Frank Zappa & the Mothers Live at the Whisky 1968: Review

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Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Whisky a Go Go, 1968 preserves a nearly three-hour concert given on July 23, 1968, at the famed Los Angeles venue named in the title. Apparently one of the earliest live recordings by Zappa and the Mothers, the concert was originally intended for contemporaneous release but nearly all of it sat in the vaults for more than half a century.

By the time of this concert, Zappa and the Mothers had established themselves as a one-of-a-kind underground rock outfit via four albums—1966’s Freak Out!, 1967’s Absolutely Free and 1968’s We’re Only in It for the Money and Lumpy Gravy. (The latter was billed as a Zappa solo album.) The Whisky a Go Go show, which includes selections from all of these except We’re Only in It for the Money, features such standouts as “Help, I’m a Rock,” “America Drinks and Goes Home,” “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” and the two-part, 16-minute, mostly instrumental “King Kong.”

An accompanying 40-page booklet offers photos from the event; essays by Zappa “Vaultmaster” Joe Travers and Pamela Des Barres of the GTOs, who add some vocals to “King Kong”; and a conversation between Zappa’s son Ahmet and Alice Cooper, who performed at the Whisky on the same night this concert was recorded.

The three-CD set, released on June 21, 2024 (also available digitally and on five vinyl LPs), incorporates everything that made the early Mothers so compelling: adventurous jazz-rock, biting satire and a mind-boggling degree of eclecticism. Who else would put a version of “Octandre,” by pioneering classical composer Edgar Varese, in the same show with a doo-wop medley (“Memories of El Monte”) and a cover of a 1963 girl-group hit (the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”), not to mention a kazoo-dominated snippet of “God Bless America”?

The collection is available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Related: Our Album Rewind of the Mothers’ We’re Only In It for the Money

Jeff Burger

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