Frank Zappa – Zappa ’80: Mudd Club/ Munich

More from the Zappa archives – this time it’s a pair of 1980 shows from New York and Munich

Release Date:  3rd March 2023

Label: Zappa Records/UMe

Formats: 3CD, Vinyl (Mudd Club – 2LP; Munich – 3LP), Digital

And still they come!

Back in June 2022, we broke the exciting news of a super-deluxe 6CD boxset that brought together the recordings made of Frank Zappa’s concerts in Erie, Pennsylvania in, respectively, May 1974, November 1974 and November 1976.  Members of the Zappa Poodle that regularly visit these pages (and there are quite a few of you – we’re always pleased to note…) will be well aware that since then, there have been further significant tremors registered on the Zappa “live” seismograph, with December 1975 concerts from Zagreb and Ljubljana making a CD appearance back in October.  And now, here comes the next installment – two more complete live shows – one from the intimate 240-person capacity New York City venue The Mudd Club, recorded on 8th May of that year and the other from the considerably larger Olympiahalle in Munich, recorded right at the end of that same tour on 3rd July.

These recordings will be particularly significant to Zappa fans as they capture full shows from Zappa’s early 1980 band for the first time.  In Zappa terms, the band is a small outfit – a mere five-piece lineup, featuring Frank, Ike Willis and Ray White, all on guitars and vocals, plus Arthur Barrow on bass, Tommy Mars on keyboards and newcomer David Logeman on drums, who had stepped in for a few months whilst regular drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, was otherwise occupied.  And, with the exception of just two tracks – Love Of My Life from The Mudd Club show and You Didn’t try to Call Me from Munich (which both appeared on albums in Zappa’s You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore series) – everything here is appearing on an authorized release for the first time.

Back in 1980, The Mudd Club was a popular punk and counterculture venue on White Street, Lower Manhattan.  The place had been founded by filmmakers Steve Mass and Diego Cortez in 1978 and, during its short life had featured performances by, amongst others, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Talking Heads.  The venue was a favourite hangout of Andy Warhol’s and celebrities such as David Bowie, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry and Lou Reed were all semi-frequent visitors.  Frank Zappa loved the place and chose it as the perfect room to get close and intimate – in complete contrast to the arena-sized venues that otherwise dominated his 1980 tour itinerary.  Indeed, the night after his Mudd Club show, he played two concerts at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island to a total of over 20,000 people.

The Mudd Club show, captured here in all its intimate, sweaty, glory, is a revelation.  Like any and every Zappa band, this lineup is as tight and disciplined as it’s possible to be as they blaze through a set dominated by material from Zappa’s 1979 cascade of output – the 3-disc Joe’s Garage and the double set Sheik Yerbouti.  Ike Willis in particular is on top form and his vocal delivery of Outside Now and Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? – songs from the Joe’s Garage set – and City Of Tiny Lites, an enduring favourite of mine from Sheik Yerbouti is nothing short of awesome. 

Elsewhere, amongst the 15-song set, there’s a typically jazzy take on Pound for a Brown, blasts of I Ain’t Got No Heart and You Didn’t Try To Call Me – both from The Mothers’ 1966 debut album, Freak Out! – early shots at Mudd Club (Frank’s tribute to the venue), You Are What You Is and The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing, which would appear on Frank’s 1981 opus, You Are What You Is, and a breathtaking version of the Chunga’s Revenge title track.  Altogether, The Mudd Club recording is a wonderful memento of a special event and will be a “must-have” addition to the collections of many, many of Frank’s followers.

The Mudd Club show was recorded direct to 2-track digital stereo and was the first ever digital recording of any Frank Zappa concert.  The quality and potential of the digital format, as evidenced by this ‘experiment’ was enough to convince Frank that here was a technology to be embraced and, whilst the flaws of the embryonic system may be evident to 21st Century ears, we can certainly be grateful that it helped Frank amass the vast library of live recordings that we continue to enjoy today.

In mid-May 1980, the 5-piece band left the US and crossed the Atlantic, to open the European leg of the tour at the Voorst Nationaal Arena in Brussels.  The tour continued to take in shows in The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and France, before the entourage returned to Germany on 2nd May for three final shows in Frankfurt, Munich and Cologne.  So, it was a well-honed band that took the stage at Munich’s 15,000-capacity Olympiahalle on the evening of 3rd May 1980.  The band’s set, captured in its entirety across discs 2 and 3 of this collection, includes just about everything they’d performed at The Mudd Club nearly two months earlier, plus a whole tranche of extra material – the set comprised 22 songs in all.

This time around, the set’s highlights include another blistering Pound For a Brown, a stunning version of Cozmic Debris, a live favourite of the period from Zappa’s 1974 Apostrophe(‘) album, a great take on Dancin’ Fool, a delightful cover of the Tony Allen and the Champs doo-wop classic, Nite Owl and a preview of Pick Me, I’m Clean, which would appear the following year on the Tinseltown Rebellion album.  But, for me, it’s once again Ike Willis who steals the show.  If anything, his voice had become even more soulful as the tour had progressed and, once again, his delivery of Joe’s Garage, Why Does it Hurt… and, particularly, City of Tiny Lites is, once again, sublime.

The Olympiahalle show was originally recorded for transmission on the King Biscuit Hour radio show, so bootleg versions of the concert will almost certainly have been in circulation, but the cleaned-up, official, recording now being offered by Zappa records/Ume deserves a prime place on the ever-growing pantheon of Zappa live albums.  There’s a particular excitement that I feel whenever another concert emerges from the Zappa vaults and this latest set certainly justifies the expectation that I suspect, is shared by many Zappaphiles.

And, for those seeking variety, or whether you want to pick up on all, or just part, of this new collection, there are several interesting options available.  In additional to the ‘default’ option of the 3CD set, the Mudd Club and the Munich shows are separately available on 180-gram vinyl – The Mudd Club show pressed on a 2LP, 45 RPM set, and the Munich show as a 3LP, 33⅓ RPM package.  The Mudd Club and Munich concerts are also available on, respectively, Coke bottle green and Transparent orange vinyl.  There are even options to buy a tee shirt or hoodie along with your choice of package!

Listen to City of Tiny Lites – from the 3rd May 1980 Munich concert – here:

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