(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
As the live Frank Zappa experience goes, this has to be one of the finest examples of his powerful mix of compositional prowess, biting humor and impeccable choice of musicians. Captured at a particularly excellent night at LA's Roxy Theatre (and a couple other venues), FZ and his cohorts deliver with deadly accuracy the twisted FZ muse and humor that endeared and reviled at the same time.
Regardless of what side of Zappa's acerbic wit you land on, there's no denying the superb musicianship that this particular incarnation of the Mothers specialized in and seemed to have no trouble executing onstage. Of particular note is the singularly unique mallet percussion artistry of one Ruth Underwood as she attacks Zappa's twisted melodies and counterpoints with fiendish glee (best heard on "Echidna's Arf Of You" and "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?"). George Duke adds a unique mixture of ethereal and earthy keyboard textures and vocals, combined with gruff horns (trombone and tenor sax), rumbling bass and the added treat of twin drummers Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey. Of course, good 'ol FZ spits out twisted searing electric blues phrases on his heavily modified Gibson SG. Drawing on a musical palette mixing equal parts blues, Stravinsky, fusion, avante-garde jazz and more, this band definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Just as important is the bend's humourous bite when it takes on such far-flung subjects as Richard Nixon ("Son of Orange County"), cheesy monster movies ("Cheepnis"), drugs ("Dummy Up, Pygmy Twilight"), Palmdale, CA ("Village of the Sun"), bebop ("Bebop Tango") and so much more. The laughs come as fast and furious as the notes, somehow this recording manages to capture the freewheeling fun of a Zappa performance without the visual aid (although I sure would've loved to see film footage of these shows). Best yet, outside of the severely reworked "More Trouble Every Day" (far superior to the original version on Freak Out), this was previously unissued material up to that point in time.
This is a disc I would heavily recommend to Zappa-phile and Zappa-newbie alike. It's not often that deadly serious musicianship can simultaneously be entertaining and side-splittingly funny, and once you've succumbed to Roxy and Elsewhere's charms, you too will be begging for "a little more Cheepnis please!"