Posts Tagged ‘Ed Mann.’

Frank Zappa: Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show: Soft Pak 2CD

The first posthumous archival release from the ’88 touring band focuses on the historic last show Frank Zappa ever played in the U.S., at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, with live concert material taken from that show plus additional performances from Providence, RI and Towson, MD, all newly remixed from the 48-track digital master tapes. It features the first official release of “The Beatles Medley” along with over 25 unreleased performances and liner notes by FZ’s drummer, Chad Wackerman and Vaultmeister, Joe Travers. Available June 18th on stream/download; on 2-CD; or a 4-LP 180-gram black vinyl box set.

As Travers writes in the liner notes, “Start with the fulcrum of the 1981-1984 touring bands (Robert, Scott & Chad), bring back Ike Willis, add the Synclavier digital workstation, a 5-piece horn section with multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally and you have what FZ famously described as “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life.” While saying “never heard” might have been a bit of hyperbole, it wasn’t far off as the short-lived band (four months of rehearsal in 1987/1988, followed by a tour from February through June 1988) only played a few dozen shows on the East Coast and Europe before disbanding. Nonetheless, the shows they did play together were electrifying and a masterclass in musicianship

With Zappa on lead guitar, vocals, and wielding his new obsession the Synclavier, he led the proceedings through a career-spanning set, backed by a stellar cast of veteran band members and newly added members: Mike Keneally (guitar, synth, vocals), Scott Thunes (electric bass, Minimoog), Ike Willis (rhythm guitar, synth, vocals), Chad Wackerman (drums, electronic percussion), Ed Mann (vibes, marimba, electronic percussion), Robert Martin (keyboards, vocals) and the cracking horn section of Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugel horn, synth), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Paul Carman (alto, soprano and baritone sax), Albert Wing (tenor sax) and Kurt McGettrick (baritone and bass sax, contrabass clarinet).

Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show includes all of this and many more highlights such as fan favourites, “Peaches In Regalia,” “The Black Page” “Inca Roads,” “Sharleena” “Sofa #1” and “Pound For A Brown.” It also includes a horn-laden cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” and the first official release of the highly sought after “The Beatles Medley,” which features the band performing the music of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the lyrics completely changed to reflect the then-recent sex scandal of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. The bawdy lyrics poke fun at the hypocritical minister and was part of Zappa’s agenda to demystify televangelists.

Just how Zappa felt it was important to rail against toxically prude self-appointed culture protectors and whatever hypocrisy or hypocrite rankled him that day, he was also a motivator of positive action, passionate about causes, especially voting rights, making it his mission to get his audiences to register to vote. With a presidential election looming, Zappa offered voter registration on the tour, aided by The League of Women Voters. Fans were encouraged to vote before the show or during a special 20-minute intermission in the middle of the two-hour plus concert, which would start with Zappa triggering the Synclavier to play a piece of music. In Uniondale it was “One Man, One Vote.” Notably, the version here is a different mix than the studio version released on Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention. Zappa 88: The Last U.S. Show kicks off with Zappa extolling the importance of voting and encouraging the unregistered to sign up at the show by registering someone live on stage. It was followed by a representative from Governor Mario Cuomo’s office reading a message congratulating “Mr. Zappa for the important work you are doing encouraging your audiences and others to register and vote.”

“Sadly after the European run was over,” as Travers pens in the liners, “Frank Zappa chose to disband the group and cancel the rest of the tour, reportedly forfeiting $400,000.00 in revenue and depriving additional audiences the opportunity to witness how special this group really was. With all of the time and money spent to prepare and promote the tour, not to mention the potential within the talented band and crew, now in 2021, it’s an even more historic loss considering FZ was to never tour again.”

Fortunately, Zappa’s final U.S. show, like so many others of his, was documented and can now be experienced in its glory more than three decades later.

There was no one quite like Frank Zappa. He sucked the expected seriousness right out of rock ’n’ roll and triumphantly turned the genre on its head, injecting comedy and fusing other genres to it, like pop, jazz, psychedelia, proto-metal and more. He recorded more than 60 albums throughout his career as a solo artist and with his band, the Mothers of Invention, and he produced nearly all of them. A man who wore many hats, he also directed films, music videos and designed album artwork.

For Frank Zappa fans, his multi-night run at The Palladium in New York City back in October of 1977 is the stuff of legend. It came in the midst of one of the guitarist/composer’s most fertile creative periods, which would yield a dozen live and studio albums over the next five years as well as the feature film Baby Snakes, built from footage captured at one of these vaunted Halloween shows in ‘77. These performances were also a showcase for what is arguably Zappa’s best backing band of his lengthy career, an ensemble that boasted future Talking Heads/King Crimson member Adrian Belew on guitar, percussion master Ed Mann and, most crucially, the outrageously talented drummer Terry Bozzio.

