The Yellow Shark is a 1993 Classical Music Live Album by Frank Zappa, generally seen as the crown on his career. The album is a collaboration with the German Ensemble Modern, a classical orchestra specialized in performing more modern Avant Garde Music. It wasn't Zappa's first experience with a classical orchestra: Lumpy Gravy (1968) and 200 Motels (1971) already had orchestral pieces on them and albums like Orchestral Favorites (1979), London Symphony Orchestra (1983/1987) and The Perfect Stranger (1984) were even entirely classical music. Never before, however, had an orchestra been so entirely devoted to rehearsing and performing Zappa's music according to his personal wishes. The orchestra was even able to perform "G-Spot Tornado", a track off of Jazz from Hell that Zappa had previously assumed to be unplayable by human musicians (the studio version was composed entirely on a Synclavier).
For Zappa, this was the most satisfying performance his work ever received, being the closest approximation of how his compositions sounded in his head, and it all happened one year before his untimely death from cancer (which limited him to appearing for only a small number of songs on the album). It would also be the last album released while he was still alive; given everything already described, it ended up being a sadly fitting album to close out his life on. Even for the Ensemble Modern, it was the first time a classically trained orchestra performed music in a manner similar to a large-scale rock concert.
The concert was named after a piece of Fan-Art that Zappa had received in 1988: a yellow surfboard carved and modified in the shape of a shark.
- "Intro" (1:44)
- "Dog Breath Variations" (2:06)
- "Uncle Meat" (3:24)
- "Outrage At Valdez" (3:27)
- "Times Beach III" (7:31)
- "III Revisited" (1:45)
- "The Girl In The Magnesium Dress" (4:33)
- "Be-Bop Tango" (3:43)
- "Ruth Is Sleeping" (5:56)
- "None Of The Above" (2:17)
- "Pentagon Afternoon" (2:28)
- "Questi Cazzi Di Piccioni" (3:02)
- "Times Beach III" (4:26)
- "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America, 1992" (2:49)
- "Welcome To The United States" (6:41)
- "Pound For A Brown" (2:13)
- "Exercise #4" (1:37)
- "Get Whitey" (7:01)
- "G-Spot Tornado" (5:17)
- Frank Zappa: conductor, compositions, producer, performer
- Peter Rundel: conductor, violin
- Ensemble Modern: orchestra.
Trope Gathering In A Post-Industrial Environment.
- Album Filler: Zappa originally wrote "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" as concert filler. It actually turned out to be one of the funniest moments of the entire show.
- Book-Ends: "Welcome To The United States" starts off and ends with the title being spoken.
- Call-Back and Continuity Nod: "The Yellow Shark" brings up memories to the mudshark featured on Fillmore East, June 1971. "Dog Breath Variations", "Uncle Meat" and "Pound For A Brown" appeared earlier on Uncle Meat (1969). "The Girl In The Magnesium Dress" was a piece from The Perfect Stranger (1984), "Be-Bop Tango" made its debut on Roxy & Elsewhere (1973) and "G-Spot Tornado" on Jazz from Hell. "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" mentions poodles, a dog species Zappa referenced before on Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe ('). "Welcome To The United States quotes from "Louie Louie", a piece that Zappa enjoyed referencing now and then in his music, as he did on Uncle Meat (1969) and One Size Fits All (1975).
- Celebrity Cameo: The liner notes thank some notable celebrities for their "very special but no less significant contributions", among them Beverley D' Angelo (Ellen Griswold in the National Lampoon Vacation film series; voice of Lurleen Lumpkin in The Simpsons), Yoko Ono, Matt Groening, Larry Flynt, Lynda Barry, Rutger Hauer, Tom and Roseanne Arnold, composers/conductors Nicolas Slonimsky, Pierre Boulez and Kent Nagano, Stephen Hawking, Warren DeMartini, Don Cerveris, Johnny Carson, Dennis Miller and Jack Nicholson.
- Comically Missing the Point: During "Welcome To The United States" Kreitschmar asks a person to "answer yes or no" to a question, to which he answers: "Yes or no."
