The Groovy Life I Lead: Frank Zappa’s Final U.S. Concert Released on Zappa ’88 In June
by Joe Marchese
Following recent releases including the soundtrack to director Alex Winter’s documentary Zappa (already out on CD/digital and coming to vinyl this Friday) and Halloween 81, Zappa Records has announced a new archival title – and it’s a landmark, if bittersweet, addition to the library. Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show will arrive in CD, LP, and digital formats on June 18, preserving the March 25, 1988 show at Uniondale, New York’s Nassau Coliseum that turned out to be the musician and bandleader’s final show on American soil.
Appropriately enough, the concert closed with Zappa and his big band powering through “America the Beautiful.” It was one of nearly 100 songs rehearsed by the group including 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 a horn section consisting of Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn, synth), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Paul Carman (alto, soprano, and baritone sax), Albert Wing (tenor sax) and Kurt McGettrick (baritone and bass sax, contrabass clarinet). In addition to lead vocals and guitar, Zappa made significant use of his preferred instrument of the era, the digital synthesizer and sampling system known as the Synclavier. Wackerman and Mann also incorporated electronic textures into their percussion setups.
The band members didn’t exactly gel on a personal level; following the Nassau Coliseum performance, they embarked upon a European tour that would be cut short due to rising tensions. A return to the States was then scuttled. All told, the group only performed for four months of rehearsal in 1987-1988 and the brief February-June 1988 tour which would prove to be Zappa’s last.
But any backstage drama wasn’t in evidence during the blazing New York set which featured a career-spanning selection of Zappa’s own compositions (including “Peaches en Regalia,” “Sharleena,” and “I Ain’t Got No Heart”) plus classical pieces and nods to pop culture touchstones such as “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and the theme to Bonanza. Most notably, this show featured “The Beatles Medley” (receiving its first commercial release here). In the tour de force mini-suite, the band played “Norwegian Wood,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the songs’ lyrics given a topical overhaul to address the headline-dominating sex scandal of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Zappa and the band also performed the Fabs’ “I Am the Walrus” with the horn section shining. In the spirit of these covers, Zappa ’88 makes room for two additional performances from the same tour: The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” from the March 16 show in Providence, RI and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” from the March 23 Towson, MD gig.
The concert takes on added resonance today. Before the show and during intermission, Zappa (supported by the League of Women Voters) offered voter registration. During the intermission at Nassau Coliseum, the Synclavier was set to play “One Man, One Vote.” It’s presented here in its unique mix different from the one presented on Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. For his efforts to get the vote out, Zappa was congratulated by then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show will be available from Zappa Records and UMe as a 2-CD set or a 4-LP 180-gram black vinyl box set as well as in digital configurations. A purple vinyl variant is also up for pre-order exclusively from uDiscoverMusic and the Zappa online store. Ahmet Zappa and “Vaultmeister” Joe Travers have produced this release featuring new mixes by Craig Parker Adams from the original 48-track digital masters. (The shows were recorded using two Sony 3324 DASH PCM 24-track tape recorders synced together using a Lynx Time Code Module to yield 48-track recording capabilities.) Liner notes have been written by Travers and Chad Wackerman; the drummer was celebrating his 28th birthday during the concert and was feted in song by Zappa and the audience. Peder Andersson’s photos round out the package.
“We Are Doing Voter Registration Here”
The Black Page (New Age Version)
I Ain’t Got No Heart
Love Of My Life
Who Needs The Peace Corps?
I Left My Heart In San Francisco
Dickie’s Such An Asshole
When The Lie’s So Big
Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk
One Man, One Vote
Happy Birthday, Chad!
Packard Goose Pt. 1
Royal March From “L’Histoire Du Soldat”
Theme From The Bartok Piano Concerto #3
Packard Goose Pt. II
The Torture Never Stops Pt. I
Theme From “Bonanza”
Lonesome Cowboy Burt
The Torture Never Stops Pt. II
City Of Tiny Lites
Pound For A Brown
The Beatles Medley
Peaches En Regalia
Stairway To Heaven
I Am The Walrus
America The Beautiful
That set list is pretty amazing. (Surprised there's not more in the way of then-new compositions.) I look forward to hearing it.