By Dave Thompson
On March 25, 1988, Frank Zappa played the final show of his latest U.S. tour. Backed by his current 11-piece band, and with a concert repertoire of some 100 songs, Zappa would be embarking on a European tour a few days later. All was well in Zappaland.
Today, the memory of that performance appears impossibly poignant; it was the last gig Zappa would ever played in the USA and, 33 years on, Zappa Records/UME have released a recording of the full gig as the very sensibly titled 4-LP Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show.
We get it all, from a few moments of the intro music to the farewell “America the Beautiful.” There’s a first-ever official release for Zappa’s 10-minute Beatles medley, opening with an amusingly reworded “Norwegian Wood” (“isn’t it swell, Texas motel”). “Lucy in the Sky,” “Strawberry Fields” are all similarly twisted during the medley, but later in the set, “I Am The Walrus” receives a surprisingly straightforward rendering. Sandwiched, incidentally, between 10 minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” and seven of “Whipping Post.”
That latter pair were not recorded at the final show (they hail from earlier in the month), but their intrusion is seamless and are as welcome as any of the on-the-night highlights — a neo-reggae version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” a lovely “Sharleena,” a dramatic “I Ain’t Got No Heart,” “Dickie’s Such an Asshole,” “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” “The Torture Never Stops”….
Further classical interludes pop up in the show, while we also get such momentary interludes as the theme from Bonanza, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” a message from NY Governor Mario Cuomo, and a round of “Happy Birthday” for drummer Chad Wackerman — they’re just little things, but they add a genuine sense of occasion to the album. And while the full track listing might not necessarily scream “greatest hits,” in terms of arrangement and virtuosity, the sensation that you’re spinning through a recap of Zappa’s past 20 years is never far from the surface.
The sound quality is impeccable, the packaging is exemplary. This is the first posthumous archive release to feature this particular band, and we can only hope there will be more.