- Deliberately Monochrome: Zappa appears in black-and-white on the album cover.
- Department of Redundancy Department: "Welcome To The United States" was based on the US Customs Card that most be filled in by persons entering the United States. As Zappa himself said in the liner notes:I couldn't believe that anybody would ask those questions and expect somebody to give honest answers to them. It just seemed like such a classic piece of governmental stupidity-first, that it exists, and second that people are forced to fill it out. Somewhere, there's a whole government machinery that has to deal with filled-out cards. It's so stupid. Since most of the people in the group were German, I know that when they came to the United States, they all had to fill these things out, and probably found it especially offensive.
- Epic Rocking: "Times Beach III" and "Get Whitey" are over seven minutes long.
- Everything Is an Instrument: "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" makes use of a clown whistle, an alarm, a toy piano, rustling crisps bags and a didgeridoo in a bucket of water. The "Intro" and "Pentagon Afternoon" make use of toy ray guns and a wind machine.
- Face on the Cover: Zappa's visibly older face is seen on the album cover. His aging is also due to cancer taking his toll on him.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Questi Cazzi Di Piccione", which sounds chic, unless you speak Italian, because it means "Those Fucking Pigeons". "G-Spot Tornado" is another example. "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" ends with criticism of anti-abortionists and "Welcome To The United States" with the question whether the visitor was involved with persecutions associated with Nazi Germany, which is already controversial enough on its own but then remember that this concert was performed in Germany itself!. "Get Whitey" sounds like the racially motivated slur, but was actually inspired by the fact that the piece was originally only concerned with the white keys on the piano.
- Gratuitous German: Some German is spoken at the start of "Welcome To The United States".
- Gratuitous Italian: "Questi Cazzi Di Piccione", which means "Those Fucking Pigeons" in Italian. It was inspired by Zappa's visit to Venice, where pigeons are everywhere.
- I'm a Humanitarian: "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" features wild, abandoned young children who are eaten by other Americans and are "accumulating since the total ban on abortion a few years back."
- Instrumental: All music is instrumental, save for "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" and "Welcome To The United States".
- Live Album: The album was entirely live.
- Mickey Mousing: "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" and "Welcome To The United States" both tell stories, while the orchestra provides musical queues and sound effects to illustrate what's being told.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "None Of The Above", a throwaway title for a very complex piece. The lyrics of "Welcome To The United States" are nothing more but the instructions of a US Customs Card.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" criticizes the pro-life movement in the USA, while "Welcome To The United States" pokes fun at the the US Customs Card that needs to be filled in by immigrants who visit the USA. The stinger is the final question: "Between 1933 and 1945 have you been involved in any way with persecutions associated with Nazi Germany?" When the visitor answers "Yes" he is immediately welcomed to the United States.
- Non-Appearing Title: The album title does not appear in any of the lyrics.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Hermann Kretzschmar's recitation of "Welcome To The United States" doesn't hide his German accent.
- The Parody: "Be-Bop A Tango" has a mid-section where people start chattering and the music sounds like a cheesy cocktail bar lounge in a restaurant.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Outrage At Valdez" refers to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. "Times Beach III" and "III Revised" were inspired by the 1983 scandal in Times Beach, USA, where an entire town had to move out because of dioxin-infestation.
- Repurposed Pop Song: "Outrage At Valdez" was a piece Zappa originally composed for a 1990 documentary investigating the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.
- Secret Word: During the intro Zappa says:I understand there is a sign in the audience that once again says: "What's the secret word for tonight?" The secret word for tonight is ... (sound of children's ray gun)
- "Welcome To The United States" has a brief quote from "Louie Louie".
- "Ruth Is Sleeping" refers to Zappa's percussionist Ruth Underwood and her habit of sleeping underneath the marimba.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Due to him suffering from cancer Zappa couldn't be present at all the Ensemble Modern concerts and even when he was he only conducted a few pieces himself. On the CD his voice is only heard during the intro.
- Spoken Word in Music: "Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America" and "Welcome To The United States" have recitation.