Written by 4:12 am Audiophile Music

Zappa At Carnegie Hall 1971

Mark Smotroff sets the Wayback machine to visit Frank Zappa in some of his finest live hours…

In Zappa-phile circles, there are… shall we say… contingents of fans who are extremely opinionated about their favorite eras of the group.Fans of the original Jimmy Carl Black-era band (ie. The Mothers of Invention) will go to their graves attesting to the superior musicality of that assemblage. Fans of the so called “Roxy-era” Mothers (with George Duke, Chester Thompson and so on) swear that is the greatest group of all time. There are fans of the 80s FZ bands, especially that final group in 1988 with the ever-amazing Mike Keneally on stunt guitar. 

Tucked away and often-over-looked is the 1970-71 Flo and Eddie-era of The Mothers featuring the great Aynsley Dunbar on drums. This amazingly talented combo worked on several studio albums (“200 Motels,” “Chunga’s Revenge”) but is mostly remembered for its theatrical-comedic approach to Zappa’s music, and thus is mostly overlooked when considering the grandest of grand in all mother-dom.

The Zappa Family Trust recently issued a fascinating archival release from that period which may do a lot change some minds about the musical prowess of this particular band.You see, apart from the aforementioned studio efforts, most of the recordings by this band have been highly edited live recordings, all bearing the sonic time stamp of the location recorded in and the gear recorded on. 

For example, “Just Another Band From LA” – apparently originally planned as a two-LP set – documented a show at The Pauley Pavilion, recorded on a 4-track Sculley portable reel to reel in August 1971. The “Live at the Fillmore” album was recorded about a month earlier on a 16-track. Gotta say, I was shocked to learn it was recorded on 16-track since I really never liked the sound of that album, tho’ the material on it is no doubt loads of fun. In fact, it is so much fun that it became THE staple of many the casual Zappa fan and went on to define the 70-71 era Mothers as the comedy band that did all that… er…. wacky material  (it, in fact, got so popular the album reached the Top 40!)   Post-humous collections such as “Playground Psychotics”did little to dispel that image.

Until now that is: The Carnegie Hall concert may just change some minds. Why?  Well, it is the first time we get to hear an ENTIRE concert of this era of the band start to finish including a spectacular opening set by FZ’s doo wop/acappella discovery, The Persuasions.

Curiously, this album was recorded in glorious mono, probably from a sweet spot in the hall where the soundboard was located — or not, I really don’t know. It sounds remarkably balanced wherever it was taped.

The recording quality generally feels bigger, and rocks much more than
others from the period — even the stuff recorded on fancy 16-track gear.  And, because it is unedited, we get to hear what a fine, fine ensemble this group really was as they stretch out and jam extensively between the comic bits — proof that it wasn’t JUST a comedy act!

Perhaps that it was recorded in Mono results in giving the listener a more focused sound of the band — after all, many classic rock albums from the 60s sound a whole lot better in their mono mixes, when the rhythm section is all present, dead- center, in your home stereo vs. panned left and right for an imagined stereo soundstage. 

Whatever it is, this one is an essential release.

Britain’s super duper session drummer Aynsley Dunbar drives this bus while the two dynamic masterful masters of ceremonies, vocalists Flo and Eddie (aka Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of The Turtles), use their stunning voices as instruments every bit the equal to the other musicians on stage.

The band is hot, with a bullet, I tell ya, — a wink-wink inside joke for those of you who know the ’71 repertoire!

So, sure, the comic stuff is present, but, again, that stuff appears in context against a more balanced setlist that includes much material from 1968’s magnum opus “Uncle Meat” (a smoking “King Kong,” “Sleeping in a Jar,” “Cruising for Burgers,” “A Pound For A Brown On The Bus”) as well as even a killer version of “Peaches en Regalia” from 1970’s Hot Rats collection.

We are also treated to an early and seemingly complete performance of the lost “Sofa” suite known as “Divan” — sections which were dribbled out on other recordings over the years — a great portion of which is sung in GERMAN.

It contains the Sofa theme, which didn’t formally emerge on a studio album until 1975’s One Size Fits All. This is complex stuff folks! Wacky too? Oh, yes! It is musically complex and very entertaining in an almost comic opera-like sense. If you are a true FZ fan, this is THE only place to find this recording — so you need to own it!

As is the material on the final disc, “Billy The Mountain,” a version I enjoyed much more than the released version on Just Another Band From LA.  I can only attribute my liking it better due to the energy with which the band is playing it at this stage… playing it for a month on the road and performing it at Carnegie Hall adds quite a bit of precision that, perhaps, was not present on the version found on Just Another Band From LA.

Live at Carnegie Hall presents a band arguably at the top of its game playing its heart out for the audience as well as the promoter (Ron Delsner, who put his reputation on the line to convince the posh theater to allow Zappa to perform there).


Less than two months later this band would suddenly cease to exist; Zappa was attacked and pushed off the stage of The Rainbow Theater in England (into a concrete orchestra pit) by a crazed fan, putting an end to this band as he healed from multiple serious injuries.

So, what we have here is quite possibly the ultimate document of this 70-71 era band!  And now you can hear it for yourself all in glorious rocking mono.  According to liner notes it was “transferred at 96K 24B using an Ampex ATR 102 tape machine through Euphonix Analog to Digital converters directly to Neuendo.”

Gosh, this gets me thinking… if this Carnegie Hall album sounds this good on a CD, I would love to hear it as a 96/24 high res download someday…

But… don’t hold your breath waiting for that one, folks. (Insert cheesy late night TV commercial announcer voice for added thrills here) In fact, don’t delay at all. Order your copy of this four CD set with Frank Zappa
and The Mothers of Invention today! 

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