** WARNING: this review is entirely too long and ponderous. Sorry about that. **
Edinboro State College, Edinboro, PA
May 8, 1974
Tape rip by BengoFury
FZ, Jeff Simmons, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson, Ralph Humphrey,
Napoleon Murphy Brock, Don Preston, George Duke, Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler.
Yes folks, this is the show that was used for the 'not-recorded at the Roxy' parts of 'Roxy and Elsewhere'.
Sound Quality: it's a soundboard recording, but not a fabulous one. There is very little high-end; the hi-hat cymbals are but a distant hint of fizz. The vocals and other instruments come through very clearly, but the mix is somewhat odd and unbalanced. Stereo separation is excellent. There is a raspy quality to the right channel (perhaps a loose snare?); it is not unpleasant, but it is noticeable. The loudest parts tend to over-saturate, but overall it is a nice warm sounding recording. B+
The show starts with some questions and requests from the audience, mostly about where former band members are and such. Cosmik Debris gets off to a rocky start with several wrong notes, but quickly settles into a nice extended version with a round-robin solo section. Don Preston is a great addition to this lineup; his synth solo starts off normal enough but about half-way through it, takes a serious detour into the land of WTF WAS THAT. More silliness comes in some mutated lyrics to finish the song, and it's obvious the band is in a good mood.
Then Frank rocked my world. Hard.
Pygmy Twylyte is the next song; it must be heard to be believed. This is the funk. The deep funk. I mentioned the unbalanced mix already; the horn section is very forward in the mix, which puts all of their great fills and stings in the evolving arrangement of this song up front and center. The rhythm section is playing the 1973 'shuffle' beat, and it is a perfect example of classic 70s funk played just right. The lyrics to this song are the same, until they get to the bridge- what is not yet 'Dummy Up' is instead an extended vocal improv scat about... 'Just Say No To Drugs'. Really. It's bizarre, but wonderfully musical, Nappy is just aces, and theres some very cool little throwaway guitar fills from Frank towards the end of this 'rap' section. Then the horns kick back in to close the song with a written jam that was sadly discarded from the final version of this song. I just love how this comes to an end; this is my favorite recording of one of my favorite Zappa songs.
Idiot Bastard Son is next, a nice contrast, with a pleasant mellow segue from the horns. Another great rendition of this concert staple; Napoleon's voice is in fine form. After that, there's the 'short' version of Cheepnis, and well, I don't really like this as much as the released Roxy version. The head of the song is the same (parts sound like they were used on Roxy), but the second half is not quite ready for primetime, with a lame 'big ol hairy monster' groove that goes nowhere for too long. The jam itself is very tight with some nice drumming pushing it forward, but the vocals just dont quite work. Maybe I just like the regular version too much. The recording is fairly distorted on the loudest parts of this, so that hurts the enjoyment of it as well.
What I like to call the 'rhumba' version of Inca Roads follows, and it starts with some great synth weirdness from Don Preston. Too much damn cowbell, but other than that, its a zesty fun version of this song, and the extra horns once again add an extra element to keep it fresh. The guitar solo is full of small surprises, and the start/stop nature of the vamp behind it is a nice change from the mellow spacewalks of the 1974 version. The closing section of the solo has a nice latin flavor which compliments the vaguely South American lyrics, sort of. The fast end trombone solo flies at about 300 miles per hour, and George keeps up the pace with some of his classic organ riffs that he makes sound so effortless.
Then comes the harsh reality of listening to live tapes - the nasty tape cut just as things are really smokin. We are suddenly in the closing section of Montana, missing most of the song.
Duprees Paradise starts with the usual George Duke spotlight, and once again the funk is on. Oddly enough, the vocal improvs are about Montana; perhaps they somehow knew we wouldn't get our recommended dose of Montana action today due to the tape cut. Did I mention that this is funky as all hell? Damn. Napoleon joins in for a bit of sax action on top of the layers of keyboards, and it's just wonderful. More vocal craziness ensues, leading to a complete meltdown. Then comes a composed section of music that isn't normally part of this song... yet another hidden Zappa song, buried in the midst of insanity. This comes screetching to a halt, shifting gears to cheezy cocktail lounge music without warning. "Maybe a little later we can get a bunny hop line going". Ha! Jeff then steps up for a cool solo over the cheezo-vamp and we haven't even heard the main theme of the song yet... The cocktail music keeps coming, with a Preston organ solo, more goofy stage chatter from Frank, some deliberately swank and cheesy horn solos; a classic rendition of this Monster song.
Good lord, we still haven't even got to the song itself yet! The Royal March from Aida (?) suddenly pops up out of nowhere, and it all comes crashing down in a big mess. Ahhh that soaring melody finally makes its appearance, and yet AGAIN, the extra horns add just that much more flavor. Napoleon give a nice peppery flute solo over the rolling bass vamp, briefly singing and playing the flute SIMULTANEOUSLY (yes!) not unlike Tommy Mars' infamous scat singing of the late 70's tours. Bass solo, more horn solos... man this just keeps going; the interplay between trombone (with a strange effect on it), bass and keyboards is very cool. Frank finally steps up to the plate to deliver a long solo that shifts been quieter noodles and some more funky wah-wah driven intense moments. The band keeps building layers behind this, without ever going overboard or getting lost in Frank's tricky licks. The final part of the solo ends with a distorted rock riff that sounds familiar, but i just can't place it exactly. Finally, the main theme returns and its all over. Whew. This 'song' was an entire concert in itself. It can't get any better than this, can it?
Of course not.
This was the "10th anniversary of the Mothers" tour, so they had some new arrangements of early Mothers tunes, strung together as a medley, which works much better than it should. A dull and thankfully brief 'It Can't Happen Here' leads into a nice rockin' version of 'Hungry Freaks', despite Nappy's peculiar method of singing through his nose on this song. 'Youre Probably Wondering Why I'm Here' isn't bad, but isn't particularly noteworthy either.
Tape cut number two happens here, and we are dumped into the end of 'Wowie Zowie', a song I could do without anyhow. This leads to 'Lets Make the Water Turn Black'; also rather half-assed, but the rhythm guitar playing is nice, and the horns are back to help fill out the sound.
The vocals on this song are rotated among the band, which eventually leads to some lyric mutations in 'Harry You're a Beast'. Fortunately things pick up here with a nice groove building up into 'Oh No' and "Orange County', which is partially the version from Roxy. That great screaming sax is here in all of its glory, and the wonderful 'More Trouble' from Roxy is also from this show, two more of my favorites.
The mix is different (duh), and it is interesting to hear a different perspective on these performances I know so well. The guitar solos in 'Orange County' and 'Trouble' are interesting; I suspect the ones on the record are mostly studio re-creations of select parts of these. Some phrases are recognizeable, but the bulk of the solos themselves are different. Camarillo Brillo closes out the show in a nice rendition that builds over a great organ jam from George. (Is there any other kind?)
Damn, I sure typed alot of words here. Much more than I planned to, but as you can see, I love this concert. What more can I say? This is one of my favorite live Zappa tapes. This lineup was a recent discovery for me; my other recording of this mini-tour was boomy, hissy and generally unpleasant to listen to, so I avoided it, favoring many of the other great 73 and 74 shows instead.
Don't you make the same mistake...