In mid-January of this year (1999), someone wrote up a very long post on the alt.fan.frank-zappa newsgroup that dissected this album, track-by-track, analyzing and pointing out things of interest to listen for. (As of Feb '03, that post could be accessed in Google's archive via this link: http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=77qtea%24kih%241%40cfs2.kis.keele.ac.uk - hopefully it's still around).
If I take the album one disc at a time, and read those notes while listening, I can kind of enjoy this set. Otherwise, this is just entirely too much guitar soloing for me. The same concept as Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar (an album of nothing but guitar solos extracted from live performances), this album is the harder of the two to sit through. It lacks the variation in tone and texture of "Shut Up" - most of these solos sound the same to me. Also missing are the little spoken-word bits between tracks that helped to break up the continuous stream of guitar playing on the previous album. Plus Shut Up... is nicely split into three bite-sized chunks of around 40 minutes each, while this album is two big slabs of guitar that last over an hour each. For some reason, the extra 25 minutes or so really test the limits of my attention span.
Anyway, back when I was first getting into Zappa, during one of my very first visits to the "Z" section of the CD store, I looked over this album and was amused by a lot of the song titles. In-a-Gadda-Stravinsky particularly caught my attention. The only thing that kept me from buying the album was that it was a double, and being a broke college student at the time, I couldn't afford it. Now I'm really glad that I didn't start out with this album, or I may never have gone back for more.
Still, there are some tracks that even a non-guitar-fetishist like myself can enjoy. I love how the bassline of In-a-Gadda-da-Vida collides with the guitar playing a melody from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring at the beginning of the above mentioned track. The song that kicks off disc one, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is also pretty good - an instantly likeable, blue-based solo. Watermelon in Easter Hay is a good version of that song - I prefer the studio version overall, but really like the way the song crashes down at the end of the live version. Cover versions of It Ain't Necessarily So and Saint James Infirmary Blues are nicely brought together by the final track.
A lot of the "spontaneous composition" aspects of this album are probably over my head, which is why I don't enjoy it as much as some folks on the Zappa newsgroup. For example, the track Republicans often gets high praise, and while I can appreciate its dark and sinister tone, the repetition of the same chord over and over for five minutes really gets on my nerves.
Basically, there's only about a half hour's worth of music that I really like out of the two and a quarter hours of music on these CDs. Still, it's worth having just for all the great names he gave the tracks (Frank must have been particularly inspired while coming up with names for this one), and for the very tasteful photos of Zappa performing his solos on stage. But unless you're a guitarist, or are just really into FZ's guitar playing, I'd say that this is an album that can safely wait until you approach the end of your Zappa collecting.