Philly 76

Philly 76
Composer: Frank Zappa
Conductor: Frank Zappa
Label: VAULTernative Records
Release Date: 2010-01-13
Rated: NONE
Genre: Recording

The glorious Philly ’76, recorded in former U.S. capital Philadelphia, 200 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and released for the first time ever on December 21, 2009, to celebrate Zappa’s 69th birthday, should debunk once and for all the myth propagated by a handful of deaf critics that Zappa is a self-indulgent, over-produced genius. Here’s straight Zappa, backed by four guys and a girl, and they kill. The concert was recorded on the eve of Halloween at the Spectrum (a day before the venue’s last concert ever), at a time when Zappa was at odds with his label and a former manager, and days after the release of Zoot Allures. It’s the only 16-track document of songs seldomly performed live, with a rare formation: Long-time drummer Terry Bozzio and former Roxy Music/future U.K. violinist Eddie Jobson join with singer-guitarist Ray White (the voice immortalized on “Illinois Enema Bandit”), Bianca Odin on keyboards and vocals (who only toured for a few weeks), and future Missing Persons Patrick O’Hearn on bass (who was with Zappa for two years). The latter two steal the show — O’Hearn showing that not every bassist around that time was imitating Jaco, and “Lady Bianca” earning her spot in the Zappa Hall of Fame on the strength of this recording alone. But puppetmaster Zappa reminds us who the boss is, and he devotes much of the two CDs’ runtime to long, bluesy instrumental passages highlighting his guitar wizardry. Yes, the solos are long, but as usual — see 1981’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar — they always go somewhere. Even if you’re a Zappa beginner, if you’re willing to dive into Philly ’76 and take it as it comes, you’ll discover the work of an often hilarious artist who was dead serious. — Enrique Lopetegui

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