Frank Zappa, Roxy by Proxy, Zappa Records, March 2014
A hard start to handle after such a long wait, so, leaving some old questions behind (why now?), straight, no chaser: this is going to be one of the most entertaining albums among those issued by the Zappa Family Trust in the XXI century. It could be a slight biased view, since here we truly enjoy those ’73-’74 years, but on the other hand it is not easy to find a Frank Zappa enthusiast not fond of that period. Not only, if you are into it, you probably consider Roxy & Elsewhere the best outcome in the Zappa catalog from those years. Those Roxy performances, that have been the core of the 1974 release, are back in a great shape and with some fresh new material awaiting to be discovered.
Actually the news department consists mainly of three previously unreleased arrangements out of a total of 12 tracks (track 1 is a spoken intro). Two of them, namely Inca Roads and the Kong/Chunga/Genes medley, being quite familiar to guerilla live tapes listeners (e.g. zappateers). However there is a chance that the third one, Cheepnis- Percussion, will sound as a great surprise for many. This rarely played number (just two marks in the FZShows document) consists of the “rhythm track of the next song”, a sort of Cheepnis karaoke for two drums and percussion, amazing and entertaining, sing along if you dare!
The album comes with a long and detailed essay by Ruth Underwood, a valuable companion for the set. Here are the main credits:
1. “Carved In The Rock” 3:42
2. Inca Roads 8:21
3. Penguin In Bondage 5:52 [R&E: 06:48 (includes a 1:25 Preamble)]
4. T’Mershi Duween 1:56
5. Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat 4:14
6. RDNZL 5:23
7. Village Of The Sun 3:24 [R&E: 04:17 (includes a 0:50 Preamble)]
8. Echinda’s Arf (Of You) 4:00 [R&E: 03:53]
9. Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing 5:28 [R&E: 09:40]
10. Cheepnis-Percussion 5:24 (3:01 without the spoken outro)
11. Cheepnis 3:35 [R&E: 06:31 (includes a 2:09 Preamble)]
12. Dupree’s Paradise 15:12
13. King Kong/Chunga’s Revenge/Mr. Green Genes 9:13
Time marks in square brackets refers to the Roxy & Elsewhere versions. All the R&E songs with this tag but one fully derive from Roxy recordings. In the case of the R&E Penguin in Bondage version, parts are also from the Auditorium Theater, Chicago, May 11, 1974 (late show).
Frank Zappa: lead guitar, vocals
George Duke: keyboards, synthesizer, vocals
Tom Fowler: bass
Ruth Underwood: percussion
Bruce Fowler: trombone, dancing (?)
Napoleon Murphy Brock: tenor sax, flute, lead vocals
Ralph Humphrey: drums
Chester Thompson: drums
The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA, December 9-10, 1973.
The set starts with a classic band intro followed by the presentation of Inca Roads, a brief description of the plans of Nazca with the old rock carvings as depicted in “Chariots of the Gods?“, a pseudo-scientific book by Erich Von Daniken, quite popular in the ’70s. The track is helpful to get familiar with the sound environment of the small venue. The liner notes report that this is a 1987 Bob Stone mix, probably the same of the Roxy recordings scattered in the YCDTOSA series (I’m the Slime [Vol.1], Big Swifty [Vol.1], Dickie’s Such an Asshole [Vol.3], Montana (parts) [Vol.4]). In 1987 FZ decided to bring everything up front emphasizing the small room effect. I’m wondering why this different approach, possibly the sound of Roxy & Elsewhere derived from the need to harmonize the overdubs for the Roxy tapes and the other audio sources, which came from different, and maybe broader, audio environments.
The real program starts smoothly with an unreleased arrangement of Inca Roads, also known in the trade as the “cocktail lounge version”, because of his “America drinks” mood. The George Duke “Thank you honey” at Ruth Underwood for a marimba lounge deviated lick is really amusing! After a couple of minutes the classic arrangement enters, but in a bit slower tempo. Solos for George Duke and Bruce Fowler. The last two minutes of the track are actually the intro to the next song. A little Zappa wisdom (“Perverts help to make normal people look good”) before the classic Penguin in Bondage. A different take here (with a different guitar solo), comparing to the R&E version, which includes edits from a 1974 show.
