Posts Tagged ‘frank zappa


Album Review: Primus – Green Naugahyde

This is not your father’s Primus. Your father’s Primus was an oddball funk-metal band with head-banging riffs and rump-shaking grooves. Today’s Primus is a bit mellower, more skewed toward a zany jazz-fusion sound, but still retains their musical complexity and irreverence. After an 11-year hiatus from studio recordings, the San Francisco Bay-area band has just released Green Naugahyde, with Larry LaLonde on guitar as always, Jay Lane – the original Primus drummer – back in the band, and the band’s leader and arguably the best bass player around, Les Claypool.
Claypool definitely leads the charge on this new album, writing all the lyrics and his voice doing more “talk-singing” than actual singing, with the vocals often sent through a sound effects box of some sort. The bass grooves are undeniably Claypool – he uses a lot of effects for that as well, but his funk-jazz sound is unmistakable. The album starts off with a little prelude that segues into “Hennepin Crawler,” a funky rock tune that lets you know that Primus is back. While Claypool has taken his signature sound and applied it to his other projects (Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, solo albums, Oysterhead), there is no mistaking the sound of this trio. LaLonde’s guitar sound is instantly recognizable, though he doesn’t get a lot of chances to really wail away on this album. “Last Salmon Man” continues Claypool’s tome of fishing-themed songs, this one commenting on the diverting of water from northern California to other parts of the state. Claypool’s lyrics, while often silly and bizarre, can sometimes be politically poignant, as in “Eternal Consumption Engine,” a weird Willy Wonka-esque tune about our society’s never-ending thirst for more and more stuff. Primus’ rock sound returns in “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” with Claypool slapping his bass with funk ferocity. The other album highlights include the jaunty little ditty “Lee Van Cleef,” referencing the actor from old westerns like “High Noon” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; “Moron TV” is a fairly benign attack on the current state of television programming – Claypool really wasn’t going out on a limb here. “HOINFODAMAN” showcases Claypool’s affection for Frank Zappa, both musically and politically. Claypool has always shied away from mainstream pop culture trappings, and the evil corporate music machine, much like Zappa. “HOINFODAMAN” is an indictment of artists who sell out for fame and fortune – Frank would approve. The band saved the best for last on the album with a tune called “Extinction Burst.” This song more than any of the others has more layers and explores some longer grooves.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with Green Naugahyde. Following Primus’ last release, an EP entitled “Animals Should Not Try to Act like People,” and the subsequent tour, it seemed that the band was incorporating a more “jam band” style, in that they would stretch out their funky grooves and wailing guitar work, rather than keeping the songs nice and short. But this new album seems very constrictive – it almost feels like the band is playing inside a tiny box and has no room to really break out into some great song space. Their sound has always been completely unique, creative, and truly “alternative.” But this album pales in comparison to most of their other recordings; I did not expect the metal-driven sound of the “Frizzle Fry” album, or the hardcore funk of “Tales from the Punchbowl,” but taken as a whole, the album is pretty mundane for Primus. LaLonde rarely gets a chance to really let loose and shred some solos, and Lane’s drumming, while extremely well-suited for the album’s sound, seems tempered and delicate, with none of the explosiveness from the band’s earlier efforts.
I’m still looking forward to their upcoming live show, as I’m sure they will take that opportunity to breathe some new life into these songs, along with playing a lot of the old stuff (they’re doing two full sets of music). Perhaps, like most jam bands, Primus is becoming a band where the studio albums are of minimal importance, and the emphasis will be on touring and putting on a stellar live show. We shall see.
As I mentioned, the sound of Green Naugahyde is unmistakably Primus, and that’s still a good thing.
Green Naugahyde gets 3 out of 5 stars!


Captain Beefheart RIP

Sadly here at HiFi Central we needed to be reminded by legendary blogger and HiFi reader Rob Sama (Samablog) about posting something about the passing of legendary musician and poet Captain Beefheart.

Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) passed away in his Northern California home from complications associated with MS.  Beefheart was highly influential (although this might be the first time YOU have heard of him sadly) for many musicians heard today.

