Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween 1976 Felt Forum Late Show


The late show at the Felt Forum in New York City on Halloween, 1976, was a decent concert. When Frank teases the crowd after the “Purple Lagoon Intro,” which includes Terry Bozzio’s outstanding drumming, with the promise, “I just hope we can make this program everything you hoped for tonight,” you know this is going to be a good show.

But this particular bootleg, an audience recording, really sucks. You can barely hear the concert’s greatness through the crowd chatter, and the guy that keeps yelling “Frank Zappa sucks donkey balls!” is really super annoying. There is also the small matter that I don’t have any art work to go with this. Hence the lame images.

The opener “Stink Foot,” from “Apostrophe(‘)” is a song that Frank tells the crowd he opened the early show with. This is significant because when Zappa played back-to-back shows on a single night, the song sets were never identical and seldom included any of the same individual songs. The guitar solo on this, although muffled in the bootleg, comes forward enough for you to hear Zappa inject a bit of blues into the tune. And then you hear him interrupt the song, apparently to re-tune his guitar, after which he goes through a series of ripping arpeggios to ensure his axe is truly in tune. After that, I believe he slips back into the solo he initially intended on playing. Bozzio does an outstanding job of staying in time with this unpredicted interruption.

The “Poodle Lecture” is a routine that Frank included in a lot of shows during that era, but here it’s not that enjoyable because instead of just hearing the crowd’s general response to Zappa’s narration, you get to hear individual voices, like that annoying guy who was yelling “Frank Zappa sucks donkey balls!”

Bianca Thornton belts out the vocals to “Dirty Love” from “Over-nite Sensation,” but you can barely hear her. What you do hear, however, is enough to make you wish you were there to hear it. We do get to hear another great solo from Frank. However, it appears that he was having some trouble that night keeping his guitar in tune. He abandons his efforts to move into “Pound For A Brown,” a tune from “Uncle Meat,” which turns out to be the band’s first live performance of the tune. A few more attempts at tuning his guitar and then the song begins.


You can hear Frank starts things with a “One-two-three-four,” but this song is way beyond and normal 4/4 time signature. There’s so much going on with this song with Patrick O’Hearn’s bass playing and Terry Bozzi’s precision drumming. All that frenetic activity initially sounds somewhat out of line with Zappa’s playing, but as the song progresses, the synchronicity of the players activity becomes apparent. Things finish with an excellent drum solo from Bozzio, so impressive you can hear the comments and awe from the audience.

Not sure, but when the band slows things down during “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station,” a song from “Zoot Allures,” it sounds like they are either taking a shot at Grand Funk or maybe Kansas. Probably the latter, as about that time Kansas was fairly popular.

Bozzio gets to work his vocal cords in “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” from “Sheik Yer Bouti,” but the substandard recording of the bootleg is such you really can’t hear much beyond the bass and rhythm guitar lines.

Normally, live performances of “The Torture Never Stops” include famously intense guitar solos out of Frank. Halloween 1976 was a bit of an exception to this. In addition to the performance being marred by the chatter of some guy who is close to the person recording the show, Frank is still having trouble with his guitar. He goes through a solo, but you can tell he seems to be preoccupied with his guitar. And then later in the solo, someone yells, “What is this shit?” To which Zappa replies that he’s tuning his guitar, followed with a “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

Ray White and Zappa trade solos during “City of Tiny Lights,” a song constructed to accommodate a lengthy guitar solo. However, the solo isn’t as imaginative as what one might expect out of Frank, leading me to think that he was holding back a lot during this show because of whatever problems he was having with his instrument.

Bianca Thornton’s voice comes through much more clearly during the last song on Disc 1, “You Didn’t Try to Call Me,” a song that goes all the way back to “Freak Out!” She’s gives it a really full, bluesy and spiritual feel. Yet, the band sort of disintegrates into a bunch of dinking around. To me, another solo was probably intended to go along with this song, which would have been bitchin’ to go along with Thornton’s singing, but given what happened early in the show, I think Frank basically punted.

Disc 2 continues with “Manx Needs a Woman,” a short piece that was on the “New York” release, which is followed by “Titties ‘n Beer,” featuring Terry Bozzio as the Devil. Eddie Jobson has some trouble keeping the beat on his keyboards while Bozzio is busy in his role as the Devil, but the routine apparently works the crowd into an enthusiastic frenzy. You get a better sense of Bianca Thornton’s voice toward the end of this, as she sounds very Stevie Nicks.


