You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 1

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There is no doubt that composer/musician Frank Zappa lived for the concert stage... at least until 1988, when he retired from the concert scene. Armed with simple tape recorders to massive sound boards designed to capture every note, Zappa preserved a good portion of his musical output on tape - providing those of us who never had the opportunity to see him live the next best alternative. The six-volume, twelve-disc set You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore could be seen as his live masterpiece, the ultimate "best-of" packaging almost every aspect of his live career into about thirteen hours.

We'll be taking a look at the entire You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series throughout 1998, and the beginning is always the best place to start - YCDTOSA Volume 1 could well be the best in the series, and is cohesive from start to finish. If anyone wants to know where they should begin when trying to build up an interest in Zappa, this is the album.

Every aspect of his musical culture is here, from the doo-wop, early rock that he grew up with ("You Didn't Try To Call Me" - though in a version not like the Freak Out! track), to parodies of rock "anthems" ("Ruthie-Ruthie" and "Plastic People," both done to the tune of "Louie Louie"), from jazz and be-bop-influences (""The Dangerous Kitchen") to all-out band performances that could have been classically influenced ("Sofa #2"), Zappa absorbed every style that touched his ears, then poured the whole mish-mash into his songwriting and guitar playing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But as much as one would be tempted to call even this first volume a "greatest hits," the term is incorrect. If anything, this first volume serves as a portrait of life on the road, both real ("The Florida Airport Tape", "Diseases Of The Band") and staged ("The Groupie Routine"). It also captures things that can thankfully go wrong - check out the poetry recitals during "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow".

Many of Zappa's better-known songs can be found here - "The Torture Never Stops" is good, but the guitar solo is not as chunky as the one lifted to create "Rat Tomago" on Sheik Yerbouti. Especially interesting is the three-song set lifted from an early MTV broadcast, though songs like "Heavenly Bank Account" demonstrate Zappa's distrust of not only televangelists but organized religion as well. In the liner-notes, Zappa slyly wonders if such a thing would ever happen again; with such wonderful cuts like "Dumb All Over" and "Suicide Chump," I don't think the network would want to take such a chance. Too bad... (If you're disappointed that tracks like "Stinkfoot" and "Dancin' Fool" haven't been mentioned, be patient... we still have five volumes to go.)

Especially interesting on YCDTOSA Volume 1 are early tapes of the Mothers Of Invention from around 1969. The three-song medley led off by "Let's Make The Water Turn Black" is a great example of how musically adept Zappa's bands were - though I wonder if the song was performed as an instrumental or if the vocals just weren't captured.

If I had to pick one performance as kind of a "clunker", I'd have to choose either the aural orgasm of "Sweet Leilani" or "The Groupie Routine," which is a number not recommended for the kiddies. Having said this, I'd still go so far as to say this is a set that is entirely well-construed, crafted and arranged; each song seems to be a natural progression from the other.

Frank Zappa may be gone, and it may be a decade since he played his final concert, but You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 1 is an excellent treasure chest of what this man and a team of crack musicians could accomplish on stage. It makes you want to run out and pick up the other volumes... but we'll have to wait until April until we look at the second volume.

1998 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 Records and Zappa Family Trust, and is used for reference purposes only.

Rating: A

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© 1998 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 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.