Chicago ’78

Posted: December 10, 2016 in album review, conceptual continuity, zappa
Frank Zappa, Chicago '78, Vaulternative Records/Zappa Records, ZR 20025, November 2016

Frank Zappa, Chicago ’78, Vaulternative Records/Zappa Records, ZR 20025, November 2016


The Fall 1978 Zappa line up performed 34 shows between August 26th and October 31st. In 2003 ZFT celebrated this band with a multi-channel (DVD-A) selection of recordings from the NYC Halloween final leg of this world Tour, a special performance as usual for an album definitely titled Halloween. However, Zappa didn’t give these performances much space in his discography, just a few episodes in the YCDTOSA series, most of them from the NYC above mentioned leg, in Volume 6. Probably this material, though evolving and featuring completely different drumming, is too close to Sheik Yerbouti; also the arrangements of the new pieces sometimes were not at their best (e.g. Easy Meat), some other times needed some more eyebrows (e.g. Bamboozled), or were just raw material (e.g. I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut). Keep it Greasy is a special case that needed that ’79 Garage treatment to reach his best.

In spite of such kind of minuses, this tour has a lot of interest for those hard-core fanatics keen on listening again to the Sheik Yerbouti repertoire with Vinnie “rhythmic encyclopedia” Colaiuta on drums: a completely different interplay later to be spotlighted on Shut Up ‘n’ Play yer Guitar. (It’s not a matter of drums competition here, Colaiuta and Bozzio are different drummers, both deserve to be listened). Also, some “old” news were particularly appealing. Ike Willis vocals perfectly fit Village Of The Sun and that soulful Roxy sound. Strictly Genteel entered the rock band stage for the first time in this tour, and remained there until 1988.

Frank Zappa was almost perfectly in the middle of his career, if you consider the May 1963 Mount St. Mary’s College concerts the beginning, and the Yellow Shark 1993 tour the outstanding but painful end. He had a fresh and solid repertoire (Sheik Yerbouti), he was developing a lot of new material, later to find his way to Joe’s Garage, You Are What You Is and Tinsel Town Rebellion, and he also gave the 1978 audience some hints from far (Little House) and near (Yellow Snow) past.

For these reasons until 2003, hard-core fandom was stuck with some gorilla recordings, being Poughkeepsie and Saarbrücken perhaps the most renowned and heavily bootlegged. The former must be mentioned also for a very special live rendition of Moe’s Vacation (still unreleased), while the latter is also known as part of the Beat the Boots I series (published by Zappa in 1991). Also bootlegged and interesting are the August rehearsals tapes, with a great version of Packard Goose, still lacking the classic Information is not Knowledge anthem.

So the 2003 Halloween album sounded particularly refreshing for such a public as long as this brand new Chicago ’78 album:

cd 1
1 Chicago Walk-On 1:20
2 Twenty-One 8:26
3 Dancin’ Fool 3:29
4 Easy Meat 5:41
5 Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me? 4:21
6 Keep It Greasy 3:41
7 Village Of The Sun 9:15
8 The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing 3:29
9 Bamboozled By Love 8:32
10 Sy Borg 4:36

cd 2
1 Little House I Used To Live In 9:38
2 Paroxysmal Splendor (includes: FZ & Pig/I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut) 7:14
3 Yo’ Mama 12:28
4 Magic Fingers 2:37
5 Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow 18:36
6 Strictly Genteel 8:25
7 Black Napkins 8:01

Uptown Theater
Chicago, Illinois
29 September 1978 (Show 2)

Frank Zappa: Guitar, Vocals
Ike Willis: Guitar, Vocals
Denny Walley: Slide Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Mars: Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Wolf: Keyboards
Ed Mann: Percussion, Vocals
Arthur Barrow: Bass, Vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums, Vocals

Original recordings produced by Frank Zappa
Produced for release by Gail Zappa & Joe Travers
1978 Mix Engineer: Davy Moire
1978 Recordist: Claus Weideman
2014 Re-mix Engineer: Craig Parker Adams, Winslow CT Studio, Hollywood CA
2014 Mastering Engineer: Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering
Package Design: Michael Mesker
Production Manager: Melanie Starks
Photography: Courtesy of the Vault
Text by FZ

The album booklet includes the September 29 concert program, also available at afka.

These recordings originate from three different sources, as noted by the Vaultmeister “in order to present this shows in it’s entirety”, and the result is truly excellent, it probably sounds clearer than Hallowen. The opener gives immediately a perfect test for your hears: detailed stereo image, prominent drums and guitar to enjoy that classic interplay, reference vibes and bass a little bit back. Twenty-One, later to be titled Trance-Fusion, should be the single of the album, since the audience here is a hard-core one. A necessary note on this piece by meister zappateer pbuzby:

Twenty-One is a riff in (as the title implies) 21/8. It was played at 9-17-78 (L) and this show as a guitar vehicle, and at 10-29-78 with solos by other band members. It also showed up the second verse of the studio version of Keep It Greasey, and eventually resurfaced in ’88 as the solo vamp for Marqueson’s Chicken. (One of those solos became the title cut of Trance Fusion.)

And side B of the Chicago ’78 single should be the closing song of cd 1: Sy Borg, in an arrangement and with sounds close to the studio version, but with a special live vibe. Twenty-One/Sy Borg could be a perfect Record Store Day treat!

In between cd1 flows at a steady pace, beyond that 2017 Record Store Day single, Village Of The Sun and Bamboozled By Love are other highlights of the show, with a lot of Danny Walley slide guitar to enjoy.

Cd 2 starts with Little House I Used To Live In, it is the classic mid show section with a lot of space for various improvisation, and after a drums solo the band goes crazy and tries also a couple of new things (I’m A Beautiful Guy/Crew Slut), during a section properly entitled Paroxysmal Splendor.

What follows is classic ’70s Zappa, I for one am very happy of another Black Napkins (even if there already are more than ten officially released versions), and I am particularly glad that we eventually have a new version of Yo’ Mama, a 1978 Zappa signature song.

Chicago ’78 is two hours of solid entertainment if you are longing to listen to your fifteenth high-fi Black Napkins and if your are still looking for the missing link between Martian Love Secrets and Arrogant Mop.


Frank Zappa, Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL, September 29, 1978, by Richard Freeman

Frank Zappa, Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL, September 29, 1978, by Richard Freeman


  1. I will always listen to another version of Black Napkins. My favorite Zappa song. Not so much on the Dinahmo/Camarillo side of things.

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