Official Release #101. On the evening of October 23, 2013, Walt Disney Concert Hall was the place to be in Los Angeles, as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a spectacular, sold-out orchestral performance of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (The Suites). Recorded for posterity, the acclaimed, one-night-only 13-suite performance of Zappa's 1971 masterwork will be released worldwide on November 20 by Zappa Records/UMe. This 2CD release's expertly recorded audio brings the listener back to Walt Disney Concert Hall to experience the exciting 200 Motels (The Suites) spectacle, complemented by photos from the evening and essays by the show and recording's producers, Gail Zappa and Frank Filipetti, the evening's director James Darrah, 'Scoremeister' Kurt Morgan, and performers including Diva Zappa, Michael Des Barres, special guest 'Rock' rhythm section drummer Joe Travers, and former Zappa band member Scott Thunes. Essays by some notable members of the audience, including Steve Vai and Peter Asher, are also included.
The soundtrack to Frank Zappa's strange early-'70s film 200 Motels was always doomed to be a peripheral entry in his discography. The movie's story was not easy to follow, and neither is the record (not that plot was ever a big focus of the production). It's typically wacky Zappa of the era, with unpredictable sharp turns between crunchy rock bombast, orchestration, and jazz/classical influences, as well as interjections of wacky spoken dialogue. Those who like his late-'60s/early-'70s work – not as song-oriented as his first albums, in other words, but not as "serious" or as silly as his later records – will probably like this fine, although it's not up to the level of Uncle Meat.
This live record was recorded with the Flo & Eddie incarnation of the ever-changing Mothers line-up. The vocal duo, which had considerable chart success as the Turtles, parodied their success as "rock stars" here, and Zappa utilized their soul and doo-wop-style vocals for maximum comedic effect. The set works as a comedy record as much as anything else. They perform their huge hit "Happy Together," but it's done as a goof. Zappa and Flo & Eddie talk over the backbeat like standup comics.
Official Release #91. In October 1971, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention played two shows in one night at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The album, Carnegie Hall, celebrates that night's marathon – two shows (7:30 and 11:30 p.m.) with ticket prices ranging from $3.50 to $6 – featuring Zappa (lead guitar, vocals) with Mark Volman (vocals, percussion), Howard Kaylan (vocals), Ian Underwood (keyboards, alto sax), Don Preston (keyboards, gong), Jim Pons (bass, vocals) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums).
Official Release #59. The last volume of the series You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore is one of the strongest, especially for those who prefer Frank Zappa's sex-oriented songs. There is not much complex material or instrumental pieces in this collection, but catchy humorous songs abound, along with more of that stage craziness the series tried to capture. Live incarnations of Zappa's band from 1970 up to 1988 are represented (the original Mothers had a whole disc devoted to them on Vol. 5).
Official Release #60. First of all, it must be understood that Playground Psychotics is intended for fans only: fans of Frank Zappa, of course, but most of all fans of the Flo & Eddie era of the Mothers of Invention (1970-1971); fans of the man's comedy rock; fans of his obsession with "life on the road" and its chronicling; and, finally, fans of the movie 200 Motels. This two-CD set contains live material and dialogues among band members (recorded with or without their knowledge). The "anthropological field recordings" (as Zappa liked to call them) get most of the attention. Each disc begins with a collage of dressing room and hotel room tapes.
ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES contains five symphonic works written by Frank Zappa, performed by Zappa himself and his mid-'70s rhythm section with a full orchestra. Recorded at the Royce Hall in Los Angeles in 1975, ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES is similar to Zappa's other symphonic works (parts of BURNT WEENY SANDWICH, 200 MOTELS, etc.). The album was not released until four years later however, due to a skirmish with Warner Bros. Zappa wanted to release a three-record set entitled LATHER, which was to include material from ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES plus the other late-'70s releases SLEEP DIRT and STUDIO TAN. But Warner Bros. forced him to release the complete work as separate albums (LATHER did finally appear as a three- disc set in 1996).
This is the second (and final) bootleg-gone-legit box that was actually sanctioned by Frank Zappa. But rather than go to the expense and time to use better sources – which the artist presumably had access to – he simply ripped off the illicit recordings that had been doing the same to him for decades. And voila, Beat the Boots was born. Zappa enlisted Rhino Records to manufacture and distribute the anthologies – which were packaged to appear as if the contents were being sold in a low budget cardboard box. However once inside Beat the Boots!, Vol. 2 (1992), consumers were treated to a full LP jacket-sized 40-page memorabilia scrapbook, a black felt beret and a red pin/badge bearing the hammer-in-fist artwork emblazoned on it.
To simplify my life considerably, I'm going to combine the "reviews" of all six Stage releases into a single entry, even though they were released individually. Also, to save a lot of time and effort, I'm not going to give complete track listings of the twelve discs, or do song-by-song reviews (hey, we're talking over 800 minutes of music here, give me a break). If you need to know the track listings, they're probably available through an on-line music sales site like CDNow, or an information site like the All Music Guide. There's probably a few other Zappa sites that list them as well. Maybe one day when I have the time, I'll come back and expand this section to really cover all twelve discs in detail. Until then, I'll just give some general facts and opinions, focusing on highlights and material unique to the Stage series.