Bongo Fury

Frank Zappa / Captain Beefheart

Rykodisc, 1975

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


As difficult as trying to predict the next musical move Frank Zappa was going to make was, one has to wonder what brought about the short tour that Zappa did with his longtime friend Captain Beefheart, and how it ended up in their sole credited release together, Bongo Fury. (This disc also marks the final appearance of the Mothers Of Invention - albeit in a reference relegated to the back cover - on new Zappa material.)

As much as both men dared to defy conventional pop music, the pairing did seem a little strange, never mind the fact that Beefheart had contributed lead vocals on Zappa's "Willie The Pimp" back on the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Hot Rats disc. But what makes this disc stand out is it shows Zappa at his most comfortable in concert, where it seemed like he could do no wrong.

Admittedly, this disc isn't a true live album, as it contains some studio work from Zappa, but the natural flow of the disc makes it feel like you're listening to Zappa on stage at the height of his creative powers. Tracks like "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy," "Advance Romance" (even if it feels like it runs a tad too long) and "Cucamonga" all rank among Zappa's best of the time.

In a sense, it's almost like Beefheart doesn't quite belong in this setup. Whereas Zappa always put together a tight musical ship filled with precision players, Beefheart's vocals often sound like fingernails on a blackboard - that is, until you get used to his style of delivery. Once that happens, tracks like "Debra Kadabra" and "200 Years Old" become more tolerable efforts - though I don't quite understand why Beefheart needed to deliver two spoken-word pieces, "Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top" and "Man With The Woman Head".

The one thing that will strike the listener about Bongo Fury is that it sounds like Zappa, Beefheart and crew are really enjoying themselves. The level of fun is heard on the closing track "Muffin Man," one which features Zappa delivering a farewell to the audience that I've never heard delivered with so much gusto. In that regard, it might have been interesting to hear the entire concerts from these dates, to really capture the level of fun that Zappa and crew were having.

Yet Bongo Fury isn't the easiest disc in Zappa's catalog to get into - nor is it the hardest. It's a matter of getting adjusted to Beefheart's vocals and the amendment to Zappa's style of music, but it turns out to be worth the effort. Bongo Fury seems to be a disc that Zappa fans either love or hate - and while I can see how people could fall onto either side of the fence on this one, it falls into the "like" category for me.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.