When Frank Zappa Looked Back With ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage’
Frank Zappa, one of the most confounding musicians ever to grace the rock 'n' roll, had a penchant for taking what essentially amounted to full-blown avant-garde compositions and arranging them for rock ensemble playing.
His bizarre and conceptual live performances were an astonishing mix of exceptional musicianship, onstage theatrics and pop culture satire. Zappa showcased some of the standout live tracks from various eras of his development with the career-spanning double live album You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1, released on May 16, 1988.
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 distinct 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.
Listen to Frank Zappa's Live 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow'
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 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 famous 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.