Zappa and crews live album showcases bizarre brilliance

By Chris Davis

The Polytechnic, February 27, 1975

Roxy and Elsewhere
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
DiscReet 2 DS2202

There is nothing like Zappa-rock; it is a category unto itself. The evolution of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention through the years since Freak Out parallels the evolution of rock music in general. Back in the good old days the Mothers played songs almost entirely written by dedicated '50's rhythm and blues fan Zappa, which sounded superficially like anything else of that era.

Those who didn't listen or otherwise chose to ignore the inevitable phenomenon of Zappa's music missed a lot of crazy stuff. Since then, the Mothers' music hasn't become any saner. Today the Mothers of Invention, directed by Zappa, are a model for demented musicians everywhere.

Roxy is a live recording, incorporating some of Zappa's best and most popular performance elements. At the beginning of each side is a preamble, spoken by Zappa, explaining something about what to expect to happen for the rest of the side.

What does follow on side one of this double album, is a shining example of what the Mothers' music has evolved to today. Blending cliché and sexual satire as well as tight scoring and accurate, intelligent musicianship, Penguin in Bondage sets Roxy off in fine Mothers' style. Pygmy Twylyte, the next song on the side, opens up the subject of drugs to the Mothers' satiric capability. This segues into Dummy Up, a scenario in which one member of the group is turned on to the drug culture by being induced to smoke a joint constructed of a high school diploma rolled around a still-damp gym sock. As with sides two and three, this side seems to end in the middle of the ongoing scenario.

Side two opens with Village of the Sun an ode to Sun Village, California, out in back of Palmdale, where turkey farms abound and where Frank Zappa spent his childhood, such as it was. This mellow song doesn't really show Zappa's best style of music writing until the very end, where it meshes with Echidna's Arf (of you). This latter piece, an instrumental, contains some brilliant moments of well-organized music, and that, for the Mothers as they are today, means some mighty tight playing. Next, Don't You Ever Wash That Thing? showcases percussionist Ruth Underwood, surely one of the most talented Women musicians of the day. After Ruth's demonstrations follow some very listenable minutes of Mothers-style playing, all still part of Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?

Monster Movies

Monster movies are the subject of side three. Cheepnis is the Mothers' musical interpretation of low budget monster movies. Further monstrous subjects on this side include Son of Orange County, apparently dedicated to our most recently deposed President. Politically motivated songs like this don't always strike me as being in the best taste, and this song isn't particularly well written, but if Son of Orange County belongs anywhere, the context of monstrosity on this side of the disc suits it just fine. Introduced by a musical quote from Dog Breath (in the year of the Plague) from the 1968 vintage Uncle Meat album, More Trouble Every Day laments the rotten world situation which hasn't really changed much since Zappa wrote the song ten years ago in 1965.

Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen's Church) takes up all of side four. In the preamble, Zappa describes the tango as having been once considered a very passionate dance. If anyone plays passionate music these days, it's certainly not the Mothers of Invention, and the music here has little to do with any tango ever heard before, I'm sure. This piece opens up with a few minutes of the Mothers' band chart work, written in Zappa's own involved style of theme and variations, permutations, and disintegrations. All good things must end, and the best parts of Roxy end part way through this last side, where Zappa invites members of the audience up to the stage to attempt dancing along with be-bop styled scat-singing and the involved jazz stylings of the band. While this may have brought down the house in concert, the humor of the situation doesn't really carry over in recorded form.

Unmistakable style continues

While not as riotously comic as the last live album, Just Another Band From L.A., Roxy nevertheless demonstrates the dynamic evolution of Zappa and the Mothers. The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie have gone their own way, taking their insane brand of humor with them. Even with other major personnel changes in the group, the Mothers of Invention continue to produce their own unmistakable musical style, something that only a very few groups have consistently been able to do.