Zappa overcomes the previous issues with his guitar as he rips into “Black Napkins,” but two-and-a-half minutes into the song, the guitar playing abruptly stops to be replaced by some vocalizations by it sounds like both Zappa and Bianca Thornton. The crowd does not sound all that pleased, recognizing something wrong with the sound. Was Frank having another guitar issue? But the crowd slowly gets into the vocalizations despite the fact that the sequence lacks any cohesion. Someone eventually starts playing an electric violin, but there is no credit for this, and there doesn’t appear to be any reference of someone playing electric violin here as well. The style of playing sounds very much like Jean Luc Ponty. That’s my guess, supported in part by the fact someone in the crowd shouts his name. Some subdued guitar playing follows this, but Frank picks up the intensity a bit when we’re about 12 minutes into the song. If he did have guitar issues earlier in the show, by the end of this song he has surely overcome them: you hear Zappa losing himself in the song, his playing becoming effortless. I have to wonder, however, if it’s a different guitar, because it has a slightly different sound than the one he started with. You can’t tell because this is an audience recording, and the sound quality shifts frequently because of that alone.

Next come “Advance Romance,” a very heavy song that Zappa played a lot, but didn’t show up on any official “studio” recording. Rather, it appears on the live recordings “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore” volumes 3 and 5, as well as on “Oz.” This concert’s version has a pretty kick-ass bass solo by O’Hearn, if you can make it out. Plus, Zappa’s guitar playing has definitely overcome whatever problems were encountered earlier in the show. Again, despite how shitty this bootleg recording is, the ability to hear solos like this make having these bootlegs rewarding. The solo in this song is why this recording gets two stars instead of one.

Zappa delves into a pretty sweet performance of “What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?” with Bianca Thornton, who sings a soulful accompaniment that also shoots back with a satirical tongue that keeps Frank in his place. While I still like the version from the “Fillmore East” concert recording, this one is good too.

Of course, after a song like that, it’s not surprising the group launches next into “Dinah-Moe Humm.” This is followed with “Camarillo Brillo,” which slows down toward the end as was typical of concerts from this era, because it was usually followed, as it is here, with “Muffin Man,” a song first released on “Bongo Fury.” In this case, John Smothers sings the song. Was this someone from the audience? This was not unusual for a Zappa show, as long as you were well-behaved, but as it turned out, Smothers was Zappa's long-time bodyguard. And Zappa delivers again with outstanding playing, albeit interrupted by a glitch in the download.

I rate this recording two of five stars. Add your own rating below.



Content was edited and a correction made on Oct. 25, 2009, correcting the name John Scuthers to John Smothers.


Disc 1:
Crowd Noise
1 Purple Lagoon Intro
2 Stink Foot
3 Poodle Lecture
4 Dirty Love
5 Pound For A Brown
6 Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station
7 Tryin’ To Grow A Chin
8 The Torture Never Stops
9 City Of Tiny Lights
10 You Didn’t Try To Call Me

Disc 2:
11 Manx Needs Women
12 Titties ‘n Beer
13 Black Napkins
14 Advance Romance
15 What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?
16 Dinah-Moe Humm
17 Camarillo Brillo
18 Muffin Man

Frank Zappa-vocals, guitar
Ray White-vocals, guitar
Patrick O’Hearn-vocals, bass
Terry Bozzio-drums
Eddie Jobson-keyboards
Bianca Thornton-vocals

7 comments:

Fred said...

I'm guessing "John Scuthers" is actually "John Smothers' (a/k/a "Bald-Headed John"), who was Frank's bodyguard for many years.

Richard Harrold said...

@Fred

Hey thanks for that clarification. I probably misheard what Frank said while he introduced John. I will correct the text of the post.

Thanks for paying attention!

sam said...

I believe you're wrong on you're assessment that this was the late show.I attended the late show on halloween '76 ,felt forum and he didn't have those guitar issues in the show that started at 11:30pm

You also fail to mention the comedian that opened for Frank in that late show,spreading food all over his body and telling the audience that we should go fucking crazy tonight because it's halloween. Anyone remember???

Richard Harrold said...

Hi Sam,

If I am incorrect, it's because the source of the boot identified the recording as coming from the late show. But I don't think I am wrong, because the set list on the boot matches the set lists for that show posted at other websites. And actually, I did not fail to mention the comedian that opened the show. I wasn't there, and the comedian is not on the boot. Nor is he mentioned on other websites that cover this concert. So how could I "fail" to mention him?

Also, the guitar issues is a conclusion I reached based on listening to the boots. Had I been there, perhaps I would not have reached the same conclusion. But based on what I heard on the boot, it sounded to me like Frank was having some problems with his guitars or equipment.

Anonymous said...

The comedian opening the show was "Uncle Dirty"--THAT's RiiiGHT --and Frank briefly led the band into a Doobie Brothers spoof (China Grove like maybe ) as they were playing upstairs in the main MSG that same night.... I can only attest to these 2 facts--I was at 1 show each 75/76 not sure of it being late or early show at this point in time.

Richard Harrold said...

Hey thanks Anonymous! Always like to see new comments on old posts! Especially from people who were at these shows!

Anonymous said...

re: "Someone eventually starts playing an electric violin, but there is no credit for this,.."

I was at the show. the violinist was absolutely Eddie Jobson.