Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Frank Zappa – Philly ’76 (2009 ZFT Release)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I received this new dual-CD concert release in the mail today. It is nicely packaged in the “mini LP” format with some nice artwork/photos. There’s also a letter from Bianca Odin describing her experience with Frank. The ZFT (Gail) has thrown in some graphics pertaining to endangered animal and vegetable species, as well as the excerpt from the Declaration of Independence outlining the grievances against King George. There’s also some rant-y pseudo FZ lingo thrown in as well, where someone who is not FZ tries to write/speak like FZ. I can do without this stuff. But it’s Gail’s ball, she gets to play it as she sees fit, or, I’m presuming, she’ll take the ball home.

Since the ZFT couldn’t be arsed to include the track listing on their site (nice move guys!), here it is in all its glory. My commentary on the “highlights” follows.

1. The Purple Lagoon
2. Stink-Foot
3. The Poodle Lecture
4. Dirty Love
5. Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station
6. Tryin’ to Grow a Chin
7. The Torture Never Stops
8. City of Tiny Lights
9. You Didn’t Try to Call Me
10. Manx Needs Women
11. Chrissy Puked Twice

1. Black Napkins
2. Advance Romance
3. Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?
4. Rudy Want to Buy Yez a Drink
5. Would You Go All the Way?
6. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
7. What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?
8. Dinah-Moe Humm
9. Stranded in the Jungle
10. Find Her Finer
11. Camarillo Brillo
12. Muffin Man

I don’t know the details of this show. Some nerd who’s heavier than I am will have to correct me. It sounds like this tour had Flo & Eddie, but their guitar player got killed in Utah three days before the show, so they weren’t on it. It sounds to me like Bianca Odin is standing in to fill that gap. I could be wrong about that though. This tour was in promotion of Zoot Allures, and was recorded the day after Zappa’s performance of Black Napkins on the Mike Douglas (which I’m pretty sure is the one where he played the Pignose amp, IIRC — which was totally freakin’ AWESOME, by the way!).

Overall the mix is very good, everything is very clear. Frank’s guitar (which in this era, and on this recording, is scorching!) sounds great. The tone is very full.

Purple Lagoon is only a part of what you hear on the brilliant version from Live in NY. It’s much slower too. Unfortunately it’s not complete, as I was pretty psyched to listen to a version that was slow enough to catch some of time sig changes as they pass by. I could listen to this track all day, so it was kind of a bummer it was so short.  They did wind up closing the set (pre-encore and post-encore) with a bit more of the Purple Lagoon though, so he must have really been burning it in to get tight performances. Bonus for some very cheezy sci-fi movie special effects from Eddie Jobson (actually forgot he played with FZ).

This version of Torture is familiar. I can’t recall offhand if I’ve heard it on other releases (You Can’t Do That On Stage volumes perhaps?). Could just be deja vu because Torture appears on so many Zappa records. I love Patrick’s playing on this track. Zappa’s guitar solo is not familiar at all. It’s very cool. It starts out with kind of a Pink Napkins feel to it.

“Manx Needs Women”, which Frank introduces as “Mars Needs Women” is pretty cool. Like Purple Lagoon on this recording, it’s a lot slower than the one on “Live in NY”. It morphs into Titties ‘N Beer with some modified lyrics and renamed “Chrissy Puked Twice” with assistance from Bianca Odin.

A couple of band members take solos on Black Napkins. Bianca Odin does some nice singing on the track (singing double stops/diads in one part, it sounds like. (!) ) Eddie Jobson on violin, and a rare guitar solo from Ray White. Frank’s playing is also fairly incendiary on this track.

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy is a pretty interesting track since the only other version I know of is the one on 200 Motels (one of the first FZ albums I really got into).

Fans of smoking blues guitar intros should check out Frank’s intro to What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are? Uncharecteristically bluesy riffs from Frank, IMO. This is a nice track on this CD. The interaction between Frank adn Bianca is nice, and she has a great voice for this role.

Stranded in the Jungle is a track I’ve never heard. Fun little song. Cover?

Find Her Finer is pretty cool here, I like it with the greasier/funkier guitar that didn’t make it on the CD version (or is buried deeply in the mix). It’s a sparse track on the CD, but it’s got a nice, sparse feel to it here too.

General impression: It’s great to hear Patrick O’Hearn’s fretless throughout this recording. I liked hearing more of Ray White’s guitar. And it’s a unique recording in that Eddie Jobson and Bianca are on it, which isn’t that well-documented elsewhere. The show was pretty good, but I get a subtle impression the performance/show was kinda’ low energy  Frank’s guitar playing starts off really fiery, and sounds amazing, but it doesn’t seem to really open up on any of the tracks. It’s also a bit of a disappointment that they didn’t cover more of the “hard” stuff in Frank’s catalog, esp. given some really great players in the band.  This latter point seems to be the M.O. for the ZFT releases though. (Has the ZFT released a single thing that doesn’t have Dinah-Moe Humm on it? I know they have, I’m just saying, they do tend to focus on the commercial/accessible stuff. Do they not “get” the other stuff? What’s the deal?).

But these are minor gripes. It is indeed good to have a new full length Zappa concert to listen to, with a good, non-bootleg sounding, mix. This recording is a must for a diehard Zappa fan, but if you aren’t the biggest Zappa fan and you don’t already have “Live in N.Y.” or “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol II”, or (god forbid!) “Roxy and Elsewhere”, then you simply need to run out and buy those first.

Happy holidays!

