You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 5
Rykodisc Records, 1992
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/1998
When any artist releases something that is supposed to define their career, there will almost always be moments that are stellar and moments that are forgettable in the set. All year long, we've been looking at Frank Zappa's six-volume, 12-disc career retrospective You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore... and I think it's safe to say that Volume 5 (hereafter referred to as YCDTOSA5) is the portion of the set that is the most forgettable.
Each disc is dedicated to two separate periods in Zappa's touring band history. The first disc focuses on the Mothers Of Invention in its earliest form (from around 1965 to 1969). Looking back at this period in the band's history, including such noted members as Lowell George (who later went on to front Little Feat), this should be a disc that holds a lot of promise.
Instrad, it's got a lot of outtakes from the band's time together (see the two cuts of "JCB & Kansas On The Bus," "A Game Of Cards" or "My Head?" as examples), many of which seem to be lost without visual images to help tie things together. Likewise, the piece "Mozart Ballet," which Zappa tells us in the liner notes included a rubber chicken being strangled on stage and Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience) being picked up and collided into another Mothers band member. Well, that's all great on paper, but some of us would have maybe liked to have seen these actual performances, 'cause the audio only just isn't the greatest translation.
It's also song selection that causes this first part of YCDTOSA5 to suffer. Half-assed efforts like "Right There," "Chocolate Halvah" and "Underground Freak-Out Music" all sound horribly dated, and are almost uncomfortable to listen to. Granted, it would have been easy for Zappa to have thrown together a disc of only songs that people knew - I probably would have been harsh on that as well - but some of these songs almost were better left in the archives.
And it's not that this first disc is worthless; songs like "The Downtown Talent Scout," "Trouble Every Day" and "Baked-Bean Boogie" show just how good this band was when it was firing on all cylinders. I also liked what sounded like the single version of "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama".
If disc one was uncomfortable, then disc two, which features live performances from Zappa's 1982 band, can be compared to a condemned man sitting in the electric chair. Zappa often sounds like he is so tired of playing these songs that he rushes through them, not caring about quality. He also sounds the angriest I think I've ever heard him on record; "Dancin' Fool" is not delivered in a satirical style.
What makes me the most uncomfortable is Zappa's sudden ending to the show in Geneva (due to the audience throwing things at the band; Zappa pulled the band off the stage for their safety). Again, such a selection lives up to the set's title, but to actually hear a concert being ended on an abrupt, angry note, is filled with tension even today, 16 years after the ill-fated show. I don't know why, but I can't defend this track's inclusion on the set.
And while Zappa claims in the liner notes that the 1982 band could play beautifully, this disc isn't a prime example. Tracks like "Easy Meat," "What's New In Baltimore?" and "A Pound For A Brown (On The Bus)" just don't have the same heart and soul that I've come to expect from Zappa releases. It almost was like the band's heart just wasn't in the music - gang, it shows clearly on this disc.
YCDTOSA5 is a disappointment overall, even though it has some moments that show why Zappa should have been hailed as a greater genius in his lifetime than people gave him credit for. Unfortunately, this set also proves that Zappa and his band were indeed human, and all humans have bad days on the job. Of the five volumes we've checked out to date, this is the one that could have easily been left out, and should be the last one you consider buying.
In December, we'll wrap up our look at this series.