Ever wonder what it was like to tour with the Flo and Eddie version of the Mothers? Well, here's your answer. On this album, the documentary side of Frank comes out in full force. We get to hear, in excruciating detail, exactly what it was like to be on the road with these Mothers. Zappa was known for always carrying a tape recorder with him, and this album is one of the results of that habit. Had he lived longer, we might have gotten albums like this for each of the Mothers line-ups.
Be forewarned that the sound quality on much of this album isn't exactly up to professional standards. More on the level of a pretty good bootleg. Given that it was recorded in the early 70s on a hand-held tape recorder, the low-budget sound is to be expected.
The album is divided up into several sections. The first 11 tracks of disc one go by the overall title Typical Day on the Road, Part 1, and follow the band from boarding an airplane to fly to their next gig through the moment they hit the stage. We hear a music industry weasel try to persuade them to participate in a lame "publicity stunt". We hear the soundcheck, and the band checking into their motel. We hear them in the hotel bar mocking the lounge band. We hear them approaching the place they're going to play, and "interacting" with the opening band. We hear them in the dressing room practicing the lyrics to Penis Dimension, and finally on stage interacting with the audience. This section of the album bores a lot of people, but to freaks like me who enjoy listening to these "behind the scenes" things, this is great stuff. Plus it's really funny in places - Flo and Eddie could have been comedians.
After that there's some music - the F&E band in action. I like the Zanti Serenade track, which sounds like the keyboard intro at the beginning of the Swiss Cheese / Fire! boot album. Other songs performed include Sleeping in a Jar, Wonderful Wino, Sharleena and Cruisin' For Burgers. There's also a little bit of the Sofa suite (called Divan here), but not nearly the whole thing. After the on-stage performance, there's what sounds like a dressing room blues jam, with Ansley Dunbar creating some fantastic rhythms using nothing more than a couple drum sticks, a table and a whiskey bottle, and Flo and Eddie improvising some semi-sarcastic lyrics over top. I really like this track, but many people seem to hate it.
The rest of disc one is given to a historic performance at the Fillmore East, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono sat in with the Mothers. This material had already been released on Lennon and Ono's Sometime in New York City, but Zappa was unhappy with that mix, and particularly unhappy that they renamed King Kong and took credit for writing it themselves. So Zappa put five tracks from that performance on this album. The first song, Well, is a bluesy number that Lennon used to perform with the Beatles during their early days. After that, things get looser and more experimental, culminating in a jam where everyone keeps chanting "Scumbag! scumbag!". The final track is six minutes of intense guitar feedback, with Yoko wailing away wordlessly over top. Take the title track to Weasels Ripped My Flesh and multiply it by three, and you'll have a good idea what this song sounds like.
Disc two begins with A Typical Day on the Road, Part 2, in which we follow the further adventures of the band as they tour. One interesting highlight is when Frank interviews the owner of the Edgewater Inn, scene of the infamous Mudshark incident (as documented on Fillmore East, June 1971). After that there is some more of the Flo and Eddie band performing on stage. There are good versions of Concentration Moon (including a bit of Petrushka), The Sanzini Brothers (including the "sodomy trick", although no one seems to know what that really was), Mom and Dad and Introduction to Music For Low Budget Orchestra. This all leads to what is probably the highlight of this album for many people - a huge, half-hour long performance of Billy the Mountain. Some fans feel this version is better than the one on Just Another Band From L.A. because it doesn't lean as heavily on inside references that only people living in L.A. would get, and because it contains a lengthy instrumental section.
The last part of the album is called "The True Story of 200 Motels", and probably ties in with the video of the same name (which I've never been able to find a copy of). Basically, we get to hear the behind-the-scenes things that went on during the making of the movie, including Jeff Simmons giving his reasons for quitting, and Martin Lickert being picked to replace him. It is also explained why Zappa expected to get the "worst reviews ever" for the movie.
All in all, the album's not bad. It's not one I listen to very often, but I enjoy it when I do give it a spin. If you're really into the Flo and Eddie years, you should like these discs. If the documentary side of Zappa isn't your cup of tea, or if lower than usual sound quality bothers you, you should probably skip this one.