The year 1981 saw a flurry of releases from Frank, beginning with the live release of “Tinseltown Rebellion” in May, followed by the “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar” series (also all in May) and then in September that year came the release of “You Are What You Is.” The set list for the early show at the Palladium on Halloween night in New York drew heavily from “You Are What You Is,” with seven of the first eight songs performed at the show coming from that album; those seven tunes were also preformed consecutively. Overall, the show’s material primarily came from albums released in the late 1970s, with a small preview of Zappa’s next album to be released in 1982, “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch,” which was to come out the following May.
In terms of audio quality, this boot isn’t quite as clear as the one for the 1978 show. Despite that, a considerable amount of material from both the 1981 early and late shows was re-mastered and released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” volumes 1, 3, and 6, on the “Beat the Boots” release “As An Am,” as well as on “The Dub Room Special,” and “One Shot Deal.”
The shows were also filmed, and this footage was variously released on the DVDs “The Dub Room Special” and “The Torture Never Stops.” Bits were released on a video “Dumb All Over,” and a lot of film was released as well on MTV. Details on all of this can be found here.
Given the fact that there are plenty of official releases of material from both the 1981 shows, there’s no strong need to go out and find the boot releases because, as I said, the sound quality on this boot in particular is not all that great. However, there is still plenty of material on this boot that was not subsequently released. And with some of the audio releases, the guitar solo was edited out.
Rather than run through the set list song by song as I have done with previous posts, I just want to cover some of the highlights. And one is the performance of “Envelopes,” a song that would be released later on “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” This bit of avant-garde is not only really interesting, but very well-played by the band. Chad Wackerman’s drumming is precise. The song segues into another song from the same up-coming album, “Drowning Witch.” The variation in musical themes, rhythms and vocal styles lends a sense that the material is ad-libbed, but of course it is not. Certainly the band rehearsed this over and over according to Zappa’s infamous reputation of rehearsing bands to the extreme to ensure the material was performed flawlessly. I have to mention Wackerman’s drumming again, as his precision is key to one’s enjoyment of Zappa’s solo.
In an article following Zappa’s death in 1993 in the February 1994 edition of “Musician,” Wackerman was among those interviewed for the piece.
“I knew the reputation of how difficult Frank’s music was to play and I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the music,” Wackerman told the magazine. “It was extremely intricate and detailed.
“The working process really varied. Often you would learn a rock song by rote, without any paper, which didn’t mean it was a simple thing to learn. Some of his material would be a rock song until you to an interlude section, when he’d bring in a piece of paper.
“You had to use your ears a lot, be able to memorize things quickly. When we went on the road, all this music we’d accumulated had to be memorized because it was a rock’n’roll show, basically. You had rock’n’roll lighting and you couldn’t have your face buried in any music.
“Also, he tended to change things all the time. A piece we might have learned as a heavy-metal song, he’d give the cue and it might become a reggae song, just spontaneously. So every show was completely different ….
“It’s amazing – so many people don’t know about Frank or don’t know how deep he was. They just think that he was this rock’n’roll star. To me, Frank was this amazing composer who happened to play great rock’n’roll guitar. Some very different combinations of influences came out of that. To me, nobody’s ever going to touch it or come close.”
This interlude of songs begun with “Envelopes” and carried forward by “Drowning Witch” comes to a close with a really delightful performance of “What’s New in Baltimore?” While these tunes reach forward (“What’s New in Baltimore?” wasn’t released until “Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention” and “YCDTOSA Vol.5”), this avant-garde section of the show continues with a brilliant performance of “Moggio,” from “The Man From Utopia.”
The next song in the set, “We’re Turning Again,” reaches forward again to FZMTMP. What I find interesting in this song is not only Zappa’s commentary on how the vision of the 60s and 70s had been supplanted by empty consumerism, but his almost affectionate and wistful homage to Jimi Hendrix. The more you learn about Frank, the more you recognize his connections with so many different musicians who he encountered, many of whom went on to form recognizable and influential bands of there own. While Zappa respected the skill of and the music created by many of these musicians he worked with and encountered, he wasn’t one to be necessarily awed by them – except perhaps one: Jimi Hendrix. In Barry Miles’ “Zappa: A Biography,” shares some insight into Zappa’s experience with Hendrix in the late 1960s when The Mothers of Invention were playing at the Garrick Theater in New York City.
“In July (1967) Jimi Hendrix played the Café Au Go Go directly beneath the Garrick and Zappa went to see him” Miles writes, then quotes Zappa: “’He had a whole stack of Marshalls and I was right in front of it. I was physically ill – I couldn’t get out; it was so packed I couldn’t escape. And although it was great, I didn’t see how anybody could inflict that kind of volume on himself, let alone other people. That particular show he ended by taking that guitar and impaling it in the low ceiling of the club. Just walked away and left it squealing.’
“Frank invited Jimi to see the Mothers play, and Jimi and his drummer Mitch Mitchell sat in with them. Frank was so intrigued by what Hendrix was doing that he left the stage and sat in the audience to watch him play with the band, indicating a previously unseen level of respect for another musician’s work.”
Another tasty tidbit from this concert is the final song, a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Whippin’ Post.” While a different version of this cover appeared later on “The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life,” this one is just as kick-ass. The guitar interplay between Vai and Zappa is tight and incredible as the band not only brings authenticity to the cover, but interprets the song with that unique Zappa flare. It sets your hair on fire.
I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.
01) Chunga’s Revenge (fades in) – 4:15
02) You Are What You Is – 5:05
03) Mudd Club – 2:56
04) The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing – 316
05) Dumb All Over – 5:48
06) Heavenly Bank Account – 4:10
07) Suicide Chump – 5:49
08) Jumbo Go Away – 3:56
09) Envelopes – 3:11
10) Drowning Witch – 8:46
11) What’s New in Baltimore – 3:45
12) Moggio – 2:43
13) We’re Turning Again – 5:00
14) Alien Orifice – 5:10
15) Teenage Prostitute – 2:28
16) Flakes – 5:11
17) Broken Hearts Are For Assholes – 4:06
18) The Blue Light – 4:42
19) Tinseltown Rebellion – 4:52
20) Yo Mama – 9:08
21) Bobby Brown – 3:52
22) City of Tiny Lights – 9:52
23) Strictly Genteel – 9:01
24) Dancin’ Fool (cuts in) – 3:47
25) Whippin’ Post – 6:54
Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Steve Vai – guitar and etc.
Ray White – guitar, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards