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As far as Zappa live collections are concerned, 'Erie' headed to top

The Frank Zappa archive continues, this time a 6-CD box set of live shows recorded in and around Erie, PA, between 1974-1976.

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Frank Zappa

Erie 

Zappa Records/UME (6-CD Set)

By Dave Thompson

The Frank Zappa archive continues, this time a 6-CD box set of live shows recorded in and around Erie, PA, between 1974-1976. Very smartly, it’s also titled Erie (Zappa Records/UME) although any pedants among us will doubtless point out that the bonus tracks appended to a few of the discs are somewhat wider traveled. Well done, you.

Erie is, as is now the norm for Zappa archive releases, well-conceived, very well-packaged and wonderfully mastered; taken from Zappa’s own 4-track tapes, it was compiled as always by vault-keeper Joe Travers, who acknowledges in his own notes that there was a selfish side to the release’s existence — the realization that “I had never prioritized documenting the concerts FZ played in my hometown of Erie, PA.”

His interest in the scheme increased when he realized that, unlike many shows in many cities, Zappa actually kept the recordings of his Erie gigs intact, unlike other shows from the same tours. Although the vault overflows with live recordings, “only certaain shows have survived.”

That in itself felt like a recommendation. And if Zappa thought highly enough of his Erie shows to preserve them in complete form, then maybe the rest of the world should be allowed to listen in, to find out for ourselves what was so special about them.

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That, of course, is a matter for the real Zappa heads to delve into. From a casual viewpoint, the four shows captured here are a storming experience, ranging across the career-so-far, and surely thrilling every listener with Zappa’s decision to dedicate almost half of the first gig (Edinboro College, 20 minutes outside of Erie in May 1974) to the first three Mothers albums.

“It Can’t Happen Here” opens the sequence, a little overplayed in places, but swiftly it moves into a manic “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” a beat band goes jazz “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here,” and on to a delightfully bratty “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black,” and a snatch of “Harry, You’re a Beast.” A surprise for anyone attending the show in the hope of hearing whatever Zappa was up to in 1974, and for a lot of people picking this box up, too.

Of course there are mountainous highlights elsewhere in the set, and an army of Zappa fans have already taken to the internet forums to details their favorite moments. No need for us to add to that plethora. But in the ever-increasing world of Zappa live collections, Erie is definitely heading for the top.