December 15, 2009

Album Review

Another in the ongoing series of releases drawn from Frank Zappa's extensive archives of live recordings, Philly '76 contains a concert held at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on October 29, 1976. This period in Zappa's career is otherwise documented by the album Zoot Allures, which actually was released on that day, and by Zappa in New York, drawn from shows recorded two months later. But the lineup of Zappa's band is not exactly the same as that on either of those albums. The core unit is identical, with Ray White on rhythm guitar, former Roxy Music member Eddie Jobson on keyboards and violin, Patrick O'Hearn on bass, and Terry Bozzio on drums. But a key addition is Bianca Odin on vocals and keyboards. Odin contributes liner notes to the album, noting that, when she received a call from Zappa's management to come in and audition for the band, she had never heard of him. She was, she says, "two steps past the conservative community -- the Holy Rollers." Not surprisingly, "At first I had trouble with the lyrics," she admits, "but after I got used to them, the music fit my style to a T." It must have, since Odin throws herself into her singing, even helping Zappa replicate some of the salacious groupie banter previously heard during the Flo & Eddie days of the Mothers, such as "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?" Nor would the Holy Rollers think much of her participation on "Chrissy Puked Twice" (aka "Titties & Beer"), Zappa's version of the Faust legend, in which the Devil reconsiders accepting the soul of a lustful and thirsty American teenage boy. But Odin is also a powerful and soulful singer, as she proves in a slow arrangement of the old Mothers of Invention song "You Didn't Try to Call Me." Zappa is unabashed about promoting his new record, playing its selections "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station," "Black Napkins," and "The Torture Never Stops" before announcing in the encore that "Find Her Finer" is about to be released as a single and playing that, too. Typically, however, he also introduces previously unreleased material including yet another X-rated number, "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?," which would turn up on Zappa in New York, as well as "Tryin' to Grow a Chin" and "City of Tiny Lites," not to be heard on LP until 1979's Sheik Yerbouti. Fans of his extended guitar solos will find plenty to enjoy in mid-set, as a largely instrumental section consisting of "Black Napkins" and "Advance Romance" takes up more than half-an-hour (about a quarter of the show as a whole); Jobson's violin and O'Hearn's bass also get extended showcases here. Of course, along with the smutty humor and superior playing, Zappa's affection for old-time rock & roll comes out, too, as he plays the old Jay Hawks hit "Stranded in the Jungle" in the encore. Thus, this well-recorded concert (captured by a mobile studio employing 16-track board) contains most of the elements Zappa fans love, and when they hear it, they are likely to wish Bianca Odin had spent more time in the band.
William Ruhlmann, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. The Purple Lagoon
  2. Stink-Foot
  3. The Poodle Lecture
  4. Dirty Love
  5. Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station
  6. Tryin' To Grow a Chin
  7. The Torture Never Stops
  8. City of Tiny Lites
  9. You Didn't Try to Call Me
  10. Manx Needs Women
  11. Chrissy Puked Twice
  12. Black Napkins
  13. Advance Romance
  14. Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?
  15. Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink
  16. Would You Go All the Way?
  17. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
  18. What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?
  19. Dinah-Moe Humm
  20. Stranded in the Jungle
  21. Find Her Finer
  22. Camarillo Brillo
  23. Muffin Man