Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 1978 The Palladium NYC

In 1978, Zappa played the Palladium in New York City for six shows: one on Halloween, two each on Oct. 27 and 28, and one on Oct. 29. As mentioned in my post on the official “Halloween” audio DVD release, Zappa recorded all these shows, leaving behind a ton of taped material. This boot from the Halloween night show is what should have been re-mastered and officially released. Why a cut-and-paste release of various songs from these shows was put together is beyond me. And added to my dismay is the fact that the official recording was released on an audio DVD, severely limiting how folks can play it. I don’t have a home theater to play it on and it won’t play in my CD changer or in my car stereo, so I had to download someone else’s rip so I could listen to it in my car. The official release sits on my CD shelf as a testament of how I occasionally waste my money.

But when you listen to the 1978 Halloween show in its entirety, it’s like WTF! Why wasn’t this put together into a three or four CD release? It is freaking outstanding, one of the most amazing concert recordings I’ve heard!

How amazing? This concert had some serious head-banging heavy metal guitar solos that stimulate your entire body with scintillating current; you will hear the magical musicianship of the band as it displays complete mastery of some of Zappa’s most difficult material; you will be awed by Denny Walley’s super sweet and melodious slide guitar delivered with a Delta blues fingerprint so implacable and delicious that it’s like a savory sweet potato pie; and the interplay between L. Shankar’s electric violin and Zappa’s guitar approaches the mystical.

And you’ll also hear Zappa just being himself as he includes some of his famous audience participation.

Granted, this recording is a bit rough due to the fact that it is a bootleg, but the material is so incredibly awesome that it really doesn’t matter. The only portion of the recording that is so rough that the final maniacal interplay between Shankar and Zappa is almost lost is at the very end. That part of the show was re-mastered and released on the official “Halloween” recording.

This was a very long show, as you can see by the track listing, so I’m only going to touch on some of what I consider to be the highlights.

Frank shreds on the fourth track, “Easy Meat,” which was also on the “Halloween” recording, except that the performance on that release came from the second show on Oct. 27. I really like the rhythmic and melodic progression of the solo as well as Vinnie Colaiuta’s aggressive drumming.

The band is incredibly tight on “Keep it Greasy,” and Frank’s vocals on “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” are really good, his singing effortless. And you can hear Denny Walley warming up the slide in preparation for the next song.

“City of Tiny Lights” always gives me the shivers, and this performance delivers. Walley’s slide guitar is electrifying, his solo brings a flavor of Texas and Delta blues while still retaining that cosmic aura of floating chaotically above the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. Frank picks up on the shred to continue the guitar part while Walley’s guitar hums menacingly in the background. The two of them finish off with a note-for-note pairing of the song’s theme.

The band is fantastic during “Pound for a Brown,” a demanding piece. Ed Mann’s percussion is brilliant and the bass playing by both Arthur Barrow and Patrick O’Hearn is flawless. But it’s Mann’s vibraphone playing that stars.

L. Shankar is introduced for the next song, “Thirteen.” This is beautiful stuff. Shankar starts low, but gradually works his way up the musical scale. You begin to notice something rhythmically going on, you’re not quite sure what it is, but Vinnie Colaiuta’s drumming keeps you safe. Because when Shankar begins to unload and let it rip on that violin, it leaves me stunned every time. When Zappa begins to play, the rhythm becomes so complex that there isn’t anyone else playing except for Colaiuta. The bass begins to rejoin as Zappa goes deep into the register to haul out a solo as if from the depths of oblivion. Then Frank, I believe, becomes possessed, his playing so inspired and amazing that I am in eternal regret that I never saw this performance. Shankar comes back, his playing bordering on the outside, giving Frank’s extended feedback an aural texture that becomes transcendent; Zappa takes it another step leaving you in the cosmos, but Shankar is right there as he becomes like a chaotic comet zipping about following no course, bouncing between quasars and super novas.

Both Shankar and Zappa bring the crowd back to earth, slowly bringing them back as the band joins back in for a crescendo that makes me cry. Why this was not included on the official release stupefies me. It is 17 minutes of outstanding music.

The infamous Warren Cucurullo is introduced in this show as well, as he comes up on stage to tell a pretty interesting story of becoming infatuated with a woman who he later finds out, is someone compromising manner, is a transvestite.

Frank pays homage to doo-wop with “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder,” and delivers very nicely on the vocals. It’s really ironic in that Zappa did so many covers of doo-wop and R&B tunes that could be construed as satirical, as well as wrote many of his own, but the man had a deep love for this music. Check out the backing vocals on this, as they transition the song into “Little Rubber Girl,” which again is used as a transition into the “Idiot Bastard Son,” which is actually a waltz.

L. Shankar returns for more violin playing on “Conehead,” who, as Zappa says at his re-introduction, “give(s) them the works.” The band provides a really cool groove in the background for this as well. Good Zappa guitar solo too with some lovely feedback.

Disc 3 has a lot of treats on it, including “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” sans vocals (L. Shankar again on this, putting his interpretation of surf music on this), a decent performance of “Peaches En Regalia,” and “Strictly Genteel.” I really like “Sofa” on this, and “Magic Fingers” is decent as well. The standout, however, in this section of the show is “Packard Goose,” a song filled with time changes and one not often played, but which contains Zappa’s famous progression quote about “Music is the best!” This is followed by Shankar and Zappa trading riffs that rip the top of your head off. It’s probably the most impressive and synergistic part of the show.

Disc 4 begins with the “Yellow Snow Suite,” presented in its entirety as it was always performed. It was a serious blunder, in my opinion, that on “Halloween” only “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” was included.

As I mentioned earlier, the last part of this bootleg probably has the worst noise, which interferes significantly with one’s auditory pleasure while listening to “The Black Napkins” and “Deathless Horsie.” However, the recording was cleaned up and used on “Halloween.”

A note: There was no artwork with this boot, so I scanned some of the cover art from “Halloween” and used that.

I rate this 4.5 stars out of five despite the somewhat substandard audio. Add your own rating below.

Disc 1
1 Ancient Armaments
2 Intro
3 Dancin’ Fool
4 Easy Meat
5 Honey Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?
6 Keep It Greasy
7 The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
8 City Of Tiny Lights
9 Pound For A Brown
10 Thirteen

Disc 2
11 Ms. X
12 Nancy’s Life Story
13 Dinah-Moe Humm
14 Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder
15 Little Rubber Girl
16 Idiot Bastard Son
17 Bobby Brown
18 Conehead
19 Suicide Chump
20 Little House I Used To Live In
21 Watermelon In Easter Hay

Disc 3
22 Preamble
23 Stink Foot
24 Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
25 Peaches En Regalia
26 Strictly Genteel
27 Sofa
28 Packard Goose
29 Magic Fingers

Disc 4
30 Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow
31 Nanook Rubs It
32 St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast
33 Father O’Blivion
34 Rollo
35 Camarillo Brillo
36 Muffin Man
37 Black Napkins
38 The Deathless Horsie

Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Patrick O’Hearn – bass
Arthur Barrow – bass
Denny Walley – slide guitar, vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Peter Wolf – keyboards

L. Shankar - electric violin
Warren Cucurullo - monologue
Nancy - monologue

With L. Shankar on tracks 10, 18, 20-21, 24, 28, and 38.


Anonymous said...

I'm listening to "Thirteen" on YouTube....

Makes me Sick ! And Crying !

BTW, you didn't say anything about the devastatingly beautiful version of "Watermelon"

Richard Harrold said...

I'll have to re-listen to that version of "Watermelon..." I guess it just didn't stand out to me, which might have been because of the recording quality. I'll take another listen.