Review Summary: A live collaboration between Frank and Captain Beefheart.Official Release #21
Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart (the alias of Don van Vliet) had been friends since their early days at Antelope Valley High School in 1958. They shared an interest in blues records, it's clear that musicians like Howlin' Wolf had a huge influence on both. After Zappa had founded The Mothers of Invention, Vliet started his own band The Magic Band, a few albums later Beefheart felt disillusioned by the music industry. Before Bongo Fury
, Frank produced the avant-blues masterpiece Trout Mask Replica
, and Vliet sang Willie The Pimp on Hot Rats
(both albums released in 1969). Along the 70's, Beefheart became a cult musician in his own right, but his album sales were so low that he hardly made any money. Due to contractual obligations he was unable to record a new album by 1975, so he returned to Zappa asking him for help.
Through this live album, it's clear that the music has a strong blues-rock influence, as it is very raw and earthbound sounds (maybe that explains the album title) rather than over the top like as Zappa's style. Beefheart's rough vocals never sounded better, he even contributes with two songs (Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top and Man With The Woman Head), and the backing band is fantastic with a more simplistic approach to the music. Zappa's style on this album can be seen as a strict blues player, as well, providing the basic riffs and ideas for pieces before really going off on a tangent with his guitar solos, along with black humor and freaky jokes. This album also is the last Frank Zappa album where his band was listed as The Mothers.
Bongo Fury starts with Debra Kadabra, a twisted raw blues song, followed by Carolina Hard-Core Ecstacy, a bit of an anthem type piece with an epic chorus and some great vocals from Beefheart as well as a superb Zappa solo in the middle. Advance Romance is the longest track of the album, an epic 11 minute piece with a blues-rock instrumental section and some more amazing Zappa soloing on top, as well as some great rhythmic work delivered by Terry Bozzio and Tom Fowler. The album closes with a Zappa classic, Muffin Man, with Frank's spoken words lunancy of a Muffin sort of mad scientist, followed by a great guitar riff as well with a overwhelming guitar solo, courtesy of Zappa. Despite this being a live album, there are two studio tracks to be found in the middle with 200 Years Old and Cucamonga, both tracks aren't bad, but there's something left to be desired with them.
All in all, the final collaboration between these two long time friends proves to be a strong effort, ranging into the repertoire and the skills of both musicians. Besides the two studio tracks are a bit of a disappointment, but they make up a small amount of the album, the rest, though, is great and pretty funny material to listen to. That said, Frank, along with Beefheart, delivers an excellent live album and this one's no exception.