You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 4

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Frank Zappa wanted his monumental six-volume, 12-CD set You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore to capture all facets of the life of a touring musical band, positive and negative. Today, we continue our year-long retrospective of this set with our look at You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 4 (hereafter referred to as YCDTOSA4), the first volume that tests the patience of the listener.

For the bulk of the first half of the series, Zappa seemed to focus on solid musical performances, with a little bit of goofiness intermixed in. On YCDTOSA4, Zappa moves into a more improvisational study of life on the road with his band and the Mothers Of Invention - and the picture it paints isn't always that pretty.

As with all the volumes we've looked at so far, this two-disc set includes some interesting performances of both well-known and loved songs as well as some that casual fans of Zappa's might not be familiar with. Early on in this set, Zappa wows with performances of "Stick Together," "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama" and "Willie The Pimp" (though this one will never sound right without Captain Beefheart on vocals).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Surprisingly, some songs which are considered classics in the Zappa catalog aren't done any justice on YCDTOSA4. The constant noodling on "Stevie's Spanking" gets damned annoying really quick, while an early version of "The Torture Never Stops" (featuring the previously mentioned Beefheart) is an interesting look into the history of the song, but offers little more than that.

Still others fall under the "diehard Zappa" heading, such as the inclusion of "The Evil Prince" from Thing-Fish, an album I never liked. (Yes, I still have to review it here... patience. I still owe someone a review of Lather after this retro series is done.) Likewise, the two selections of solos - one from a 1984 performance of "Let's Move To Cleveland", one from a 1978 rendition of "Pound For A Brown" - are far too self-indulgent, as is the ambient noise of "You Call That Music?". Zappa himself would probably have loved that the latter piece is not understood; it would most likely have reminded him of Edgard Varese, whom he idolized.

There's enough on YCDTOS4 to satisfy the curious and provide them with a window to the world of Zappa's influences. A six-song suite (taken from two shows) of older numbers, such as "Little Girl Of Mine," "Johnny Darling" and "Mary Lou", show the importance of r&b on Zappa's music - even if sometimes it seemed like the polar opposite of what these six songs sound like. (Another waste is the band's rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game".)

There's also plenty of humor (albeit on the bizarre or scatalogical) on this set. Tracks like "Little Rubber Girl," "Tiny Sick Tears" and "Smell My Beard" should provide a few laughs, even for the uninitiated. Those who are easily offended are advised to approach these tracks, and others like "Church Chat," with extreme caution.

Still, there's a sense that this set was lacking something. Maybe it was the fact that there are no liner notes detailing stories behind the tracks as there are on the remainder of the series. Maybe it's that this particular set tries to accomplish too much in a two-hour-plus span of time. I could venture guesses as to why this is, but since I don't know any details of Zappa's situation at the time, it wouldn't be responsible of me to speculate.

YCDTOSA4 is probably best reserved for the diehard masses who followed Zappa until he stopped touring in 1988; it certainly is not the disc I'd choose to start a new potential fan of Zappa's with. And while the album has grown on me more over the years, it still isn't up to snuff with the preceding three volumes.

Would the set improve? We'll have to wait until October to find out...

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.