Rant: Sun’s Web Site

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I sent a message to Sun after a frustrating afternoon trying to get a patch cluster to patch my personal Sun server. The grammar and wording sucks, but I was completely pissed (and it’s been building up over the last 3-4 years trying to use their awful web site).

Subject: Your Website: Awful!

I’m trying to download the 10_Recommended patch cluster. 3-4 successive attempts to download the 600+ MB file completed after 220MB leaving me with a corrupt file. It took me 5-10 minutes to actually even find the page containing the patch cluster to begin with. Then I learned that I needed to be logged in to download the cluster. But I wasn’t given a login prompt, I was just given an error page. I had to go back and search the previous pages for a login prompt. Overall your site has, for the last 2-3 years, completely sucked. Why don’t you help the people who use your products by making things easier to find, and making them available (not by filling our hard drives with corrupt zip files)? Also, don’t make people log in to read your precious tech docs and spec sheets. That’s completely stupid too.

I used to think the people I worked for were crazy for dumping Sun for Dell/Windows, but now I see that you seem to be too inadequate to handle the business people give you. I guess you’ll be going the way of Sco Unix before long. Can’t say I’ll be that sorry to see you go when you do.

Windows Vista

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Vista’s probably the first Microsoft OS since Win98 (since that was in production when I started using computers regularly) that I’ve not been an early adopter of (or that I’ve not been using since beta). Here it is months after it was released to the general population that I’m using it for the first time. There are a number of reasons for this. It has some to do with where I currently work and the people who get have access to the licensing, it has some to do with it being much harder to just “find” a license somewhere online (and that I no longer really trust Windows software media obtained from anyone other than the source), and it has the most to do with the fact that I really didn’t care much about trying it out since I had no need to upgrade. The very little I actually use the Windows OS in my life (partially forced by work to use it, partially out of convenience in running certain apps at home –without some of the headaches of running it in a virtual environment) has been served well enough by XP — and could probably be just as well served by Win2k.

Anyway, I got a copy of the media and and installed Ultimate to give’er a whirl on my home machine. Sadly it’s not the 64-bit version, so I can’t make full use of the AMD64 this machine has, but then again, when I used to run 64-bit Linux about 2-3 years ago, it too wasn’t really that rewarding, since at that time nothing worked in 64-bit mode (it could still be that way, I haven’t tried since I’ve stopped being the kind of person who reinstalls his OS every couple weeks to try some new OS or config or something. I typically leave the OS on for years now and only upgrade when I really feel the need for a change). It’d probably behoove me to read about people’s experience running Vista in 64-bit mode before even trying it.

The install is easier, and noticeably faster than an XP install. The installation also seems to bug you less than the XP installer. I’d be interested to do a side-by-side comparison though, since a lot of the annoying questions you get during the XP install were saved for the first boot (or was it the second? Vista wasn’t clear about what really was the first boot and what was a first boot that required a reboot before the first boot) before you log in.

The drivers for my system were mostly detected — enough to get me up and running with a good resolution and an IP address obtained from my LAN’s DHCP server. I even have a functional sound driver for my Soundblaster, but I am being told by the system that I should get the real driver from Creative. I haven’t checked the device mangler for missing drivers. I’m guessing there will be a few, but not any that stop me from working right away. XP installs on this box almost always required several driver installs before I had network and video functionality.

I notice that notepad didn’t choke on a 12MB XML file, so it seems they’ve improved its support for large files (or did they do that in XP, I don’t remember). I also noticed that the command-line (cmd)’s interface allows you to expand the window vertically and the text will adapt to the window’s vertical size. I think you had to always go into options and change that in previous versions of Windows. Would be nice if it would do that in both directions though. It didn’t seem doing it horizontally worked.

It seems they did a good job of modernizing the interface to look slicker and more up to date. Nice transparencies in the windows, nice side bar, everything looks pretty clean. (I love the look of the alt-tab switching between apps! And the new system monitor that you can get to from the Task Manager is pretty slick for monitoring performance on the system.) It’s funny though, this desktop looks a lot like what people have been using for a long time in Linux (and probably on Macs too) with the transparancies and the gdesklet-like side bar.

Despite all these changes, I’m not feeling too much like a fish out of water. Mapping network drives was simple. Changing the interface look & feel can be found in the same context sensitive menus. The Task Manager is in the same place. The Control Panel is pretty self explanatory. I purposely didn’t choose all the “Windows Classic” settings for windowing and folder views so that I’d become more familiar with the default interface, and I don’t find it too disorienting.

Some of the “mother may I” stuff when accessing menus and settings gets a little annoying. I think I had to do it like 5-6 times when installing iTunes. I also see that the game port for my Soundblaster Audigy isn’t supported.

Update: I do notice something odd about the process control changes. It seems apps lock up (“not responding” in the Task Manager) a lot less. However, it seems like they just kinda’ hang within themselves and don’t respond. So in a sense it looks like the program is responding, but it’s really not. It’s kind of a fake-out. I’m talking about iTunes. I had an XML file with the mappings to the library that would fill my 80GB iPod. I imported that into iTunes. iTunes would just sit there while “determining gapless playback information” for all these tunes. If I tried to sync my iPod to the recently imported library, it would basically stop responding. I did realize that the process priority was set to medium by default. Changing to high brought about the “not responding” more often, but didn’t really seem to help iTunes process this massive load.

All in all I’m pretty impressed. I was expecting (and half hoping) to really dislike Vista every step of the way. But my first hour or so with it have been pretty good. I’ll update later as I use it more and have recourse to try working with a number of different apps.