Monday, September 30, 2013

Frank Zappa 21: Bongo Fury

Frank and Captain Beefheart had a complicated relationship going back to high school, and thanks to their work making Trout Mask Replica a reality, the latter would often find himself as a footnote to the former. Halfway through the ‘70s, following several incarnations of the Magic Band and a few albums, the Captain wound up on tour with the Mothers, and a couple of the shows were the source of the Bongo Fury album.
For the most part, the album “rocks” more than the last few, the Captain being such a blues belter and harmonica blower. But he was also a poet, so “Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top” and “Man With The Woman Head” are accompanied by beatnik jazz, or an approximation thereof. A neat little boogie riff (fitting for the Austin locale) kicks off “Debra Kedabra”, but soon gives way to a very complicated construction for the Captain’s outbursts, finding its way to a nifty riff under a repeated quote from “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Napoleon Murphy Brock was still in the band, thankfully, and he sings a great co-lead on “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy”. “Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead” is a country spoof that brings to mind Jimmy Carl Black from 200 Motels; this and “200 Years Old” refer to the upcoming Bicentennial.
The city of Cucamonga looms large in Zappa history, but the song of the same title is more of a typical midtempo tune with wacky voices and a harmonica processed to sound like an accordion. It leads right into the lengthy “Advance Romance”, which is dirty in a musical way (only alluded to in the lyrics) with an extended solo section, beginning with slide guitarist Denny Walley and eventually moving to Frank. For whatever reason (most likely the metaphors) “Muffin Man” is the song that gets played on the radio, so people know it; it’s basically a spoken intro over a silent-movie piano, followed by a single riff beneath a solo, acknowledgment of the band, and the final goodbye.
What’s impressive about the album, and the others leading up to it, is that it was pretty much recorded live; even with the in-studio sweetening that likely followed, there’s no question that these bands were well-rehearsed and tight to the point of snapping. Bongo Fury is a harmless album, more a snapshot than a grand statement, and apparently not at all indicative of Captain Beefheart’s oeuvre as a whole.

Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers Bongo Fury (1975)—3

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