[The band] was unique because it combined a very strong five-piece horn section with all kinds of electronic stuff, with effects on the percussion section, on the drums, multiple keyboards—a very interesting blend of this horn harmony and very strange sound effects. [...] All those little effects and things coming in, that’s just the way it was on the live show. We had three stations generating samples; there was Ed Mann, who had this whole vocabulary of dog barks and bubbles and weird shit, then there was Chad Wackerman who had all these strange percussion things hooked up to a big rig, and then there was the synclavier, which I could play when I wasn’t playing the guitar.
Before the band dissolved in mutiny, it performed enough to generate material for three albums (two of them doubles): The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life, Make a Jazz Noise Here, and Broadway the Hard Way.
The sets included, in Zappa’s words, “deranged versions of cover tunes”: the band played “I Am The Walrus,” the theme from The Godfather Part II, “Purple Haze,” Boléro, “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “Ring of Fire.” My favorite of these is Zappa’s take on “Stairway to Heaven,” sung by the peerless Ike Willis. It’s like listening to Spike Jones—the band performs a meticulous arrangement of the song, down to the horn section reproducing Jimmy Page’s solo at the end, but comments on the lyrics at the end of every line with a gag sample. If you share my appetite for this flavor of broad shtick, listen for the “songbird who sings” and the forests echoing with laughter. You’ll never hear the original the same way again.
Zappa: “Yes, once upon a time, live musicians actually sang and played this.”
The 1988 band’s full concert in Barcelona is up at YouTube.