Monday, May 25, 2009

The Ahoy, Rotterdam, May 24, 1980

This little gem I recently stumbled upon and was delighted at the sound quality, given that it is a bootleg. This was taken from a Dutch FM radio program, and, as it is with many bootlegs, appeared on the market in a variety of forms, often with erroneous information.

This site identifies the variety of bootleg incarnations – “Boot the Beats” being just one – the concert showed up as, including an item that incorrectly lists this concert as occurring on June 24, 1980. Even the “Boot the Beats” item contains misleading information, suggesting it was recorded in New York. Several sites note that the guitar solo during “The Illinois Enema Bandit” was interrupted on many of these boots; however, the one I listened to has a full guitar solo as far as I can tell, because the recording ends with the radio show outtake. After reviewing all these sites and the set lists put together by others, I’ve concluded that the concert recorded for the radio show was from May 24, 1980.

Zappa writes in his autobiography about working in The Ahoy, although not necessarily about this particular concert. He identifies this experience he writes about in “The Real Frank Zappa Book” as his “orchestral stupidity #2.” It was 1980 and he states that he was in Amsterdam at the time when he was propositioned on working with a few Dutch ensembles to perform his orchestral work.

Knowing the complexity of his work, Zappa demurred, saying that he didn’t want to have anything to do with the project unless he would be guaranteed a minimum of three weeks of rehearsal time. He got that commitment, as well as assurances that he wouldn’t have to spend any of his own money to pull it off.

On page 148, Zappa describes The Ahoy as “a charming sort of Dutch indoor bicycle racing arena with a concrete floor and a banked wooden track all around the room.” On page 149 he gives a timeline of the rehearsals, which were mixed in with a rock tour he would plan for the summer throughout Europe to raise money to pay the American musicians involved in the project. The final rehearsals were to occur in the final weeks of May just before the performance.

This site shows that Zappa played in Rotterdam on May 24, 1980, the only identified show in The Netherlands in May that year (note also that on June 24, 1980, he was traveling between shows in Germany, and would have no opportunity to do a live show in New York City as referenced on the boot cover I have posted). That was the rock concert recorded for Dutch radio and which was pressed into boots. The day before he performed in Brussels, Belgium; two days after the gig at The Ahoy, he was in Germany where he gave three concerts for three days in a row in three different locations. He was pretty busy until early July with the rock tour he put together, so it’s difficult to determine precisely when this meeting in Amsterdam occurred (he was very busy touring through the U.S. during April). But all that is moot because the orchestral project completely fell apart and Zappa writes in his autobiography that he pulled the plug on it.

The show at The Ahoy was performed by a relatively small band by Zappa standards, and has some really good guitar solos by the master. That is evident with the concert starting off with the guitar-centric “Chunga’s Revenge.” Zappa’s solo is – using a word frequently cited to describe his playing – blistering. There is a bit of angry energy in it, and given the circumstances outlined above, I must wonder how much of that he transferred into his playing. After some brief introductions, he quickly launches into a couple songs from “Joe’s Garage,” including the dreamy guitar piece “Outside Now.” In fact, not surprisingly, the concert pulls material from several albums released at the time, including “Tinsel Town Rebellion,” to be released the following year, “Sheik Yerbouti,” and “You Are What You Is.” The performance of “City of Tiny Lights” on this boot is just OK to me, except for the guitar solo, which pulls it out of mediocrity. I don’t care much for Tommy Mars’ keyboards on this one; very uninspired. Of course, one must consider the fact that Mars is compensating for the lack of a horn section on this particular tour.

Following a perfunctory performance of “Teenage Wind,” we get the heavy, boogie-ish “Bamboozled by Love,” which had plenty of potential, but again gets marred by Mars’ keyboards. Makes me wonder why the song was included in the set because it would have sounded so much better backed by a strong horn section. Thank god for Zappa’s guitar coming in and re-inserting the heavy rock feel into this. He pulls off a bit of outside, atonal playing that grinds power into the song. Ike Willis, however, sounds a bit anemic. After “Pick Me I’m Clean” comes “Society Pages”, which quickly segues into “I’m A Beautiful Guy,” and then “Beauty Knows No Pain.” This “suite” from “You Are What You Is” is concluded with “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth.”

Zappa goes a bit retro with his next group of songs, reaching slightly into the past with “Cosmik Debris,” (which really suffers from the lack of Ruth Underwood) from “Apostrophe(‘),” but going way back to “Freak Out!” for “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” and “I Ain’t Got No Heart.” Not sure who’s playing the guitar solo on this performance of “Cosmik Debris.” It’s an excellent soaring blues interpretation of the song that lacks Zappa’s signature style, which leads me to think it was either Willis or Ray White. Disc One is completed with “Love of My Life,” from “Cruising with Ruben and the Jets.”

Disc Two returns the show to more contemporary selections from Zappa’s catalog, starting with the title track from “You Are What You Is.” There’s nothing remarkable about this performance; in fact, the musicians sound like they’re just going through the motions. Things perk up when the group launches into “Joe’s Garage.” The concert appears to end after “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee,” but an encore quickly develops with “Dancin’ Fool.” Something to note: When Zappa at the end of the show is re-introducing band members, he repeats Ray White’s name several times as though he was being introduced again and again as different individuals. Was Zappa playing with the fact that the band he was touring with was considerably smaller than what he normally travels with?

With “Dancin Fool,” the band manages to use its small size to its advantage. That song is followed by “Bobby Brown,” also from “Sheik Yerbouti.” In both songs, Zappa delivers well with his vocals. Even “Ms. Pinky” comes off well despite it’s missing the extraordinarily fuzzed and heavy guitar and bass from “Zoot Allures.” This boot also has one of the few pre-release recordings of a live performance of “I Don’t Want To Get Drafted.” The show finishes with “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” in a great performance with Ray White’s vocals and with Zappa’s guitar work. Zappa’s solo is searing in its precision. He gave the crowd at The Ahoy that night a real gift with that solo.

I give this recording four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

I did some light editing on this post on May 26, 2009.
Frank Zappa: The Ahoy, Rotterdam NL, May 24, 1980

Disc One
01. Chunga's Revenge
02. Keep It Greasey
03. Outside Now
04. City Of Tiny Lights
05. Teenage Wind
06. Bamboozled By Love
07. Pick Me I'm Clean
08. Society Pages
09. I'm A Beautiful Guy
10. Beauty Knows No Pain
11. Charlie's Enormous Mouth
12. Cosmik Debris
13. You Didn't Try To Call Me
14. I Ain't Got No Heart
15. Love Of My Life

Disc Two
01. You Are What You Is
02. Easy Meat
03. Joe's Garage
04. Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?
05. (crowd)
06. Dancin' Fool
07. Bobby Brown
08. Ms. Pinky
09. (crowd)
10. I Don’t Want to Get Drafted
11. The Illinois Enema Bandit
12. (radio outro)


Frank Zappa, lead guitar, vocals
Ike Willis, guitar, vocals
Tommy Mars, keyboards and vocals
Arthur “Tink” Barrow, bass
Ray White, guitar and vocals
David Logeman, drums


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite FZ concert recordings of all time!! If you are a Zappa fan and don't this recording - GET IT!!!

Unknown said...

This is of my favourite recordings too. Simply because I was the NOS radio mixing engineer at that time and very pleased to do the job. Frank Zappa is still on my list of the most remarkable musicians I ever have recorded. I am still proud of that. Regards Erik van ES, former NOS Radio sound engineer.

Leo* said...

I was there. May 24 1980 is the right date.