50 years ago today, the guitar great Frank Zappa debuted to the world with his first album, the classic Freak Out!. Five years later, Zappa was so well loved that he and his band The Mothers of Invention were able to sell out and hold down two nights at the Fillmore East in New York City.
The shows were memorable for more quite a handful of reasons, as it turned out. For one, the venue shuttered its doors permanently just three weeks after the performance. For another, the concerts took place in the summer of 1971, a year that lives in infamy for Zappa and his fans; in December of that year, a flare shot by an audience member during a show in Switzerland destroyed The Mothers’ equipment, an incident that became immortalized in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”. Just a week later, playing on rented equipment, Zappa was pushed from the stage by another audience member in London, leaving him in a wheelchair for months and a permanent third drop in his vocal range.
But there were some enlightening moments to remember from that pair of performances, as well. On one of the evenings, Zappa welcomed John Lennon and Yoko Ono out during the encore. It seemed even the band members were taken unaware by the icons’ appearance, and the surprise performance went on for half an hour. The audio was recorded, with much of it released on Lennon’s Some Time in New York City in 1972 and Zappa’s 1992 album Playground Psychotics. But it turned out someone was also there recording video, so you can see the strange and rare collaboration with your own eyes.
Above, watch the trio perform “Baby Please Don’t Go”, and below check out a longer video that includes “Scumbag” and a track Zappa later dubbed “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono” — guess what that one sounds like?