of vocal improvisations by Willis and some nice slide guitar work from Walley. On the other hand, we have to endure another 20 minute long version of Don't Eat the Yellow Snow.

OK, I'm making it sound like I hate this album, but it's really not that bad. Like I said off the top, this one's mostly for fans of Frank's guitar heroics. Complete shows from the vault are something that the hard-core fans have been asking for, and with that comes repititions of songs we've heard dozens of times before. No way around it. But other recent releases have shown that there's still stuff in the vault that we haven't heard a bunch of times before, so I'm personally hoping more of that stuff comes out, and comes out soon. Frank's fan base isn't getting any younger.

Speaking of which, if any old-timers from alt.fan.frank-zappa are reading this and remember the great debate about whether the line from Magic Fingers is "try me on for size" or "try me on both sides", on this recording it definitely sounds like the former to me. I never thought "try me on both sides" made much sense anyway.

Album Cover

Image of the Chicago '78 album cover