This live double album begins with Frank Zappa spinning a tale about Johnny Cash and then launching into a slinky reggae version of Ring of Fire. If you don’t like this, turn back now, because it is the perfect opening salvo in this weird, compelling masterpiece. Zappa did more than his share of experimentation over the years and it often falls flat for me, but here he focuses on songs, both oddly chosen covers and his own originals. And, in a weird way, he achieves exactly what he’s always been aiming for, I think. This album creates a strange, feverish mood. It often feels like you’re listening to it in a dream. It feels like you’ve dozed off while listening to a Zappa album and, in that weird state of half-waking & half-sleeping, your brain is conjuring up something that simply can’t exist in real life. There’s a medley of When Irish Eyes are Smiling & the Godfather II theme. There’s a plodding, synth heavy version of Purple Haze that segues into Sunshine of Your Love. Now they’re doing Ravel’s Bolero and, most weird and twisted of all, it’s totally reverent and meticulous. Wait, now it’s like they’re doing Lonesome Cowboy Burt, but it’s actually about . . . Jimmy Swaggart?! You see what I mean. But it’s one of Zappa’s finest records, I think, absolutely capturing the strange, high-energy, inspired nonsense-cum-art of live Zappa at his best. The song choices are wonderful and the performances unhinged. The version of Zomby Woof here is even more maniacal than the original album version and taken at what seems like super-human speed. The medley of Zoot Allures & Mr. Green Genes seems really outside of the box, but also perfect. There’s a fifteen minute version of The Torture Never Stops that is absolutely transcendent and, of course, there’s a cover of the Bonanza theme interspersed in the middle. More Trouble Every Day jumps right out of The Torture Never Stops and achieves a level of frenzy that’s breathtaking and continues to reference the Jimmy Swaggart scandal. This album is so good that it even rescues some tracks that I didn’t care for in their original forms. Sofa No. 1, a track I was very lukewarm on before, is turned into a soulful, saxophone based easy-listening tune that is just beautiful and I even found The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue listenable, even at its full nine-minute length. This is nothing short of one of the greatest live albums of all time. It’s Zappa proving that it’s worth putting up with him, even at his most obnoxious, because no one but Zappa could have created this unhinged, explosive, bizarre and transporting album. At over two hours and ten minutes, this album just flies by like a speeding bullet and it has that impact too. I’ve been praying for a late masterpiece from Zappa; this exceeds all my expectations. 4 stars.
tl;dr – unhinged, maniacal, frenzied live album features bizarre, transfixing covers & insane, explosive versions of Zappa standards; a non-stop masterpiece & one of the best live albums ever. 4 stars.