Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Mothers • Fillmore East – June 1971


   Exploring the development of Frank Zappa’s creative activities, we need to consider its social factor. He was always emphasized how much he likes “audience participation”, and it was audible since first concerts and improvised happenings through his famous testimony on rock lyrics moral content before the committee of US Congress in September 1985 and later political statements, to his last and unfortunately unfinished 1988 tour and to his late interviews. Crucial moment is to understand the role concerts were playing as element of social experience. The source of his power as composer, text author, guitarist and personality was his understanding of cultural and social mechanisms and sincere way he was communicating common sense point of view. It is fascinating to observe how his eccentricity was becoming more and more understandable and his views were shared by an increasing part of the audience.
   In seventies, as almost always before, concerts were still the primary way musicians earn for living. The same was with The Mothers of Invention. After dense sequence of concerts in last decade of May when Zappa's band was playing in Chicago IL (21st), Delaware OH (22nd), Columbus OH (23rd), Detroit MI (25th), Madison WI (27th), Rochester MI (29th) and Cleveland OH (30th), June was more loose. Two concerts in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh June 2nd and Harrisburg 3rd) and four concerts in two days in New York were the end of sequence started in May. In first decade of July Zappa with his band were touring in Canada giving again 7 gigs in 9 days. The two day of Fillmore East concerts in June 5th and 6th, with two gigs every day, became heyday of summer 1971 in Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention career. Songs and concert dialogs recorded these days in Fillmore East became twelfth album in Frank Zappa discography and his first live album, setting new direction in publishing live recordings. 

The Mothers – Fillmore East – June 1971 (1971)

   This is not just live recording album. Edited out of four gigs Zappa and Mothers of Invention played in New York Fillmore East during two days, this set of songs follow show’s main theme, which was explicit relation of legendary excesses with the participation of musicians from Vanilla Fudge and Led Zeppelin. Strange sexual behavior of rock musicians was the part of rock culture mythology and the element of many urban legends. The alleged story took place in Edgewater Inn in Seattle, where guests were fishing directly from apartments’ windows. The relation focused on story of a groupie and her experience with the fish was shown in The Mud Shark which is a narrative episode connected to live interaction with the audience. This was the second presentation of live performance by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan who were already singing in Chunga’s Revenge. Other songs are full of situation and vocabulary references and this improvised entertaining jokes give the album cohesion as a continuation of Zappa’s conception-albums with clear narrative aspect and some random reactions.
   Although this is live album, its musical quality is far ahead of its time. Zappa’s compositions are perfectly set and beautiful instrumental Peaches En Regalia became his trademark. This album is signed by The Mothers and Zappa alone is visible on credits as musician, composer, leader of the band and producer of the record. But nobody had any doubts, this was next album in his discography. New lineup of The Mothers consists of vocal duo Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from The Turtles, playing wind instruments and keyboards Ian Underwood, Bob Harris as a second keyboard player, drummer Aynsley Dunbar and bassist Jim Pons, former member of The Turtles who just started his cooperation with The Mothers. The guest performer was Don Preston playing minimoog, a veteran of first Mothers of Invention and one of most interesting musicians playing with Zappa. This was rather small companion for Zappa’s symphonic ideas of this period. The same minimalistic attitude can be seen of the cover designed by Cal Schenkel. But the economic lineup shows its power when listening to these fragments of live music. Especially vocals and dialogue fragments show new face of the band. This was already in use while recording 200 Motels in January 1971, but this album was released in October 4th, 1971, two months after Fillmore East – June 1971. Four stars looks quite fair, but we can be sure for Zappa fans this one, as well as almost every other Zappa’s record is always worth five.

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