Frank Zappa’s Amazing Final Concerts: Prague and Budapest, 1991

We say good­bye to musi­cal icons in many dif­fer­ent ways, from flash­mobs, SNL intros, and long ret­ro­spec­tives to live con­cert trib­utes fea­tur­ing the biggest cov­er band on earth. No mat­ter how out­sized the ges­ture, it nev­er quite seems out of place when it comes to artists of a cer­tain stature. In the case of Frank Zap­pa, we’ve recent­ly seen jazz orches­tra trib­utes, a “mon­u­men­tal live per­for­mance” of one of his own orches­tral works, and sev­er­al Zap­pa trib­ute con­certs by his son Dweezil.

For all their heart and sta­mi­na, how­ev­er, no trib­ute can com­pete with the pow­er of those artists’ farewells to us. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, too frag­ile to per­form in their last years, left phe­nom­e­nal albums we’ll pore over for decades to come. South­ern rock great Leon Rus­sell, who just passed away this week at 74, put on rol­lick­ing live shows into his final years, and had con­certs booked into 2017 when he died. Prince’s final per­for­mance was, like all of his per­for­mances, stun­ning.

And Zap­pa? Well see for your­self. Zap­pa played his way out of the world as he’d played his way into it, with sar­don­ic humor and blis­ter­ing vir­tu­os­i­ty.

As you can see at the top and above, Zap­pa and band deliv­ered on every promise in their last con­certs in Prague and Budapest in 1991. In the 10-minute clip at the top, Zappa’s impro­visato­ry prog gui­tar runs soar and dive over the band’s slink­ing jazz-reg­gae, then get more tech­ni­cal as he trades licks with anoth­er vir­tu­oso gui­tarist. In the low­er-qual­i­ty video above, with clips from both con­certs, Zap­pa and band dis­play their mas­tery of an East­ern Euro­pean-sound­ing march with their guest musi­cian “gyp­sy friends” in Hun­gary (at 9:00).

In the fol­low­ing two years, until his death in 1993, Zap­pa would become too weak to play as he suc­cumbed to prostate can­cer. In his final inter­views, he pro­nounced him­self “total­ly unre­pen­tant” for his life and career and insist­ed he had only ever been an “enter­tain­er.” And it’s true, what­ev­er else Zap­pa was—incredibly skilled gui­tarist, com­pos­er, and indus­try innovator—he was always, to the last cou­ple years of his life, an incred­i­ble show­man.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In One of his Final Inter­views, Frank Zap­pa Pro­nounces Him­self “Total­ly Unre­pen­tant”

Frank Zap­pa Debates Cen­sor­ship on CNN’s Cross­fire (1986)

A Young Frank Zap­pa Turns the Bicy­cle into a Musi­cal Instru­ment on The Steve Allen Show (1963)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Ted Mills says:

    Accord­ing to

    “Note: Frank Zap­pa’s penul­ti­mate pub­lic per­for­mance. Frank Zap­pa on gui­tar with The Pražský výběr: Michael Kocab: vocals, key­boards, trum­pet; Michal Pavlicek: gui­tar; Vilem Cok: bass gui­tar, vocals; David Koller: drums; Stanislav Jelinek: gui­tar; Fran­ta Honig: per­cus­sions; Milo Vacik: per­cus­sions; Ladislav Fak­tor: key­boards and The Roucek Brass Band.”

    Note: Frank Zap­pa’s last pub­lic per­for­mance at the Taban Jaz­zfes­ti­val in Budapest (total dura­tion: 44 min includ­ing the 16 min morn­ing sound­check). Frank Zap­pa on gui­tar jammed with Hun­gar­i­an (gyp­sy) jazz musi­cians Gyu­la Babos (gui­tar), János Egri (bass), Béla “Sza­kc­si” Lakatos (key­board), Imre Kösze­gi (drums). Taban is a part of Budapest and the loca­tion of the con­cert.

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