The Yin and Yang of Frank Zappa was in sharp relief in 1988: the avant garde composer; the profane and political satirist; the tactician; the improviser; the classicist; the innovator.  Presented so vividly, March 25, 1988- his last U.S. performance ever- hardly seems like a “last” anything.  The musicians Zappa assembled- initially to serve as a house band on a TV show that never made it to air; retained as his touring band- would make it through an East Coast leg and a European summer schedule before Frank ended its tenure ahead of a return to the U.S. for a fall run.  Certainly, its shortened lifespan was not due to performance, as Zappa would issue several albums, including “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life,” documenting the genius of the ’88 ensemble.

The 11-piece group backing Frank was exceedingly well-rehearsed, with a canon of over 100 songs at its disposal, and following a leader in Zappa whose guitar playing was reaching a new level of modernism and expression.  Too, ’88 was an election year, and the Zappa who always enjoyed finding targets within the cultural police zeroed in on the televangelist mob that was dominating both the airwaves and the scandal sheets.  One in particular, Jimmy Swaggart, was squarely in the crosshairs after a reported dalliance with a prostitute. 

As Zappa took the Nassau Coliseum stage that evening joining him were voter registration reps, there for pre-show and intermission sign-ups.  An (un)intentionally comedic demonstration opens the proceedings, underscored by a new age “The Black Page,” and introduces a laser-focused band prepared to devour any setlist; one that shifts with aplomb from the complexities of “Inca Roads” to the pointed commentary of “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk,” and stops to wish drummer Chad Wackerman a happy birthday right in the middle of it all; defining, as the madness unfurls, a rapturous, and typical, Zappa show.

While mesmerizing the Long Island crowd with a (now-infamous) Beatles medley- one that followed a searing “City of Tiny Lights” into “Pound For A Brown,”- Zappa subs out the Lennon and McCartney lyrics for Swaggart-scorching stand-ins.  Then, the ace unit drops a flawless rendition of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus” (with proper lyrics), maybe just to show they could do that, too.  Brothers Walt and Bruce Fowler navigate eye-of-the-needle arrangements with unequaled flash and precision, leading a four-piece horn section through a sweltering “Stairway to Heaven,” borrowed here from a show two nights earlier in Maryland, as Wackerman and bassist Scott Thunes charge headlong into a vicious “Whipping Post,” taken from nine days before in Providence. 

It culminates the only way it should: with “America The Beautiful” ending the night, the tour, Zappa’s skewering, Zappa’s unparalleled guitar work, and this phantasmal man and his phantasmal band’s last show in the United States, ironically, merrily, perfectly.