Frank Zappa

Joe's Menage

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For their eighth release, the officially authorized Frank Zappa-centric Vaulternative Records label has unleashed audio from out of Frank's own stash. As related by the fan himself within the liner notes, Zappa had actually given away the contents of this November 1, 1975, concert to a sincere Danish enthusiast named Ole Lysgaard. He met Zappa on several occasions and showed more than an average interest in the artist and his music. During one of their infrequent confabs in Copenhagen (circa the late '70s), Zappa gave Lysgaard a few cassettes for his own enjoyment. One of those bore the markings "William and Mary," and when Lysgaard informed Gail Zappa -- who, along with Joe Travers are keepers of the keys to the massive Zappa tape vaults -- she enthusiastically approved the search for a master of the show. What the intrepid Travers found was the original stereo tape -- which is conjectured to have been made by "2 mics dangling in front of the audience." Joining Zappa (guitar/vocals) on stage was a short-lived aggregate featuring Norma Jean Bell (alto sax/vocals) and Andre Lewis (keyboards/vocals) alongside Napoleon Murphy Brock (tenor sax/vocals) and the rhythm section of Terry Bozzio (drums/vocals) and original Mothers of Invention member Roy Estrada (bass/vocals).

The eight-song running order on Joe's Menage (2008) reflects a healthy chunk of Zappa's live sets circa late 1975/early 1976. There are several soon-to-be Zappa songbook staples heard here in their formative stages, most notably, the opening duo of "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?" and "The Illinois Enema Bandit." Both provide evidence of Zappa's humor-laden lyrical narratives while leaving room for the artist's incendiary fretwork, as does "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy," yet another slightly askew tale of perversion set to music that would surface on the highly underrated Bongo Fury album later in 1975. The medley combining the We're Only in It for the Money songs "Lonely Little Girl," "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance," and "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" is a nice nod to the Mothers of Invention that is made all the more meaningful by the presence of Roy Estrada. The latter half of the disc is solid sonic nirvana for Zappa fanatics. "Chunga's Revenge" is a particular treat as Bell improvises a few lyrics prior to a solo from Lewis (on melodica), while Zappa plays a frenetic rhythm guitar as if it were a lead instrument. Finally, Bozzio utterly decimates his drum kit with the time-defying high-octane antics that would become his trademark. Zappa's seemingly effortless yet infinitely soulful "Zoot Allures" is marred only by an edit -- which is tastefully faded out and then back in again -- prior to his spoken closing, where he reintroduces the musicians, dubbing the bass player "Roy Ralph Moleman Managuito de la Banana Republic Estrada" and himself as "yours truly, Tyrone Power."

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