The Zappa Family Trust is unleashing “Halloween ‘77″, the full performances from this small residency at The Palladium via a wonderfully-designed boxed set that includes a kitschy ‘70s-style costume (plastic Frank Zappa mask, plastic pull over top) and all the audio on a USB stick made to look like a candy bar. It’s charming as all get out, aimed directly at the hearts and bank accounts of (are they any other kind?) FZ super fans. There’s also a truncated three CD version for those not wishing to expend that much dough.

For the casual listener, it’s a lot to take in. The complete audio runs to just under 16 hours, and almost all the shows feature the same set list. The music, too, can be plenty imposing. Zappa’s compositions are full of quick time signature shifts, executed with almost rigid yet limber precision by a very well rehearsed band. The songs themselves are dizzying, braiding together jazz, psychedelia, proto-metal and contemporary classical. There are enough pop-style hooks to draw you in, but you’d better be prepared to hold on tight.

Zappa fans are more than familiar with his October 1977 residency at New York’s Palladium Theater. Zappa produced and directed a feature film around these shows called “Baby Snakes”, featuring backstage tomfoolery and stop-motion clay animation, as well as a live album box set, titled Halloween ‘77: The Palladium, NYC.

If you’re unfamiliar with Zappa’s work, it might be a little off-putting to listen to him invite audience members on stage to whip each other or delight in the uncomfortable sexual oddities of “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” the weird gay panic wrapped in “Punky’s Whips” or the tittering reference to mooning people in the title of instrumental “Pound For A Brown”...Luckily, much like the discomforting stage banter within, the music overshadows all of that nonsense. Especially when it is presented with such care and wit as with this set.

There’s also the matter of his conservative outlook, which peppers these performances, particularly the first show of the set, recorded on October 28th. In his intro to the song “Flakes,” he says, “This is a song about people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do. There’s a large concentration of these denizens in the state of California. The problem, simply stated, is that everybody who moves to California, moves there to collect unemployment or welfare or both.” He also makes clear what he thinks of his main character in “Bobby Brown,” calling him a “schmuck” for being “the first guy in town to say ‘Ms.’” Whether Zappa truly believed those things or not or was aiming for provocation, the cheers of the New York crowd in response is off-putting enough.

For those folks acutely familiar with the Zappa canon, this is the kind of treat you want someone to drop in your candy bag. All of the shows sounds spectacular. Working off of some great source material, the remixing and remastering work, overseen by Ahmet Zappa and Joe Travers, shows off each instrument with precision and clarity. There’s added allure here with the inclusion of rarely heard live tracks like the leisurely instrumental version of “Conehead” (a showcase for a particularly effusive solo by Zappa), a premiere of future single “Dancin’ Fool” and the only live performance of “Jewish Princess.” I can also see some fans debating over which epic version of “Wild Love” (each one ranges between 24 and 28 minutes in length) is the best or which Bozzio drum solo reigns supreme (I’m partial to the double kick drum-heavy antics of the first show on October 29th).

This Halloween-themed release comes along at a strange time for the Zappa family. Ahmet and Dweezil continue to fire off furious open letters to one another, and just as they keep reissuing FZ’s work in new formats, including freshly cut vinyl remasters, they’re going to attempt to bring the man himself back on tour via hologram. Those odd turns could tarnish this somewhat for long time supporters or leave a sour taste for someone looking to dive into this expansive body of work for the first time. Luckily, much like the discomforting stage banter within, the music overshadows all of that nonsense. Especially when it is presented with such care and wit as with this set.

Players:
Frank Zappa – Guitar, Vocals
Adrian Belew – Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Mars – Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Ed Mann – Percussion
Patrick O’Hearn – Bass, Vocals
Terry Bozzio – Drums, Vocals

 

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a little Frank Zappa…and this year, Zappa Records and UMe are delivering once again with a frightfully entertaining new box set.

The bandleader’s New York Halloween shows were among his most anticipated as he blended his signature musical virtuosity with a heavily tongue-in-cheek dose of seasonal revelry.  The 1981 stand at the late, lamented Palladium – a once-luxurious 1927 movie palace theatre, sadly demolished in 1998 to make room for new dormitories at New York University – was particularly special to Zappa’s fans as he had curtailed the 1980 shows earlier than expected as a result of illness.  (Not to mention that there was no fall tour, and no Halloween show, in 1979.)

