Zappa In New York

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Anyone who is even mildly interested in Frank Zappa knows that he and mainstream record labels got along like oil and water. Much like his music, Zappa refused to follow the well-established "rules," and often ended up at loggerheads with the suits. So it should be no surprise that Zappa In New York, the first official "solo" live disc from Zappa (all others at least shared credit with the Mothers Of Invention), would find itself under the umbrella of Zappa's artistic vision being screwed with by the label (in this case, Warner Brothers).

Originally supposed to be released in 1977, then edited by Warner Brothers upon its release, Zappa finally released this under his own banner in the manner he originally wanted, with all removed tracks put back on as "bonus" numbers. And, for that, Zappa fans should be thankful, as this proves to be an enjoyable outing showing off Zappa's growing status as a guitar god.

Gaining a new foil for his sardonic, occasionally offensive humor in drummer Terry Bozzio, Zappa and crew stake their claim to rock immortality with two numbers, "Titties And Beer" and "Punky's Whips," that may be better known for their appearance on the later album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Baby Snakes, but absolutely shine here. Perhaps it's the occasional addition of legendary announcer Don Pardo (who sounds like he's having the time of his life on this release), but having spent the better part of my adult life wearing out at least two copies of Baby Snakes, I have to say that I like these versions much better. The interplay between Zappa and Bozzio on "Titties And Beer" is well worth the investment of time.

Zappa's penchant for the mildly disturbing doesn't stop there. Check out "The Illinois Enema Bandit," a song which, if my memory is correct, is based on fact, and turns out to be a fairly decent blues-based number. (Ironically, the one song with a title that puts it all out there, "I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth," is an instrumental.)

This isn't to say there are no disappointments, though there are precious few. I can't say I like the new spin on "Cruisin' For Burgers," a track which, to my tired old ears, had very little in common with the version immortalized on Uncle Meat. And the closing track, "The Purple Lagoon/Approximate," is a bit anti-climatic in terms of the whole show. But these are only two minor issues.

In fact, Zappa In New York can be broken into two distinct segments divided onto the two CDs. Disc one is the more humor-filled, scatalogical material, while the second disc is more tuned into the music. And - oh! - what music, as heard in the live renditions of "The Torture Never Stops," "Pound For A Brown" and the two renditions of "The Black Page". Simply put, this is Zappa firing on all cylinders.

It almost makes me wonder why I haven't made Zappa In New York a part of my permanent rotation of Zappa, a la Apostrophe (') or Sheik Yerbouti - and the simple answer is, I dunno. Then again, that's the nice thing about writing for a site like this - you get the chance to re-discover those forgotten chestnuts, and Zappa In New York is most definitely one of those.

2005 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault." All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: A-

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.