25 Years Ago: Frank Zappa Releases ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1′
One of the most confounding musicians ever to grace the rock genre, Frank Zappa had a penchant for taking what essentially amounted to full-blown avant garde compositions and arranging them for rock ensemble playing. His bizarre, conceptual live performances were an astonishing mix of exceptional musicianship, onstage theatrics and pop culture satire. On May 16, 1988 Zappa showcased some of the standout live tracks from various eras of his development by releasing a career-spanning double live album titled ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 1.’
The project is particularly noteworthy in that it reveals the full ambition and scope of Zappa’s body of work. To call Zappa eclectic would be putting it mildly. Is his music rock? R&B? Doo-wop? Jazz? Classical? Yes — and that’s just for starters. The music on ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1′ offers such a unique sensibility that it’s not too much to say that Zappa was not just the only rock musician who could have written most of it — he’s also the only one who would have.
Several tracks are of special interest to longtime fans, among them the medley ‘Let’s Make the Water Turn Black/Harry, You’re a Beast/The Orange County Lumber Truck,’ from a 1969 performance by the original Mothers of Invention. ‘The Groupie Routine’ is also notable, but perhaps the most important track from a historical perspective is the only officially released full version of ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow Suite,’ featuring the final section, ‘Rollo,’ that was omitted from the original studio version.
Zappa’s music required musicians of exceptional talent to bring it to life, meaning some of rock’s greatest players performed in his band over the years. ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol.1′ features performances from a huge rotating roster of top-flight musicians including Lowell George, Adrian Belew, Steve Vai, Vinnie Colaiuta, Aynsley Dunbar, Terry Bozzio and Chester Thompson, to name just a few.
The project was so well-received that it spawned a series of retrospective live collections that eventually encompassed five additional volumes. And while there is archival and musical value to all of them in turn, ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1′ remains the most definitive overall document of Zappa’s live career.