|Total Time: 2 hours, 20 min, 19 sec|
Buffalo follows the blueprint of the initial "Vaulternative" release, FZ:OZ - even the packaging is very similar. This two-disc set presents an entire, unedited 1980 concert from Buffalo, NY. The sound quality is good, without any of the "rough patches" that marred FZ:OZ. The band on Buffalo is Zappa on guitar, Steve Vai on stunt guitar, Ray White and Ike Willis on rhythm guitars (is that enough guitars for ya?), Tommy Mars on keyboards, Bob Harris on keys and trumpet, Arthur Barrow on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. In addition to the plethora of guitars, the entire band is also credited with vocals. That's a lot of singin' for a Zappa concert.
But despite all those singers, the concert opens with the instrumental warm-up of Chunga's Revenge. A nice performance of that piece leads into band introductions and a bit of audience interaction, and then the band launches into a fairly standard medley of songs from the You Are What You Is album. That's followed by a decent version of Cosmic Debris. A nice enough listening experience so far, but nothing really new for Zappa fans who own all of Frank's other albums.
That changes with the next track, Keep It Greasy. That song is played at insane, break-neck speed. I honestly don't know how Arthur Barrow got his fingers to move that fast, and Colaiuta's arms must have been blurs on the drums. To say that it's an impressive performance is a bit of an understatement. The version of Tinsel Town Rebellion that follows is also a little different from any that I've heard before. I'm guessing this is an early version - it has a kind of bouncy, loping rhythm to it, the chorus is a little different and it sounds a bit slower than usual (although after that Greasy, anything is going to sound slow). It also lacks the musical "example" quotes after lines like "leather groups" and "plastic groups", etc.
The biggest surprise of the album is Buffalo Drowning Witch, which sounds nothing like the song that was eventually released as Drowning Witch. The lyrics are very similar (although there are some extra lines, such as "And the pointed hat, well she's got water in that"), but musically the song sounds a lot closer to a Dangerous Kitchen type of improv. I believe I've read on the FZ newsgroup that these sorts of improvisations with pre-written lyrics were referred to as "meltdowns", but I didn't know that Drowning Witch started out that way.
Eventually the improv shifts gears and segues into a version of Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me that's fairly standard, apart from Frank forgetting the lyrics in a couple places. But the band soldiers on and eventually goes into a version of Pick Me, I'm Clean which Zappa extends out to a ten minute length with a guitar solo. The sound changes noticeably about mid-way through the track, as if they had to switch to a different source, but the quality is still good (in fact, possibly an improvement), so no big deal.
Disc one finishes with nice performances of Dead Girls of London, Shall We Take Ourselves Seriously? and City of Tiny Lites, the last of which is another solo vehicle.
The second disc begins with a fast-paced Easy Meat, which features (you guessed it) more guitar soloing after the big, composed keyboard fanfare bit. Frank's solo (that is him, isn't it?) is starts out sounding very atypical, with lots of repeated, fast-picked notes, but eventually settles down into a more recognizable Zappa style. After that song, the band then takes a quick detour back to the days of the early Mothers for Ain't Got No Heart, but then it's back to the soloing with a 23 and a half minute long version of The Torture Never Stops. That's right, it's over twenty three minutes long. As if we didn't already have enough "Tortures" on various live albums. Actually though, even though I'm not a big fan of the song, this one does showcase nearly everyone in the band, with solos handed out to guitars, keys and even the drums. There's another one of those "sonic shifts" near the end of the track that would seem to indicate a change of tape reels or something.
From there on out, the concert focused on Zappa's then-recent (and upcoming) albums, with lots of tracks from the Sheik Yerbouti, Joe's Garage and You Are What You Is albums, plus a trip a little further back to One Size Fits All for a spiffy performance of Andy (which is actually the last song of the main concert - all seven tracks that follow it are encores). The encores feature a fairly solid selection of performances, but not much the hard-core Zappa fan hasn't heard before. Well, except for The "Real World" Thematic Extrapolations, which is basically just Frank stretching the song Dancing Fool out with a story about discos, dancing, downers and a nurse and her ugly girlfriend who are into S&M. Funny the first time or two, but after that it's nine minutes that you'll probably skip. Stick It Out, like a lot of the material taken from Joe's Garage, is played at lightning speed.
Overall I'd recommend this album to fanatical FZ fans, but who am I kidding - they probably already have it. For the casual fan or the beginner, this certainly isn't a bad album - I'd probably take it over a couple of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore volumes, and probably over Tinseltown Rebellion. But there are better choices for beginners, so I'd hold off until you at least have the studio (and pseudo-studio) albums mentioned in this review. On the other hand, who knows how long these "Vaulternative" titles will remain available...