This album should have gone before the previous two boots, but I wanted to keep all the Lšther material together. For those that are unfamiliar with what Lšther is, here's the story: The material from four of the late 70s albums - In New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites - was originally intended for a four album boxed set to be called Lšther. Or that's Zappa's side of the story, anyway. He wanted to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers, but he still owed them four records. So he claimed that he put together this four album set to fulfill that contract, but WB decided that no one would shell out the money for such a big set (little did they know how popular boxed sets would become during the CD era). So they decided to split the material into four separate albums, hired someone to do the artwork and released them that way.
This story has some flaws, as pointed out by some of the more observant people on alt.fan.frank-zappa. First of all, the resulting four albums work so well as individual albums (each with its own style of music), that it's hard to believe that the record company put them together. Secondly, the cover of In New York was designed by Frank himself. Third, there's more material on the individual albums than there would have been in the boxed set.
So the most likely story is that Frank delivered the four albums, three of them without artwork, then changed his mind and decided that it should be a boxed set. Warner Brothers didn't want to put out the expensive set, so they just released the four original albums as delivered.
Anyway, none of that really has much bearing on In New York, other than as background history. This double live album was recorded on Halloween, 1976, for "a cozy group of 27,500 deranged fanatics in New York City". The original vinyl release dropped the track Punky's Whips because Warner Brothers were afraid they'd get sued by Punky Meadows, the member of the band Angel who the song was about. That track was re-added (along with four new songs) to the CD release, expanding it out to a very healthy double album.
The juvenile side of Zappa comes out strong on disc one, with lengthy story songs like Titties and Beer, Punky's Whips and The Illinois Enema Bandit. These tracks are amusing in a junior-high sort of way, and they do contain some interesting music (and lots of lines for Zappa fans to turn into "inside jokes"), but at a combined length of half an hour, they kind of bog down disc one. The first song tells the story of a meeting between a biker and the devil, and how the devil steals the biker's beer and girlfriend. The second is about Terry Bozzio's sexual attraction to Punky Meadows (the lead guitarist from the band Angel), with Bozzio proclaiming his heterosexuality the whole time. The last song relates the true story of a man who went around tying up women and giving them enemas. Some fans feel this song crosses the line into the offensive range because it tends to belittle and mock the victims while glorifying the actions if a man who was, after all, a violent criminal.
Fortunately there's also some good stuff on CD 1, like the excellent high-speed, extended, instrumental version of Cruisin' For Burgers. It's turned into a guitar solo fest, but the backing track is just as impressive. I don't know how the band played that super-fast, repetitive vamp for that long without cramping up or losing their place. I Promise... is a beautiful little instrumental. On Lšther they wisely changed the song's name. Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me? is a humorous tale about a date between a really dumb girl and an even dumber guy. The music for this one makes it a little more interesting than the other story songs on disc one, but this particular song suffers from The Torture Never Stops syndrome in that it appears so many times in the Zappa catalog that it's easy to get sick of it.
After starting out with a hilarious performance of I'm the Slime, on which a drunk sounding Don Pardo (the announcer from Saturday Night Live) sings a verse, disc two settles down and becomes mostly instrumental. This version of Pound For a Brown is very energetic. Manx Needs Women is a RIO-ish (for prog fans who are familiar with that term) instrumental that seems almost like a lost FZ track because no one ever talks about it on the Zappa newsgroup, and I always forget it's there. This version of Sofa is nice, with a very emotional, searing guitar solo. The Purple Lagoon / Approximate track is a tour-de-force of jazzy instrumental prowess, with the bass and horn section being particularly impressive. Approximate is a "semi-random" song; the rhythms were composed, but the musicians could play any pitches they liked during parts of the song. This song had been performed for years, but early versions wouldn't surface until the Stage series came out.
A real highlight of disc two is the first appearance of one of Frank's most famous pieces, The Black Page. It originally started out as a composed drum solo to test Terry Bozzio's abilities, and got its name because the sheet music had so many notes on the page, it looked black. When Frank heard Terry play it, he liked it and decided to write a melody for it, creating The Black Page #1. And then, just to make it more accessible to concert audiences, he added a steady beat underneath the whole thing and created the "easy, teen-age" version, The Black Page #2. At the end of the track, Zappa asks if anyone danced to it.
I've rambled on about this album longer than I had intended to, but as a final note I'd just like to mention that this is one of the best sounding live albums I've ever heard. Very crisp, clear and immediate, with the full range from deepest bass to highest treble perfectly audible. It sounds great.