On more than one occasion, upon seeing the colossal size of my Frank Zappa music collection, I’ve been asked, “How many versions of Zappa songs do you really need?” Of course, to someone who isn’t a fan of Zappa’s music, or is new to the maestro’s music, wouldn’t understand. Especially in regards to live versions of Zappa’s work.
What led me to seek out more and more live versions of Zappa’s work, after purchasing his official catalogue, was the sheer variation of his live material, particularly within given compositions. Unlike some artists, or groups, each live performance by Zappa and his assembled ensemble would offer the appreciative listener a unique variation with each public performance. Above all, Zappa was no jukebox, and refused to become one at anytime throughout his career. And each version of whatever composition was being performed reflected his refusal (and we’re all the richer for it).
For your educational and listening pleasure, I have chosen a “coven” of various versions of “Drowning Witch” to illustrate this observation, from it’s earlier incarnation as a spoken word piece to it’s fully developed form:
Drowning Witch – Celebrity Theater, Phoenix, AZ, 13 October 1980 (Early Show)
Drowning Witch – Chalk Pie, 1982 (Live with studio overdubs)
Drowning Witch – Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI, 25 November 1981
Drowning Witch – Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA, 10 November 1984
Drowning Witch – Felt Forum, NYC, 31 October 1984 (Late Show)
Drowning Witch – Isstadion, Stockholm, Sweden, 7 May 1982
Drowning Witch – Johnson Gymnasium, UNM, Albuquerque, NM, 12 October 1980
Drowning Witch – Palladium, NYC, 31 October 1981 (Early Show)
Drowning Witch – The Ritz, NYC, 17 November 1981 (Early Show)
Drowning Witch – Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA, 11 December 1981 (Early Show)
Drowning Witch – Stadio Municipale, Pistoia, Italy, 8 July 1982
Drowning Witch – State University of New York, Stonybrook, NY, 3 November 1984 (Early Show)
Drowning Witch – Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL, 27 November 1981 (Late Show)
What unique variations could you identify?