This album finds Zappa questing in a kind of surprising direction. There’s nothing particularly new in the idea of skits of the kind Zappa has here; the songs themselves fail into basically traditional musical forms; the concept album has been birthed already. But I have to say that I don’t recall ever encountering a concept album that was also a live album, particularly not one of new to recording material. The Who would trot out almost the entirety of Tommy in concert at times, but this album features, unless I’m missing something, essentially a concept album getting its very first recording in a live setting. That’s pretty unique. The concept isn’t particularly deep or anything; it’s the tale of a rock musician on the road and his encounter with a sexually voracious woman who insists on only two things: that any guy she sleeps with has a hit in the charts and that she is definitely NOT a groupie. There are still problems for me; I don’t have any affinity for the skit portions of the record. Mud Shark has a nice enough riff that it’s tolerable for its entire running time, but How Do You Like My New Car is a waste of time, though I do have to give props to Mark Volman’s brilliant performance as the “naïve” groupie who actually made me laugh out loud a couple of times with his aggrieved shouts from the background whenever the “rock star” would suggest something sexual: “Hey hey hey hey watch it JESUS.” I basically like all the non-skit tracks a lot I could live without Bwana Dik, which I don’t find funny & I think Little House I Used to Live In is basically filler that could be shortened quite a bit and still retain that closing mud shark intro. And I’m not sure it’s fair to call two tracks on the record Willie the Pimp and then essentially borrow only the central riff of that song and apply totally new lyrics to it, but both of those tracks are fine as they stand, with great guitar work from Zappa, so fair enough. I love the way the story of the album builds to a genuinely surprising, but also genuinely exciting cover of Happy Together, which the band does to perfection. The encore section of the disc is a lot of fun; the version of Peaches en Regalia here is maybe better than the studio version and Tears Begin to Fall is a nice way to close the album. Anyway, I was hoping to really love this album and I ended up liking it, which isn’t a bad deal. I will continue to beat the drum on Zappa’s “humorous” skits/spoken word bits, ie. I think they’re essentially worthless, but then I tend to think those kinds of things are worthless on just about any album they’re on by any artist and almost never as funny as the artists seem to think they are. The ones here are certainly not of the horrendous Uncle Meat variety, but they’re still annoying. Anyway, really fun album; not one of his masterpieces, but a really good listen that I enjoyed a lot. 3 stars.
tl;dr – ambitious album marries the concept album & the live album and does them both quite well; could stand to be a tighter and the skits are a waste of time, but it’s entertaining. 3 stars.