Hold it! Hold it! We can’t possibly start the song off like that! Good God, that’s inexcusable!
This is the second release in an epic series of concert-based archival releases curated by Zappa in the last years of his life. This one features two CDs worth of material culled from three concerts given in Helsinki in 1974. This album bears more than a passing resemblance to Roxy & Elsewhere, a previous live release that I found to be frustratingly scattershot. The resemblance, unfortunately, goes beyond the track listing & the personnel; this album, like Roxy & Elsewhere, is frustrating in just how great it might have been. The first CD is mostly solid, if sometimes unremarkable compared to the frenzied versions of these songs on Roxy. I absolutely love the up-tempo version of Village of the Sun. Pygmy Twylyte, The Idiot Bastard Son & Cheepnis are highlights. But the filler starts to get strong at around the half point. There’s an awful six minute skit at the end of disc one and then disc two starts with a whopping thirty-two minutes of wasted space, most of it dedicated to an interminable track called Dupree’s Paradise which runs for over twenty minutes and features a bunch of annoying stage business and awful music. But there are surprises in the last half as well. Leave it to Zappa to incorporate Satumaa, a Finnish tango, into the concert and the performance is sloppy, weird and absolutely delightful. The real gem of the record though is a ten minute version of Montana that cannot be described in words. When an audience member shouts for Zappa to perform Whipping Post (apparently the Finnish equivalent to Free Bird), Zappa mocks the suggestion and, after a couple of hilarious false starts, whips into a great version of Montana only to then begin changing the lyrics to reference Whipping Post. It’s genuinely funny and is also the most cathartic and thrilling musical sequence on the album; the song just keeps building in fury until it goes into this amazing breakdown at the end that features great performances from the band and a brilliant turn on guitar by Zappa. Like Roxy, there’s good stuff here, but there’s also an overstuffing of frustrating filler made up of Zappa’s weird aesthetic at its worst. I was hoping to find another Zappa album to love as my project winds to a close and I thought this might be it. But it’s just another one to enjoy in spurts, be disappointed by and, ultimately, find quite lacking. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a series of concerts in Finland finds Zappa working at his highest level and, unfortunately, also at his lowest; whiplashing from brilliant to terrible, this one is disappointingly inconsistent. 2 ½ stars.