|Total Time: 88 minutes, 20 seconds|
The liner notes call this a "guerilla" recording, but it actually sounds surprisingly good for a 44 year old low-budget recording. Not quite up to official release standards, but better than most of the Beat the Boots volumes. The mix is a bit harsh and everything sounds LOUD, but other than that, it's very listenable. This is the first recording in yet another new series of live recordings, although what distinguishes Road Tapes from the "Joe's" series or the Vaulternative series or any of the other series that Gail has dreamed up since FZ passed, I don't know. Actually, this 2-disc set has the Vaulternative logo in the liner notes, so I guess Road Tapes is a subset of Vaulternative. It probably would have been less confusing all around if they had just gone with You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 7, 8, 9, etc.
So what's on this recording of the original Mothers captured live in Vancouver in 1968? Well it starts with an intro from Frank and excerpts of the band tuning up and Zappa conducting the audience (the "Earnest Attempt" track), then launches into a lot of standards from the early Mothers days. One highlight is an early performance of Transylvania Boogie, blending directly into Flopsmash Musics, which seems to be a title that Gail made up for an improv that extended the Boogie. The track listing on the CD is a little confusing because it lists Help I'm a Rock and Transylvania Boogie as tracks 2/3, then has the remaining songs on the first CD as tracks 4, 5, 6, and 7. But the two songs are really put together as track 2 and all the remaining songs are mis-numbered by 1 (i.e. there are only six tracks total on the CD).
The 20-minute track titled The Orange County Lumber Truck is actually a mix of songs that Frank introduces as "a cheesy bandstand medley" that includes "instrumental themes from our smash/flop recordings" like "Let's make the Water Turn Black, Harry You’re a Beast, some stuff you won't recognize, some stuff from Lumpy Gravy and some more stuff you won't recognize".
The last track on disc one starts out with one of the Mothers (I can't tell which one - Don Preston maybe?) telling the story of his first music lessons, but it quickly devolves from there into all the Mothers telling different stories at the same time or just shouting out random phrases.
Disc two starts with Trouble Every Day which fades in right at the same spot where disc one faded out. But then about a minute into the song there's an odd edit where the music quickly fades out and we hear what sounds like a door closing, then the music fades back in with an oddly different "feel" to it. I'm guessing that's where one tape ran out and the next one started, but why bother with the weird edit - why not just put that first minute of the song at the end of disc one (and do away with the fade out after the music lesson story), then start disc two where the second tape began? I guess some listeners would be confused by that, but they could have explained it in the liner notes - the way it was done on the CDs seems confusing to me.
The track "Shortly: Suite..." was titled in that obscure fashion because Frank hadn't come up with the name Holiday in Berlin yet, and introduces this early version of the song under the title "Shortly". Following the piece, the band segues into a couple other familiar songs, and then into the fairly rare Oh, In the Sky. I've heard the song before on bootlegs, but this might be its first official release (I don't have the rest of the catalog here to check and confirm that).
But the real nugget on disc two is a live, rock band performance of Varese's Octandre. Although now that I'm listening to it, it sounds really familiar, like Frank probably snuck this in on one or two of his official releases but just didn't list it by its real name or credit it to Varese. Following the tribute to his musical hero, Frank has the band encore with a ten minute King Kong that wraps up the recording. At first Frank isn't sure that there will be enough time to play it, but the enthusiastic calls for an encore from the audience prompt Zappa to reply "I must say this is a rather unprecedented response to the bullshit that we do, so sit down and we'll play some more for you".
A lot of the material on this album is similar to the Ahead of Their Time album, but if you're a fan of the original Mothers it's probably still work picking this up just for the rarities. If I had to find a nit-picky complaint about the set, I'd ask why it had to be two CDs, when just a little editing could have trimmed it down to a single disc. That said though, looking at the set list and track lengths - I have no idea which song(s) I'd cut to make this a single CD.