FRANK ZAPPA The Yellow Shark

Live album · 1993 · Third Stream
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5/5 ·
darkshade
This review is based on the 2012 reissue.

The Yellow Shark is such a great album. It's breathtaking at times, and doesn't get all tense, scary, and nervous like the London Symphony Orchestra album does (which is a totally different beast of an album anyway). Frank comes out and tells the audience to "get serious, folks", even though he says to throw any panties off to the side of the stage.

The Zappa classics that get a makeover here are outstanding, and rival their earlier versions. I'm especially keen on the Dog Breath Variations and the Uncle Meat theme, because they translate so well to an orchestra. The sound is also outstanding, not only one of the best sounding Frank Zappa albums, but also one of the best sounding albums from anyone that I've ever heard.

Most of the tunes get a HUGE applause from the crowd, especially the final G-Spot Tornado, which itself is a remarkable rendition of a tune Zappa originally wrote for the Synclavier machine on Jazz From Hell, never meant to be played by actual musicians, but the crowd roars with cheers and applause, and apparently went on for over 20 minutes, and the fade out with the crowd still going crazy is a testament to that. I don't know if I've ever heard a live recording from any band or artist where the applause lasted so long that they eventually had to fade it out, as we do get to hear a good chunk of it. Another synclavier song that made it here is The Girl In The Magnesium Dress, which sounds cool because I think Frank wrote it with just his hands going up and down the keys of the synclavier keyboard, yet it got transcribed and played by this wonderful orchestra.

As for the new songs, they are also excellent. Some of them are minimalistic, as that seems to be the direction Zappa was going, but I believe the direction he took in the early 90s was, in part, due to his diagnosis of having cancer. Still, songs like Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992 and Welcome To The United States are some of the coolest pieces of music Frank wrote. The former brings some humor which was missing from a few tracks prior. The latter is cool because a form given to people entering the U.S. is recited over the music, which itself is very dramatic, and in classic Zappa form, reacts to what is being said by the performer. It reminds me of something Captain Beefheart would do, like on The Grand Wazoo from The Lost Episodes (not to be confused with The Grand Wazoo from the album of the same name; The Lost Episodes one is a completely different song).

The case it comes in is beautiful, and the pictures in the giant booklet are great; some are funny, some are just plain cool, but there's one that makes me sad, it's the last one, with some of the guys Frank worked with around that time, like producers and mixers, and they're sitting around him and everyone is smiling, but Frank clearly hadn't shaved for months, meaning the pic was taken not too long before he passed. He knew his time was coming.

I always put The Yellow Shark off because I wasn't ready for it and other orchestral albums because I just wanted the rock and fusion stuff back when I first got into his music. And then when the reissues started coming out and I started collecting them, I still held off on getting The Yellow Shark (and Civilization Phaze III still), but now I realize that was a major error on my part, and I've been keeping myself from listening to one of Zappa's last great works, and it really is one of the best projects he ever put together. If only he had even a few more months to cherish it. He always said he made music for himself, and if others liked it, cool. But us fans have had more time to digest those last couple of releases than he ever did, even though he wrote the music. Point is, The Yellow Shark is magnificent, and I only wish I got it sooner, but now I can listen to it whenever I want.

Don't hold off on getting this album if you are a Zappa fan already, this is an essential piece of music. I wouldn't recommend this to a Zappa newbie, but maybe after you've got 10 or so albums, maybe this would be a good intro to his orchestral work, though I'd argue that any of them are good to start with. This one, however, does have the best sound, with the best intentions from the performers. Masterpiece of prog, classical, third stream, of music.
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