Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Prog Rock Guide to the Project/Object - The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life

If there is one thing I regret in my life it would have to be never attending a Frank Zappa concert. Thankfully there are many other things I regret in my life. Too many. Oh Jeez do I have regrets... sad convoluted mutated confusing regrets. So this is somewhere on a large sprawling list of many regrets. I won't disclose the rest of them here since, well, who cares? Besides me, they are my regrets after all. So mind your own damn business!!!

err....not sure what provoked that....moving on

Either way, the title of this 1991 release rings incredibly true to me. I never got a chance to hear this specific incarnation of Zappa's touring band (or any of his bands for that matter since I was either not-born of in diapers). Neither did many people apparently since the tour was canceled early on. Apparently there was just too much in-fighting and band member politics. Poor old Frank got very fed up with it all and was saying at the time that he never wanted to go on tour with a rock band ever again. Of course, we know now that he passed away shortly thereafter so he wouldn't even have the chance if he changed his mind. At any rate, the title to this live album, documenting some of the 1988 tour (his last), is apt for plenty of folks out there.

The reason I'm suggesting this as a launching point to a new fan's Zappa discovery is complicated and controversial. I am pretty sure that, regardless of what other Zappa freaks may believe, Frank specifically created a beginner friendly compilation from his extensive recordings from the 1988 tour. What I mean by this is that the track selection compiled here contains his more 'listener friendly' compositions. With the exception of 'The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue' near the end of the album (and "A Few Moments With Brother A. West", who wants to listen to that? Very dated American political satire...), there isn't anything too avant-garde or atonal here. The focus is on tracks like Cosmik Debris, Zomby Woof, Inca Roads and The Torture Never Stops that are all showcases of Frank's humour, instrumental complexity, guitar skill and ability to just write catchy melodies.

Again, the title of the album hits the nail on the head. This is not only one of the largest bands Frank ever assembled, but absolutely jaw-droppingly skilled as well. If you are not familiar with Zappa's music then you can check out the cover tunes included here to get an idea of just how tight this band was. Ranging as far as Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire to Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze, you quickly can recognize how painstakingly well rehearsed this band is. (I've read that Zappa rehearsed this band for six months before starting the tour) Just listen to the album's closer, a cover of Led Zeppelin's overated 'epic' Stairway to Heaven. Jimmy Page's infamous guitar solo is performed by the brass section almost note-for-note. If that doesn't give you a picture of just how skilled these musicians were, and also an idea of Zappa's creativity as a musical arranger, then you may never understand music in general. In fact Zappa's arrangment of Ravel's famous Bolero may have much of the same affect. It's a stirring rendition that tends to send shivers down the spine of unsuspecting listeners.

The only thing that may impede your enjoyment of this album are the dated references that show Zappa's strong political opinions in the late 80s and may confuse you now in the almost 2010s. You see, there was this televangelist named Jimmy Swaggart and....ah forget it. If you really want you can read this wikipedia article and understand what exactly they are going on about in the 'Swaggart Versions' of songs on the second disc. Just understand that as rehearsed and tight as Zappa's touring bands were, Frank always insisted on creating an air of improvisation and unpredictability at his concerts, and this could include changing the lyrics to songs on the spot. I just ignore these now dated references and enjoy the music being played because that's really what it's really all about.

All in all, this album is a showcase of Zappa live. The musicianship is simply increadible, the brass section sounds really cool (check out the opener Heavy Duty Judy or Let's Move To Cleavland), the guitar solos are mighty impressive (Zoot Allures and The Torture Never Stops Part Two) and the whole thing is just lots of fun to listen to as a whole. The way it's structured makes it sound as though it is one continuous concert, but in fact is carefully collected and edited by Frank from throughout the 88 tour. I'm pretty sure he was going for a 'listener friendly' experience here so his more adventurous instrumentals and cruder lyrics are ommitted on this release. For all these reasons I'm pretty sure this is an excellent place to start your Zappa adventure.

On the next installment, we are going back to the early 70s to explore the forgotten Prog Rock classic "One Size Fits All".

No comments: