Frank Zappa - Carnegie Hall (recorded Oct 11 1971, released 2011)

Disc 1:
The Persuasions
I Just Can't Work No Longer   2:32
Working All the Live Long Day/Chain Gang   2:20
Medley #1   7:28
Pieces of a Man   2:53
Buffalo Soldier   4:33
Medley #2   2:36
Medley #3   3:14
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Hello (to FOH)/Ready?! (to the BAND)   1:03
Call Any Vegetable 10:36
Anyway the Wind Blows   4:00
Magdalena   6:08
Dog Breath   5:41
Disc 3:
Auspicious Occasion   2:45
DIVAN pt. 1: Once Upon a Time   5:40
DIVAN pt. 2: Sofa #1   3:11
DIVAN pt. 3: Magic Pig   1:43
DIVAN pt. 4: Stick It Out   4:54
DIVAN pt. 5: Divan Ends Here   4:17
Pound For a Brown   6:03
Sleeping in a Jar   2:46
Wonderful Wino   5:46
Sharleena 1970   4:52
Cruising For Burgers   3:17
Disc 2:
Peaches En Regalia   4:24
Tears Began to Fall   2:32
Shove It Right In   6:32
King Kong 30:25
200 Motels Finale   3:41
Who Are the Brain Police?   7:08
Disc 4:
Billy The Mountain 47:41
The $600 Mud Shark Prelude   1:27
The Mud Shark 13:35
Total Time:    3 hours, 35 minutes, 47 seconds

Last year I hinted around to a few people that I'd like the latest posthumous FZ releases for Xmas, to no avail. So this year I decided to just buy them for myself and get caught up. Which means I've got seven discs worth of Zappa to digest during this Christmas season (this album, the single disc Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison and the double Road Tapes Venue #1 - Vancouver 1968. It'll be a challenge, but I think I'm up to it. I also thought about buying the FZ-created compilations Mothermania (an early Mothers compilation which has finally been released on CD) and Understanding America (a later compilation that covers most of Frank's career but, from what I've read, uses the inferior 80s CD masters for many tracks and includes very little previously unreleased material). But I figured I'd go for the "new" stuff first, and put the compilations on this year's Xmas list.

So, enough backstory - what's the deal with this mammoth, four disc Carnegie Hall set? Well, according to Gail's typically cryptic liner notes, this was the only time Frank ever played the prestigious venue, and to get him booked there, his promoter had to lie and say that Zappa was a classical artist, using some of the orchestral music from 200 Motels as evidence. The ruse worked, but as soon as the Flo and Eddie line-up of the band hit the stage, they seemed determined to be as "blue" as possible. I mean, the third song of their show was Magdalena, and they seemed to go out of their way to make that song (and most of the others) as dirty as possible.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Disc 1 kicks off with about 25 minutes of the opening act, the a-capella group The Persuasions. Years later, the Persuasions would record a Zappa tribute album (which, by odd co-incidence, I just listened to the other day as part of my endless quest to convert all my CDs, records and tapes to MP3). I have to say that that tribute album has never done much for me, but hearing the Persuasions here, in their prime and singing doo-wop material that is much more suited to their style, they sound a whole lot better. Unfortunately the performance is marred by the sound quality of the recording. According to the liner notes, Frank recorded this show with a "concealed" mono tape recorder (speculation on the Zappa newsgroup is that he was trying to get around venue recording fees), and the resulting recording, especially for the Persuasions set, is somewhat below "official release" quality. If this had been a bootleg, people would be raving about how good it sounds, but on an official release you tend to notice the volume fluctuations and (as Gail's notes put it) the "pops, clicks, crackles, hums and large amounts of tape hiss". That actually makes it sound worse than it is, but the sound quality on this one takes a little getting used to. All in all, the album reminds me in sound quality, length and venue to Chicago's four disc live album recorded at Carnegie Hall the same year. The content is a bit different though, to say the least.

The Persuasions set is enjoyable, and the 1971 audience seems familiar with most of the music, but since I was only 4 years old at the time of this show, I only recognize a few songs they sing, mostly in the medleys (which are documented, song-by-song, in the liner notes). Buffalo Soldier is not the Bob Marley song as I had hoped (unless it's a very different version). While enjoyable, the opening band goes on a bit too long for my tastes - after the first big medley, I'm ready for the Zappa to start.

Anyway, once Frank's band does take the stage, they open with a lengthy Call Any Vegetable, which includes the jam of the "Invocation" section. Another highlight of disc 1 is a nice version of Dog Breath. The "highbrow" stuff continues on disc 2 with Peaches En Regalia which segues into Tears Began to Fall and then back to the raunchy material with Shove It Right In.

Next we get a big 'ol chunk of instrumental music with a half-hour long King Kong that takes up most of disc 2. It's chock full of solos, even a drum solo from Aynsley Dunbar. Nice to get to hear a full concert recording instead of just Zappa's guitar solo edited out into its own track, but this isn't the most memorable King Kong I've ever heard. The disc wraps up with a couple of this line-up's best tunes, the 200 Motels Finale and the rockin' version of Who Are the Brain Police?, which closes the first show.

Zappa's band actually played two different shows on this date, and disc three starts with the band tuning up and Frank welcoming the audience to the second show. Then he introduces the New York premier of the DIVAN song suite, about God's sofa, whereupon he watches a girl have relations with a magical pig. This suite would later be broken up into the songs Sofa on the One Size Fits All album and Stick It Out on Joe's Garage. The second half of the disc covers early Mothers songs for the most part.

The last disc is basically two songs - first the longest version of Billy the Mountain yet to grace a CD, which is split up into 3 tracks (the bulk of the song, then some jamming and soloing, and finally the conclusion). One highlight of this version of Billy is that it includes Flo and Eddie's "Memory Trick", which is quite impressive to hear recited. The other song on this disc is the lengthy encore Mud Shark.

So should you buy this thing? Well, the price is right - even ordering it from the Zappa web site with their shipping rates, it came out to under $50, I think, which isn't bad for four discs of previously unreleased live Zappa, put together in a nice cardboard slipcase with a small booklet. The book includes the set lists, publishing info, credits, a brief note from the promoter, brief liner notes from Al Malkin (now I finally have some idea who he is!) and Gail's usual ramblings, plus pictures of the band (with Don Preston oddly photoshopped in) and the usual pointless list of endangered plants and animals that has come with all recent Zappa releases. Oh, and you get a replica ticket stub (the most expensive seats were $6 - you suck, people who got to go to concerts in the 70s for $6).

On the down side, you've heard all these songs before, most of them performed by this particular band, due to the many official releases and "Beat the Boots" volumes from the Flo and Eddie era. So really you're paying for the thrill of hearing Zappa play Carnegie Hall. If you're a completist like me, that's a must-have, but for casual fans this might not be a completely necessary purchase.

Album Cover

Image of the Carnegie Hall album cover