Frank Zappa's ensemble were a sensation at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1973.
“Outrageous” was one of many terms applied to Frank Zappa during his musical career. One album, he’d be in a smutty satirical mode, the next was full of serious compositions. When he and the latest incarnation of the Mothers of Invention arrived in May 1973, Zappa was on the cusp of what proved to be his most commercially rewarding period, when the naughtier aspects of his music caught the public’s ear.
Zappa had resumed live performances in September 1972 following almost a year spent recovering from injuries sustained after an irate audience member pushed him off the stage during a concert in England. Among the lingering effects that Toronto audiences would have noticed: deeper vocals by Zappa, courtesy of a crushed larynx that dropped his voice by a third.
“Jazz and rock met head to head at Maple Leaf Gardens Friday night and slugged it out, amplifier to amplifier, for three and a half hours,” noted the Star’s Peter Goddard in his review of the concert, at which Zappa shared head billing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Around 14,000 people showed up to see two acts that Goddard felt were in peak form. “The Mothers of Invention teased you with a whirling series of brisk, bright ideas that required everyone to be constantly alert to what was to happen next,” Goddard wrote. “Zappa…utilized each member of his band to produce something only he could fully understand. In this sense Zappa may be to rock what Duke Ellington is to jazz—the real instrument for both of them is the band they are currently leading.” Local content was provided by opening act the Good Brothers, who despite seeming out of place with their blend of country and folk, played with “such skill and obvious affection, that even after the other two bands had finished with their adventurous electric music, the Good Brothers’ music could be remembered.”
This incarnation of the Mothers would back Zappa on the album Over-Nite Sensation, which was released shortly before his return to Toronto for a pair of sold-out shows at Massey Hall in November 1973. By that point, local radio stations were playing his music, even if it meant exiling songs like “Dirty Love” to after the midnight hour.
Additional material from the May 7, 1973 edition of the Toronto Star.