Beefheart was a wacky character, always riding outside the lines of society and forging his own path of creativity and artisitic expression.  Both Beefheart and Zappa attended high school together and later collaborated on several albums.  Although both talented in their own right they were one of those “best of friends, worst of enemies” type relationships, which ultimately left the two on non-speaking terms for remaining years.  If you have not had the pleasure of listening to the marvelous Zappa-Beefheart chemistry I highly recommend the live album Bongo Fury (1975). 

Click here to read more on Beefheart’s passing.


Zappa Plays Zappa – Show Review (The Egg 12/16)

Ever since seeing a televised performance a couple of years ago of Dweezil Zappa playing his father Frank’s music, I have been relishing the chance to see this spectacle in person.  Last night at the Egg in Albany, I got that chance, and disappointment was the farthest thing from my mind. 

Dweezil and his incredible ensemble of musicians blew the doors off the theater with the opening number “Gumbo Variations,” a 15-minute instrumental piece from the album “Hot Rats.”  They could have stopped playing after this song and I would have felt I got my money’s worth.  It was so tight, so spot on that it may as well have been Frank and his old cohorts up on stage.  The band then played the entire “Apostrophe” album to perfection, a quite bluesy record with the highlights being the title track, “Uncle Remus,” and “Stink Foot.”  Vocalist Ben Thomas sounded almost identical to Frank Zappa, and Dweezil’s ability to play the complex and amazing guitar licks composed by his father is second to none.  During “Cosmik Debris,” the guitar and vocals were turned over to Frank himself, via a video clip of Frank performing.  His vocals and guitar were supported live by the rest of Dweezil’s band, allowing for a unique experience.  This merging of past and present continued later in the show during portions of “Inca Roads” and “Muffin Man.” 

For Dweezil to have learned all of his father’s music is impressive enough, considering the elder Zappa recorded over 80 albums in his career.  But to take his father’s music on tour, to attempt to recreate his diverse style, sense of humor and intricate compositions really takes courage.  But Dweezil obviously knows what he’s doing, and he surrounded himself with truly gifted musicians.  Scheila Gonzales is an amazing saxophone player, as well as providing marvelous backing vocals throughout the show, and took the lead on the goofy 80’s Zappa hit “Valley Girl” (with a slightly modern treatment as she made references to Twitter and Facebook).  Not only can Ben Thomas sing like Frank, but he also played trumpet and various hand-held percussion instruments.  Bassist Pete Griffin’s fingers were flying during the intense and amazing “RDNZL,” which also featured great work by percussionist Billy Hulting.  Chris Norton shined on “City of Tiny Lights” with his keyboards and vocals, and guitarist Jamie Kime ripped through tunes like “Dinah Moe Hum” and played the part of The Devil during the low-brow humor of “Chrissy Puked Twice (Titties and Beer).”  Joe Travers rounded out the group, pounding the drums competently, although his brief but unnecessary drum solo halfway through the show was not a highlight.

Speaking of highlights, some were “RDNZL,” “Inca Roads,” and the unexpected audience-participation of “Keep it Greasy.”  Before that number, Dweezil invited all female audience members to join the band on stage to dance – about 20 or so ladies of all shapes and sizes did so, shaking their groove things during the sexual overtones of the song.  It was quite amusing.

If I had to find something negative about the show, it would be Dweezil’s stage presence, or lack thereof.  When he wasn’t blazing through a guitar section, he stood motionless, with a facial expression as though he were watching paint dry.  He had as much stage presence as a piece of wood.  But luckily his astounding ability to play Frank’s music note for note more than made up for it.

The band received standing ovations after about half of the songs throughout the show, and the crowd stood and cheered during the break before the encore.  The encore featured the short but awesome “Baby Snakes,” the aforementioned “Chrissy Pukes Twice” and closed with “Muffin Man.” 

Many of the fans were old enough to have seen Frank back in the day, and were joyous to see the songs performed so well again.  Others, like me, were big Frank fans who never got the chance to see the master perform, but I wouldn’t say that seeing Zappa Plays Zappa was “settling.”  Frank would no doubt be beyond proud and impressed with what Dweezil has been doing, and would be thrilled that so many people still love his music so much.  Even the biggest Frank Zappa purist could not deny the talent and precision of Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa.  If you can catch this show, you will not be disappointed.