Halloween ’81 would be even more special, however.  Zappa had arranged for the midnight concert in front of the 3,000-capacity crowd to be recorded for both radio and television (the latter on a new channel called MTV) – reportedly the first live simulcast in cable television history.  The early show at 8 pm was filmed, too, and multimedia auteur Zappa would put that footage to good use, too, on his home video releases of The Torture Never Stops (1982) and The Dub Room Special (1983) and on the audio releases of The Dub Room Special, One Shot Deal, and the You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series.  This new box set, however, marks the first time audio from the concerts has been released in its entirety.

For the shows, Zappa was joined by his new band consisting of three new players – Scott Thunes on bass, Chad Wackerman, on drums and Robert Martin on keyboards – plus veterans Ray White on guitar, Ed Mann on percussion and Tommy Mars on keys.  Steve Vai, affectionally referred to by Zappa as the “Little Italian Virtuoso,” appeared on his second tour as a band member.  This unit had only been on the road for a month but played with the tightness of a seasoned troupe as they ran through Zappa’s intricate melodies both new and old.  The tour supported the September 1981 release of You Are What You Is, and a number of that double album’s songs were featured including its title track, “Teen-Age Wind,” “Doreen,” “I’m A Beautiful Guy,” “Mudd Club,” “Dumb All Over,” “Suicide Chump,” and the Halloween-apropos, double entendre-laden “Goblin Girl.”

Available on October 2nd: there are 3 shows on 6 CD, more than 7 hours of Zappa, With a mask and costume, plus a 40-page booklet with rare photos from the event by John Livzey and new liner notes by touring band member Robert Martin, Vaultmeister Joe Travers and super fan-in-attendance Gary Titone who pens a remembrance of the shows. In addition, a 1CD version titled “Halloween 81: Highlights From The Palladium, New York City,” featuring performances from all three shows along with an exclusive track, “Strictly Genteel,” from the November 1st show not included on the box set.

These ended up as the final shows Zappa ever played at the Palladium and as his penultimate Halloween concerts.  He would revive the tradition just once more at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in 1984.  Halloween 81 captures Zappa and his musical cohorts in peak form.  Both the 6-CD and 1-CD iterations arrive from Zappa Records/UMe on October 2nd and can be pre-ordered .

In 2020, one of the best things that has just come out for me is an archival release of legendary Frank Zappa concerts from New York. Exploring this third in a series of comprehensive concert-run super deluxe boxed CD sets issued by the Zappa Family Trust, Halloween ’81 has given me pause to reassess a period of Frank’s later career which I kind of overlooked, especially when it came to appreciating his touring band of that moment in time. I had some of the albums, but I didn’t get into them as much as prior release for some reason.

As a lifetime Frank Zappa fan, why I downplayed this period is a good question beyond the scope of this review (besides, you don’t need to be bored reading about my trials and tribulations… this is about Frank!). Listening to these recordings with now really fresh ears has been revelatory. I am getting to hear the material from those ’80s albums played by his great band live without a net. It is all delivered in real time with the energy that only an on-stage performance before a live audience can bring. The result is quite tremendous, I must say!

 

A detail worth noting: these shows are much less interactive than the typical Zappa Halloween show from prior years. Usually Zappa would have fairly extensive involvement with the audience but since the shows were both being broadcast via satellite on the radio and filmed for the then-new Music Television network (ie MTV), the band just stays focused and plough through the performances (in majestic fashion, I might add!).

So a song like “Teenage Wind” feels a whole lot cooler live than on the studio release. The back to back story telling of “Beauty Knows No Pain” into ‘Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” works great here. Even a comic jam like “Stevie’s Spanking” sounds “just right,” rocking harder than the version which came out on 1984’s “Them Or Us”.

The version of “Sinister Footwear II” on the midnight Halloween show is quite beautiful and epic!  “The Black Page #2” here has a nifty little reggae lift going on through out which is pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it (the song is reputedly one of the most complex of Zappa’s compositions). There are neat arrangement tweaks Frank made on Sheik Yerbouti favourites “Flakes” and “Yo Mama.” The early versions of “What’s New In Baltimore” and “Moggio” here are hypnotic.

There’s a really sweet moment toward the end the late show where Frank pays grateful homage to New York City and his appreciation for the fan’s support (remember what I said earlier about being a part of that NYC energy… it really was “a thing”).

Then they launch into a reggae version of “King Kong” (from 1968’s Uncle Meat album). And to end the show they whip out a near-epic heavy metal version of “Auld Lang Syne” — apparently Zappa had been accused of being the Guy Lombardo of Halloween!  Whammy bar guitar pyrotechnics included, no extra charge. Brilliant!

Frank Zappa, Halloween 81 (Zappa Records/UMe)