What does it sound like?:
“Erie” is the latest in the series of archival Zappa concert recordings. Shows were captured for Edinboro, Erie, South Bend, Montreal, and Toledo from between 1974 and 1976, and involve configurations of his line-up involving variously double-drummers, Eddie Jobson, developments of the “Roxy and Elsewhere” band, and a show from several weeks after the band recorded “Zappa in New York”. If you like an awesomely tight band with jazzy rhythm and blues, crunchy guitar solos, not too much in the way of snorks and avant-garde experimentation, but plenty of knob jokes, and with songs like “Stinkfoot”, “Cheepnis”, and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”, and the formative versions of “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” and “City of Tiny Lites” (a super variant complete with George Benson-like scat singing and funk), you’ll be in excelsis. The later concerts have quite a bit from the then current “Zoot Allures”, too; what’s not to like? FZ is in his cheesy-carnie incarnation with wry, sardonic, and stage comments you love or hate, and “The Poodle Lecture” will separate the men from the boys depending on where this differentiating dimension you lie. For the older, TRUE FANS, who think he went off after 1970, there are reworked versions of songs from “Freak Out”, “Absolutely Free”, “We’re Only in it for the Money”, and the more tuneful bits of “Uncle Meat”, amongst others. These are a delight, and show lots of wit and invention even in their stripped-down forms.
It was the 70s, and there are some long jams, including about an hour (over 4 segments and 2 shows) of “Dupree’s Paradise”, which will either delight or alarm you, depending. But with the natural rhythm and jazzy chops of Chester Thompson and George Duke, Ruth Underwood, etc, not too many longueurs – though perhaps exception can be made for Patrick O’Hearn’s bass and Terry Bozzio’s solos which are technically good, but may upset delicate minds not used to such things. If you don’t like it, skip the track(s). This is history you are listening to, mate, so enjoy, or accept it as a document of the times. “Erie” never sounds better than good, Zappa’s attention to quality recording, and the loving hands of the ZFT elves meaning it could have been recorded yesterday.
What does it all *mean*?
If you like Frank Zappa, you’ll love “Erie”, and notice all the subtleties, conceptual continuities, and in-jokes. Zappa’s stage comments and gags illustrate that he was running a show to entertain crowds of boisterous, sometimes intoxicated adolescents who had been worked up by “Foghat” or similar. His act coarsened somewhat (I’ll say!) but there’s nothing wrong with comedy and burlesque, and previous likening’s of Frank Zappa to Spike Jones are fair and by no means insulting; I wish there was more appreciation of both. In getting the gags out over dynamic music of rather more complexity than usually heard, minds were genuinely opened to new sound possibilities the audience may not have previously appreciated; if you dig “I am the Slime”, you should be OK with raps in songs. Bits of doo-wop and rock n’ roll covers like “Stranded in the Jungle” plus flashy fusion and rhythm and blues, noodling guitar solos, gags, and no doubt coloured lights, a dance competition, and some cute girls in the crowd, too; it would have been a great night out, and put anything too self-absorbed or unstretching in it’s place. The humour of the time may not get new generations of earnest youngsters, but those earnest youngsters didn’t get FZ’s humour then, any more than pissy rock critics did.
Goes well with…
Any of Zappa’s live albums, to show what a living band he had, and how alive the music was to new interpretations and performer/ player experimentation. “The best Band you never heard”. “Roxy and Elsewhere”, or “Live in new York”. And the “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore” series, as you really can’t (or rather, people don’t).
Out now, pop-pickers
Might suit people who like…
Frank Zappa, jazz-rock, comedy music, Spike Jones.