This Zappa Plays Zappa concert gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!


HiFi Radio: listening pleasure to excess

Yes, after massive amounts of board meetings and swooning investors we here at HiFi Central have created our own radio station, well, er, kind of did.  In association with HiFi has created a station that you can click on and listen to our hand selected favorites while you toil at work or perhaps waste endless amounts of time looking busy.

We will do our best to refresh the station every  now and again, but we feel that variety of songs will be some you will want to play almost every day.  We’ve found some Zappa, Phish, Supergrass, Reverend Horton Heat and others to mix it up and keep it interesting.  Hey, we even sprinkled a bit of GWAR in there too (yes, here at HiFi Central we feel that Eliot Smith and GWAR live in peaceful coexistence on the same playlist).

I have to admit that the highlights of this playlist are the two live versions of both Suzy Greenberg and Gotta Jiboo by PHISH; simply incredible!

Although the coding between WordPress and do not jive exactly as well as we would like (it would have cost an additional $1,000,000,000 to fix) we feel that the result is fairly acceptable.  In order to launch the player look on the right of your screen and  just click the link for “Popout Player”; you will be presented with a new window and the fantastic and obnoxious Juicy Fruit billboard surrounding our radio station (ain’t nothin’ for free in this world; thank god it’s not a KY or Trojan ad instead). 

If you have any requests that you think we should consider, please let us know and please tune in regularly.


Zappa Plays Zappa @ The Egg 12/16/10

Upon taking my first sip of coffee an intern here at HiFi Central burst into my office with a tattered and ripped newspaper clipping claiming the impossible is possible, yes Dweezil Zappa will grace our fair city once again, but this time at the very cozy and intimate setting of The Egg. 

For those of you who have followed this blog for some time I have praised the The Egg for it’s charm and warmth as a venue, and also trounced it’s smarmy underhanded practices at lame ticket sales.  The venue has been around since the late 1970’s and has provided a stage for the more intellectual of the arts and for artists looking for a cozier venue than the classic restored vaudville theaters or the open air ampi-theaters.  For those who enter the gates of the city of Albany, The Egg looks like a giant concrete flying saucer and often gets the initial question “what the hell is that thing”?; but once you have experienced the environment that The Egg provides, you look forward to the next show since it is often very up close and personal with and for both the artist and the spectator.

Fellow HiFi contributor EricStraus and I saw Al DiMeola last January at this venue; the show was magnificent (although shorter than we expected) we felt as if Al DiMeola had invited just his closest friends in for a taste of his catalog; the feeling free, relaxed, and very cozy.

Now Dweezil will grace us with his presence on December 16th and I could not be happier.  I missed his last concert at The Palace (a 1900’s restored vaudeville theater where The Stones played in the 1960’s and Dylan frequently played in the 1970’s), but was unable to attend.  A friend of mine saw Zappa at the Mahaiwe Center For The Performing Arts (Great Barrington, MA) in October and said the show was superb!  So, finally I will get my chance to witness the son-of-Zappa continue his fathers legacy for my own eyes.  A cool thing is that 5 days after this show (December 21st) would have been Frank’s 70th birthday; so it will be a fitting time to see  his legacy that night.  Apparently much of the concert will be focused on playing songs off of 1974’s album “Apostrophe”.

Tickets are a bit steep at $32.50 but considering this is a special show in honor of Zappa’s 70th birthday I think they will be well worth the price.

If you would like to get tickets to this show, click here.  I’m sure they will sell out quickly.

Update as of 11/16/2010 – Zappa Plays Zappa is SOLD OUT!   We got our tickets…hope you got yours!

Dweezil last played The Egg in 2008.

A 12/17 review of this show can be found by clicking the HIFI banner above and scrolling or clicking December 2010 in the Archives on the right hand side of this blog


Frank Zappa – Tinseltown Rebellion (1981)

Tinseltown Rebellion is a classic Zappa album that was originally released as a 2-lp set and later released by RykoDisc as a single length CD.  The album is the first official release that introduced Steve Vai on guitar.  It should be noted that  Peter Wolf (J Geils Band) is featured on keyboards as well on this album.

