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Frank Zappa - Zappa In New York CD (album) cover

ZAPPA IN NEW YORK

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.20 | 181 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars As you may be aware, Frank's originally intended followup to Zoot Allures was going to be a part-live, part-studio quadruple album, by the name of Lšther. As could be expected, Frank's distribution company freaked at this prospect, and as a result Frank was forced to release this album in pieces over the next four years; the fallout was Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt, Orchestral Favorites and this double live album. Lšther itself will get reviewed here eventually.

The 2-CD release of this album is actually an expansion of the original 2-LP set, which had a good amount of material left out both for time and censorship reasons. The most clearly "offensive" track in the new material is the lengthy "Punky's Whips," in which Zappa's drummer (Terry Bozzio) develops an insatiable crush on Angel guitarist Punky Meadows, all the while obsessing over the sexual things he wants to do with Punky while repeatedly emphasizing that, "I'm! Not! Gay!" (mmmm, denial). Nowadays, with Angel having gone down in history as little more than a footnote, the skittishness that kept this from being initially included seems more than a bit overdone, but I guess the group was "important" enough back then that offending them so would have ben considered taboo (this actually resulted in the album's release getting delayed by a year). More relevant to me is that the offending nature of the track reeks a little too much of a callback to the Flo & Eddie years, particularly Fillmore East and especially 200 Motels. I just can't get into humor that relies primarily on, "This is about homosexuality, therefore this is funny;" this kind of sexual-based humor is just too frat-boyish for me.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I'm against all sexual-based humor, hence my choice for best track on here. The opener, "Titties & Beer," is a total laugh riot, featuring Bozzio again, this time wearing a devil mask and even commenting about how much the mask is irritating him. See, the way I look at it, if you're going to do lowbrow sexual-based humor, you should make it as cartoonish, early adolescent-style and, well, Beavis-and- Buttheadesque as you possibly can, and "T&B" delivers. It ends up delivering in other ways too, though: the rhymes are brilliantly awkward, the over-the-top devil voice Terry uses is hilarious, and the improvised dialogue where the devil tries insulting Frank's intelligence, only to have it totally turned back on him, as well as Frank having to interrupt the skit to read a note passed to him from the audience asking him to tell one wayward audience member to get in touch with another audience member, has me mentally rolling on the floor every time I hear it.

Aside from one other perverted sketch, "The Illinois Enema Bandit" (a hilarious skit whose subject matter is pretty well detailed by the title), the rest of the album consists of a good mix of new material and renditions of older stuff. Frankly, the runthroughs of the older stuff don't particularly excite me; "Cruising for Burgers" and "Pound for a Brown" have never been among my favorites on Uncle Meat, and they're not very rousing here, while doing the "serious" version of "Sofa" live doesn't strike me as, um, very necessary (the rendition of "The Torture Never Stops" done on the CD version is pretty awesome, though, and the alternating vocals approach to "I am the Slime" is a blast). Among the new material, "Big Leg Emma" (which may be on Absolutely Live now but was "new" material as of 1977) is a lot of fun here, "The Black Page Drum Solo" (which is stupid on its own but is amusing in context of its successor) and "The Black Page #2" (otherwise known as "The Easy Version" according to Frank) are just as tweaked as I'd hope they'd be (mmmm, bizarre disco jazz), and the closing 16-minute jazzy jam "The Purple Lagoon/Approximate" manages to be a solid, energetic send-off.

So where does this album fall in the overall level of Zappa live albums? Well, it's a good ways below the bulk of Roxy, with a slight lack of focus (careening between frat-boy humor and by-the-numbers renditions of Uncle Meat material doesn't do much to impress me) that bothers me a bit. On the other hand, though, a lot of this is funny, and a lot of this is entertaining from a "pure" music perspective, so it gets a good grade. Don't get this before Roxy, but among Zappa live albums, this is a worthwhile acquisition. A near-****.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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