|Total Time: 2 hours, 26 min, 41 sec|
This two disc archival set released by the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) kicks off their new record label, "Vaulternative", created specifically to release live recordings and rarities from the vault (Zappa left behind literally hundreds of hours of recordings, all currently residing in a storeroom under his house). Supposedly this is the beginning of a regular series of releases - I'll believe it when I see it. And should it turn out to be true, I hope the ZFT doesn't plan to continue the gouging of Frank's fanbase. After their exorbitant shipping fee was added to the already-too-high price, I ended up paying $40 for this set - then it took a couple weeks for them to process my order and a couple more weeks after that before the set finally arrived. And the extra cost wasn't for the packaging - the discs come in a flimsy cardboard slipcase that's black text on a plain white background, with a tic-tac-toe kangaroo design on the front and a silhouette of Australia on the back. A small-print covered paper insert lists endangered and extinct Australian flora and fauna on one side, and the names of all the people who pre-paid for the set and then had to wait months for it to come out on the other (ironic, because if the ZFT keeps treating the Zappa fanbase this way, eventually it'll be extinct too). But enough bitching about how difficult and expensive it is to buy the set and how long it takes to arrive - what about the music?
The sound quality is generally very good - a little below the general quality of most FZ releases, but much better than most bootlegs (a lot better than anything from the Beat the Boots series, for example). There are a couple short patches where the source tapes had gaps, and those are filled in either by brief (under 30 second) audience bootleg tapes or recordings from a Japanese concert with the same band line-up. The music pretty much fills both discs - in fact, they had to drop a few songs to get the concert to fit on two discs (I forget which songs were dropped, but they were all ones that are already well represented on Zappa's other live CDs).
The first disc starts off with a pre-recorded version of Naval Aviation in Art playing over the PA system while half the audience noisily yells at the other half to sit down (with some of the latter yelling back "stand up!"). I have no idea what the (Incan Art Vamp) part of the title is supposed to mean. After a couple minutes everyone calms down and the band launches into a fairly standard rendition of Stink-foot.
That's followed by a Poodle Lecture / Dirty Love similar to the one on the Stage series. Continuing the dirty theme, the band then launches into a mean performance of Filthy Habits.
Because this tour marked the 10th anniversary of the Mothers of Invention, the setlist included a couple medleys of early Mothers material. The first block of these songs comes next, and it's nice to hear them with decent sound quality, as opposed to the wretched sound of the same material on the Unmitigated Audacity Beat the Boots disc.
A great, long performance of the guitar vehicle Black Napkins follows, but then the disc heads into a lengthy stretch of tunes that not particular favorites of mine. Frank's description of the activities of The Illinois Enema Bandit are more detailed than usual - for example he mentions that the bandit intimidated his victims at gunpoint. But Zappa still sounds like he approves of the bandit's behavior, simply because he chose "college educated women" as his victims. I'll never understand how a guy as smart as Frank could be so violently opposed to the idea of college. Sure, he didn't need to go, but the self-taught approach doesn't work for everybody (I wouldn't want a self-taught surgeon operating on me, for example).
Disc one bottoms out with an audience-participation version of one of my least-favorite FZ songs, Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station (another shot at higher education). Then the disc closes with yet another version of The Torture Never Stops, this time featuring a harmonica solo from a local performer who apparently played some sort of Archie Bunker-type character on TV, thus explaining the racist remark he makes about Stevie Wonder.
The second Disc starts off with Canard Toujours, an instrumental that has nothing to do with the similarly-titled Canard du Jour that closes the Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar set. Instead, this track sounds like an early version of Let's Move to Cleveland. It segues directly into the only real previously unreleased song on the set, Kaiser Rolls. This three minute ditty is a sort of half-formed rock song with lyrics about an encounter with a "stumbler man". It's interesting as an unearthed rarity, but I can understand why Zappa never polished this one up and released it. Unfortunately, it contains one of the spots where the tape runs out and is briefly filled in by a poor sounding audience bootleg. To make up for that, a complete rehearsal version of Kaiser Rolls is included at the end of the disc.
The CD continues with a couple more take-em-or-leave-em type concert staples that are already well represented in the Zappa catalog, and then goes into another nice early Mothers medley (including a version of Lonely Little Girl with different lyrics than any other released version, and a fairly reggaeish version of Take Your Clothes Off...). The highlight of the album, as far as I'm concerned, is next - a long, excellent version of Chunga's Revenge (the first live version to be officially released, I believe) full of tasty solos from nearly everyone in the band. I particularly enjoy the keyboard noodlings, and even Bozzio gets in a drum solo. Just when I think the album can't get any better, the band follows Chunga up with a great, 13 minute version of Zoot Allures that includes a long, slippery sample-and-hold guitar solo similar to Ship Ahoy from Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar.
After those long instrumental workouts, the band heads into the home stretch by playing a rousing Keep it Greasy, then exits and returns for a spirited and good-humored three-song encore that begins with Dinah-Moe Humm (you can hear some guy in the audience yelling for it after every song towards the end of the set) and ends with a high-powered Muffin Man. A bit of fun after those smokin' instrumentals, and not a bad way to round out the concert. As mentioned above, a rehearsal version of the unreleased track (here titled Kaiser Rolls (Du Jour) ends the disc.
Overall this set is definitely worth having, especially if you're a hard-core Zappa fan or collector. It was a limited edition pressing - I think it was 5,000 copies, and when they're gone, they're gone. Last I heard though, it wasn't exactly selling like hotcakes due to the ridiculously high price, plus the fact that you could only get it through the ZFT's Barfko-Swill mail-order business (which doesn't have the best reputation for accuracy or timeliness). So Zappa beginners will probably want to start elsewhere, but long-time fans may want to grab this set ASAP.