The first two song s”Fine Girl”  and “Easy Meat” are the only studio tracks released on the album; the remainder of  the album is comprised of various live performances between 1978 and 1980.  The live tracks are not overdubbed or re-mastered by Zappa as many later albums were such as You Are What You Is (another 2-lp album released in September of the same year).

This album, like many of Zappa’s albums around this decade, provide the listener with an example of the various directions Zappa was capable of taking his music.  The third track The Young Sophisticate is a good song and has a Joe’s Garage type feel and tempo, however the next song Love of My Life exemplifies Zappa’s love affair with the doo-wop genre.  There are other examples of Zappa’s doo-wop style on later compilation albums such as Cheap Thrills (1998) and Son of Cheap Thrills (1999). 

The album quickly shifts gears with I Ain’t Got No Heart, a song that exemplifies Zappa’s innate ability to compose and perform complex arrangements and random time changes.  As mentioned in earlier reviews of Zappa, the people he surrounded himself were simply the best of musicians.  The monologue Panty Rap  and Dance Contest are classic Zappa moments and provides listeners who never had the opportunity to see Zappa live just how interactive and entertaining he was with a crowd; although some may find it offensive I think it’s incredibly entertaining.  Clearly Zappa and his band had a panty fetish while on the road, there is another entertaining song/parity on the album Man From Utopia (1983) entitled “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats”, another Zappa classic.

Now You See It – Now You Don’t showcases Zappa’s guitar talent; although a purely instrumental song it fits nicely in the middle of the album; if you would like to hear more of Zappa’s instrumental work I highly suggest Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar (1981) or Zappa: Guitar (1988).

The Blue Light is a random song on the album and actually is reminscent of songs off of Man From Utopia (1983); and that album that would not be produced for another 2-years, so perhaps this song is a precursor. Tinseltown Rebellion is the title track for the album and is entertaining on its own.  The remaining tracks are all good on the album but nothing specifically unique.

The ending track Peaches III is very cool since it is a  live performance of Peaches en Regalia off of Zappa’s early work Hot Rats (1969).  The song is awesome to hear performed live (although live versions can be found throughout the Zappa catalog, my personal favorite live version of Peaches in addition to this is Mothers at The Fillmore East 1971).  The cool thing about this version is the cameo of guitar great Al DiMeola!

All in all Tinseltown Rebellion is a solid Zappa album and one that a newbie or experienced Zappa fan will greatly appreciate as part of their collection.  Give it a few listens and it will quickly grow on you.

Frank Zappa’s Tinseltown Rebellion gets 5 stars!


Frank Zappa Radio – Better than a Telefunken U47!

For the Zappa fan you most likely already know that this free radio station exists on the Frank Zappa website, however, for many months (if not years) it has not been working.

The other day I decided to check out Zappa’s website and BEHOLD! Zappa radio is alive and well and full of great streaming audio.

Please take the time to check Zappa Radio out, it’s a must for the Zappa fan and since it strictly monitored and managed by the Zappa Family Trust, I’m sure there will be some rareties and special gems in the mix.  It is a great source of Zappa whilst you waste away 8 hours of your life at your mundane job and in your cubicle…er..”personal workspace”.  Grab a pair of heavy duty Zircron encrusted tweezers,  tune in to Zappa Radio, get “the Hrz on your nose”,  and rejoice!

To listen to the genius of The Central Scrutinizer click here and enjoy!


Beck – Midnight Vultures (1999)

When one normally thinks of Beck the song “Loser” comes to mind instantly, however, there are so many more of his songs that are equally or more impressive.  I had not really taken the time to explore much of Beck past his first release Mellow Gold (1994) until  friend offered me to burn several other albums, one of them being Midnight Vultures (1999).

Midnight Vultures is a brilliant album and although the  listener will identify the characteristic Beck sounds, rhythm’s and tempo’s throughout this album, there is a bit of a disco flair and something else that I cannot identify that makes this album a true gem.  Midnight Vultures is complex, entertaining, and smartly written and produced album that should not be overlooked.

After listening to this particular album I began to see how influenced Beck must have been by the genius of Frank Zappa .  This can be seen not only the titles of his songs like Nicotine & Gravy, Mixed Bizness, & Sexx Laws; but also the random assortment of instruments and arrangements.

