|Total Time: 2 hours, 13 min, 54 sec|
This release is part of the Vaulternative series (which previously included FZ/OZ, Buffalo and Wazoo), each of which documents a single, full concert. The latest entry, Philly '76, is from a concert recorded at the Spectrum arena in Philadelphia on October 26th, 1976. The Spectrum, which used to host the Flyers NHL team, 76ers NBA team and various other concerts and events was recently "retired" and will soon be demolished in favor of a new shopping/dining/entertainment complex, so this release is nicely timed. If anyone is wondering what the small print comment "Honorary Mummer Service award to Pearl Jam, Halloween, 2009" in the liner notes is all about, Pearl Jam was the final band to play a concert in the Spectrum, on or around Halloween of 2009. The "Mummer" refers to a style of entertainment that is popular in Philadelphia in which grown men (and some women) put on glittery, elaborate costumes and parade through the streets on New Year's day playing banjos and other instruments in a grand display. It's actually pretty neat. But all that has nothing to do with this album...
Zappa's band line-up for this show featured Ray White on rhythm guitar, Eddie Jobson (of UK fame) on keyboards and violin, Patrick O'Hearn on bass and Terry Bozzio on drums. And, possibly the reason this particular concert was picked to release, another rare appearance by a female band member other than Ruth - Bianca Odin on keyboards and vocals. That seems to be a trend amongst recent releases (see Joe's Menage).
The concert is a pretty solid one from all perspectives. The song selection is maybe a tad predictable for a mid-70s Zappa show, but it includes some relatively rare songs like Manx Needs Women (which Zappa introduces as "Mars Needs Women") and a few Flo and Eddie-era songs (Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink, Would You Go All The Way, Daddy Daddy Daddy, etc). At the beginning of the show, Frank announces that Flo and Eddie couldn't be there because their guitarist had recently been killed and they were understandably not in the mood to perform. Whether they were going to perform with Zappa or as the opening act isn't made clear, but the appearance of those F&E-era songs make it seem like they were at least going to make a guest appearance with Frank.
The back cover of the disc case also identifies Chrissy Puked Twice as a rare song (that's what the little diamond after the song title is supposed to mean), but it's really just an early version of Titties and Beer with a different title and slightly different lyrics. Making its first (and probably only) appearance on a Zappa album is a cover of the 50s novelty song Stranded in the Jungle, which is probably where Frank got the phrase "Great Googily-Moogily" from. In case anyone is wondering what the years listed next to each song title mean, it's supposed to be the year that the song was first released, although why they identify The Purple Lagoon as being a new song from 2009 is anybody's guess.
It's hard to tell exactly how much of the keyboard work is done by Bianca Odin (versus Jobson), but her vocals are clearly heard in a few spots. She brings a whole new approach to You Didn't Try to Call Me and plays the Chrissy role with gusto, as well as bringing the female perspective to the groupie parts in the Flo and Eddie songs. But her finest moment is probably when she adds some Great Gig in the Sky style wordless vocalizing as her solo section in Black Napkins. Speaking of which, that song kicks off a half-hour long stretch at the beginning of disc 2 that features a ton of great musicianship, with solos from nearly every member of the band (if not all of them).
Some listeners might wonder why Frank mentions hockey so often during this concert. Keep in mind that he was playing in the building where the Flyers had recently won back-to-back Stanley Cups, so hockey was big in the Spectrum at the time. Frank seems like he's mocking the hockey fans a bit - as a long-suffering Flyers fan who wishes he had been old enough to have been there to see them win those Cups (not to mention wishing I had seen this Zappa concert), all I can say is screw you, Frank.
Anyway, this set is pretty much a must-have for serious Zappa fans. This is probably my second favorite of the Vaulternative releases so far (closely behind Wazoo), and the combination of great performances, rare songs and relatively undocumented band-lineup make this an attractive package. Here's hoping for more future releases in the Vaulternative series and fewer in the "Joe's" series...