The next is “a bongo number”: T’Mershi Duween in an arrangement similar to the YCDTOSA Vol.2 rendition. Two drum sets marks the difference. Same for the following Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat.
Dog/Meat segues into a RDNZL version with a shorter opening section than the one performed later by this band, the whole piece is just 4:29 long, but there’s room for a guitar solo (1:20 long) and for a short George Duke break. The ending of the track is just chatting about adjusting monitors and audio stuff and it is time for Zappa to dedicate Village of the Sun to John and Nellie Wilson “because they probably know what this song is about better than anybody else in this room”.
For the classic Village/Echidna/Wash sequence I’d like to quote a zappateers post by pbuzby, a perfect nutshell:
“Village” sounds very different from R&E with Napoleon’s original live vocal. “Echidna’s” sounds similar to R&E (at least until the ending section which sounds heavily overdubbed on R&E) but FZ’s guitar break in the middle is different. The drum breaks and trombone and keyboard solos in “Don’t You Ever Wash” are also different.
Just one more remark concerning the trombone solo in Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing. Since the corresponding solo on the R&E rendition is one of the favorite Resentment Listener Bruce Fowler solos in the FZ catalog, on my first listen I had great expectations here. And they have been partially frustrated, mainly because the trombone track is a little too far in the mix. A check on the other Bruce solos in the set, confirmed such an issue.
The last Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing drums break segues into Cheepnis – Percussion, as already mentioned, a percussion trio treatment for the monster movie classic, one of the most relevant highlight of the set. “You’ve all been fooled!” Zappa states at the end, introducing the complete arrangement, shorter and quite different from the highly overdubbed R&E version, which has a lot of studio vocals, and a central section probably cut in studio for the most part (from right after “NUCLEAR FORCE!” until “Get the toilet paper! You know we need it!”, featuring also some speeded up vocals).
The following Dupree’s Paradise is another highlight of the set, and we were already informed about that thanks to the Roxy footage the Zappa Family Trust published in 2006. A 32 min. QuickTime file, which includes Montana too, is available on this link HERE through zappa.com. Here it is via YouTube.
The Roxy by Proxy version is a different take, it is shorter (14:59 vs 20:20) and it is possibly edited in a different manner. The video has the following ingredients: The Hook as a starter, a classic Duke managed long intro, theme, flute solo, bass solo, trombone solo (a little far in the mix here too) with some stage trombone madness shared with Duke, theme break, guitar solo, theme break and finale. The Roxy by Proxy edit has the same elements minus the trombone thing. It has significant differences for the bass and guitar solos. The first melts into Montana for a while, the second includes some really intriguing explorations around the T’Mershi Duween theme.
The album closes with “a little cheapo medley” with King Kong “hooked up with Chunga’s Revenge and the ending of Mr. Green Genes“. The concert chill out, the Zappa way! Cheapo solos for Bruce Fowler (again a bit low in the mix) and George Duke in King Kong, then Chunga’s Revenge for a cheapo guitar solo, that melts into Mr. Green Genes for a not at all cheapo finale. The main thematic material is interleaved with The Hook and some percussion breaks, the band fractures and rebuilds Mr. Green Genes until a finale that includes quotes from Also Sprach Zarathustra (as pointed out by yetanother) and Midnight Sun, the Saint Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast deviation.
If this album would have been published by Frank Zappa is questionable, as for every release designed out of his complete control. The question will remain unfortunately unanswered. However these live recordings have such a powerful impact that Roxy by Proxy will be probably considered one of the most relevant Zappa Family Trust release. Moreover, a close listen to this album brings new light to the great overdubs and editing job made for Roxy & Elsewhere.
Now is the time to cross our fingers again and wait for THE MOVIE!