Zappa update #1

Let’s all be grateful for the fact that the ZFT have seen fit to mostly leave YouTube alone in their quest to silence all “unauthorised” conversation about/study of the late legend’s musical career.
A number of terrific underground live recordings have surfaced on this page recently (and some not so terrific ones), and those who know how can convert them.
First and foremost:
Hamilton Ontario 1975 – the ’75-76 combo is not universally loved, but there are those of us who feel Napoleon Murphy Brock and Andre Lewis were among Frank’s most unique soloists as well as vocalists. And this show doesn’t just feature them on fine form – Eddie Jobson and Norma Bell both make guest appearances, most notably on a marvellous “Filthy Habits” with an arrangement that’s quite unlike the familiar version, and solos that from EJ and NB that make most of Frank’s efforts look a bit pathetic in comparison. And it’s a very good quality audience tape (comparable to the Montreux ’71 recording in its clarity and balance of music and ambience).
Stockholm 1988 – a restored version of this well-known classic “secret word” show, with the missing bits patched in. It’s a secret word show where everyone can get the jokes. Frank had written a spoof heavy metal song called “Dragonmaster” and so references to dragons and medieval mythology, and attendant jokes (“keep it crispy…”, “tremblin’ like a medieval villager”) pop up throughout the first half of the show. Then they turn their attentions to Tom Petty, “the butt-ugliest human being” who becomes the subject of “The Torture Never Stops”. And then when the joking stops, Mats Oberg & Morgan Agren come on for a tremendous “Big Swifty”, with Oberg doing his uncanny Tommy Mars impression, and throwing in a very-slightly-fumbled “T’Mershi Duween” for good measure. And on top of that, Dweezil comes on to jam at the very end. All this is in mostly-soundboard quality.
From another source I’ve finally got to hear the Copenhagen show from ’88 recently. The highlight there is another “Big Swifty” which aspires to be the biggest Swifty of them all. It’s not as long as the Genoa one, but it’s denser, reminiscent of some of the better ones fron early in the tour in that there’s mini-solos from virtually everyone, and Frank sticks to conducting and operating the synclavier. The Fowler brothers, and the percussion section, still end up dominating the piece, but the highlight is a very weird section where Frank plays an unfamiliar chamber music piece on the synclavier, and the band have to figure out how to accompany it. Scott adds some absurdism by playing “My Sharona” against the chamber music, but the solos from Bruce, Albert and (momentarily) Paul are really no joke. Another odd moment occurs earlier, when the horns join in with the familiar bit of pre-programmed “crossover” music which appears in most of this band’s improvisations. Obviously Frank didn’t like that – he gets his revenge by playing it again in an unlikely context. Most of the Copenhagen show though is dominated by vocal joking-around – they’re in an unhinged mood tonight, recapping a little of everything that’s made them laugh lately: Johnny Cash impressions, John Smothers impressions, Quaalude-addict voices, the word “airhose” (a pun on Aarhus?) and even a little Thing-Fish (during “Florentine Pogen” of all songs).
And I finally got to hear Road Tapes Volume 1 – a rare example of an official release that’s worth having. They picked a good gig this time: the original MOI from the post-Ray/pre-Lowell part of 1968. Best bit is Bunk’s soprano solo on “Transylvania Boogie” – long and severely intelligent.