You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 2
Rykodisc Records, 1988
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/26/1998
Today, we continue with our year-long look at You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, the six-volume set that can be considered the piece to own when looking to discover the many facets of the late Frank Zappa.
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 2 featured the only complete concert in the entire series, a 1974 show recorded in Helsinki, Finland. It's a strange choice for Zappa to have made, despite the fact it's a great show. But for the newer fan, some of this might be a little confusing.
Featuring many of the songs that can also be found on the live album Roxy And Elsewhere (one which I really should dig out and listen to again), Zappa leads this six-piece version of his band (featuring Chester Thompson on drums) through material that, as Zappa says in the liner notes, "they could probably perform... blindfolded." Given the level of complexity to the music, this boast is even more incredible - one wonders how they got through it even with sheet music.
Some of the selections on this set (referred to as YCDTOSA2) show how much fun the band was having at this point in the tour; stopping selections partway through the introductions and references to recent events in the band's activities (such as someone getting maced at the hotel) are common. Such events show that Zappa was reverent to music while thumbing his nose at convention. Look at how Zappa modified lyrics in "Montana," partially spawned by an audience member's request for the band to play "Whipping Post." (Zappa eventually did add the song to the band's setlist on occasion.)
Zappa's humor borders both on dry and obscene - just the way he liked it. The dialog portion of "Room Service" is a prime example - and it's very enjoyable, both for the comedic dialogue and the music. Of course, on better-known songs like "Stinkfoot," Zappa's sense of humor comes through in the song itself.
Whether you're pleased or offended at words, there's no denying that Zappa was one of the best guitarists who ever lived. His solos throughout the album captivate and mesmerize - it's hard to believe this man claimed he hired other guitarists to play what he couldn't.
Especially pleasing on this set is the inclusion of two numbers from Uncle Meat, a work that I don't think ever got the credit that it deserved. On that note, it is a little disappointing that one of the numbers that wasn't performed at this particular show was "King Kong," possibly the defining piece of jazz rock. Oh, well - there are other versions out there awaiting our discovery at some point in the future.
YCDTOSA2 gets a little difficult for newcomers in two areas. First, they may not be ready for the stamina some of the pieces require from the listener. The almost 24-minute long "Dupree's Paradise" requires a lot of patience to get through, but is definitely worth it. Likewise, some of the selections on the first disc, like "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" and "RDNZL" aren't always the easiest pieces to put a lot of concentration into - especially if you're not very familiar with Zappa's style and eclectic tastes.
But in the end, the quality of the music and the stellar performances win out - and if you're able to grasp Zappa's style of humor, then YCDTOSA2 will be most enjoyable for you. If you've never bought a Zappa album before and are looking for a place to start, this might not be the best place - but once you've gotten a taste of Zappa, this is the obvious next step. It's a great example of how good a band can be, and how demanding Zappa was of the musicians he hired. It's not a bad way to spend two hours.
Zappa was just getting warmed up in creating what would become the eventual retrospective of his career that no box set could ever match - oh, wait, there was a collector's "road case" that was sold for a while. (It's where I house all my volumes of this series.) And when we pick up exploring this set in June, we'll see to what further limits Zappa will push us.