A good example can be seen in the songs Hollywood Freaks and  Milk & Honey; both songs are brilliantly written and much like Zappa the lyrics are as random as are the time changes.  Beck’s songs have no message, theme, or logic with the use of lyrics; clearly Beck is more interested in pushing the limits of rhythm, the use of random instruments (complimentary or not) and the incorporation of  various music genres at the same time that constantly overlap each other to create Beck’s signature sound.  This album in many ways seems to take the direction that Paul’s Boutique did for The Beastie Boys; straying away from a normalcy identified with an artist and establishing a true milestone album that often is overlooked and resurfaces later as a classic album.

Midnight Vultures sharply contrasts with Beck’s prior release Mutations (1998), thus showcasing Beck’s inate ability and gift to embrace different types of music for each of his albums. Mutations is a mellow folksy album that is equally smart and well produced, Beck really shifts gears with Midnight Vultures and takes the listener on completely different direction, thus offering a fresh sound for the Beck fan. 

I would highly suggest that you pick up a used copy at your local record exchange or find it available on the web.  Sexx Laws was the single most identified with Midnight Vultures, but it does not define the remainder of the album and one should give this album the benefit of several listens.

Beck’s Midnight Vultures gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.


The Immortality of Genius

Frank Zappa was one of the great musical geniuses of our time, excelling in both quality and quantity of his music. Luckily for those of us who never got a chance to see him perform live, his son Dweezil has in recent years taken up the Zappa mantle and is sharing his father’s gift with old Zappa vets and a new generation of fans alike. “Zappa Plays Zappa” (or ZPZ) has been playing shows for a couple of years, delighting fans with spot-on renditions of a wide range of Frank’s compositions. The band is comprised mainly of younger musicians, but has featured guest performers who toured with the elder Zappa, including Napoleon Murphy Brock, Terry Bozio, Ray White, and Steve Vai.
In short, any fan of Zappa should check out their live album, live DVD, and/or see them in concert. Here is a list of their current tour dates. Let us know what you think!


Frank Zappa – Playground Psychotics (1992)

During my recent binge on Zappa I came across an album I had never heard called Playground Psychotics.  This album is a 2-disc set that is one of the most random of Zappa albums I’ve ever listened to; most of the album is comprised of side conversations and random babble of Frank’s first band The Mothers of Invention.  Apparently Mothers fans had been pleading for years for some new vintage material and this is what Zappa ended up releaseing.  Granted the album material is from the 1971 tour of various locations (Fillmore, UCLA, and London), it actually contains very little music.  Is it waste of your money? No, but if you are looking for an introductory album to Zappa or Mothers it is not a good choice.

I compare much of the album to a 1970’s version of Twitter;  Psychotic’s simply provides a way to find out what the band was doing at any given time, at the airport, behind the scenes of recording, in their hotel rooms, and what they talk about after a show.  Although much of the dialogue is mildly entertaining it is only worth listening to once.  There are some highlights to the album such as the song Concentration Moon Parts 1 & 2 and the 30 minute masterpiece Billy The Mountain.   I must say that some of the banter between band mates is funny, especially track 16 on the 2nd disc entitled “Its  a good thing we get paid to do this”; basically a goofy monologue of the band bad mouthing Zappa and poking fun at themselves and why they don’t get laid since they play “this comedy shit” and why no girl would take what they do seriously.

This album does reflect the rumor that Zappa recorded EVERYTHING over the years (including the goofy conversations he had with his band, it’s pretty kooky).  This album seems to be something Zappa truly put together just for the loyal fans; clearlythey would be the only ones that would truly appreciate its content.

If you are a diehard Zappa fan you will appreciate this album since it is “something old and something new”.  Playground Psychotics simply provides you a peek at a bunch of guys who liked to play music, have fun being absurd, and joking on one another all the time. 

The album sells on Amazon for $20 but I think that is simply too much to ask for what you don’t get.  I would put the money towards multi-disc collections such as Lather, The Best Band You Never Heard or any of the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore volumes.  You’ll get far more listening pleasure for years afterwards.

Frank Zappa’s Playground Psychotics gets 2.5 out of 5.

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