Sunday, October 25, 2009


With 20 live performances on Halloween, and with Zappa’s penchant for recording practically everything he did on and off stage, it’s really quite surprising to see the dearth of Halloween live recordings in the official catalog.

It wasn’t until 2003 that a posthumous release came out that ostensibly was a live recording of a Halloween show, the DVD audio disc dubiously titled “Halloween,” the title being suspect because even that release was not strictly a Halloween show. It contains material (allegedly the best in Dweezil’s opinion) from the 1978 shows at the Palladium, recorded from Oct. 27 through 31.

Perhaps the only true Halloween show pressed by the Zappa Family Trust into media fit for an electronic device is the DVD “The Torture Never Stops,” which represents the two 1981 Halloween shows at the Palladium. All that material from all those Halloween shows, and this is all that’s available. Thank god for bootlegs! Oh sure, there are a few cuts from Halloween shows on various releases of YCDTOSA (which I will address in future posts), but “Halloween” and “The Torture Never Stops” are pretty much it in the legitimate recording arena. And unfortunately, I do not have a copy of “The Torture Never Stops” to review. I do have a bootleg of the 1981 shows, a review of which will be showing up shortly.

And so it is I must begin by saying that “Halloween” is a major disappointment. I admit that’s difficult to say because there are some excellent guitar solos on this recording, and the song set list on this release is not that bad, although it is very predictable. No, what is really disappointing is how the album is set up by Zappa speaking to the crowd. He tells them that the show will first start off with material that everybody knows, but that he also promises material that is new and different.

Believe me, those Halloween shows had some great material that went way beyond what is normally associated as being Zappa’s more popular songs, particularly the 1978 show. After all, he warns the crowd that this one is going to be a long one. And yet, on the official release, we are only teased. Yes, and frustratingly so. I mean, how can you release a recording in which Zappa states clearly that something more is promised, and then not deliver on that?

Mark Prindle has at times been harsher with his comments about various Zappa recordings than I would be, but his review of “Halloween” awards it way too many stars – six out of 10 – particularly in light of what he actually says about the recording.

“Supposedly a big selling point of this record is that it features violinist L. (or Lakshminarayana, as his friends called him as a Nick Name) Shankar… Some of the songs just don’t ZING in these renditions though: ‘Camarillo Brillo’ is rushed through with no soul at all; ‘Easy Meat’ loses its way to boring axe wank; and as beautiful as ‘Black Napkins’ and ‘The Deathless Horsie’ are, you’d have to be a member of the Zappa Family Trust to enjoy seventeen minutes of him soloing over them.”

The track selection was allegedly made by Dweezil. As accomplished a guitar player that he is, the Dweez has been in the business for more than 20 years, and this is the song selection he comes up with? Come on, Dweez, what’s up with that?

According to the liners note with the official release: “When it came time to put together this disc, the issue of sequencing, pacing and continuity became the order of the day. In other words, Joe (Cicarelli) and Dweezil needed to come up with about 70 minutes that played like a show, with all the ebb and flow and peaks and valleys of a continuous performance.

“The only answer was to go back to the vault, find all the original material, listen to it and decide what should go on the finished program.”

Zappa played five nights for the Halloween season that year, and to make this release, all the material was available to them! It seems the entire process could have been made much simpler if the notion of “sequencing, pacing and continuity” had just been tossed out the window and the Palladium show from Halloween night on 1978 was released in its entirety. Instead, with “Halloween” we have a faux show.

It’s incredible how the liner notes really hype everything up, and there was a lot to hype. The 1978 band was pretty awesome. The lineup Zappa had for the Halloween shows in 1978 was stellar and powerful. And the set list for Halloween night that year was a grand slam! But instead of that, Dweezil settles for getting on base with a walk. And add to that it was released in a format that barely anyone has the equipment to appreciate.

All right, enough of why this recording is a disappointment. Let’s look at the material talk about how good it is.

This “show” starts of with “Ancient Armaments,” a totally kick-ass guitar solo piece that has outstanding percussion coming from the great Vinnie Colaiuta. It is also during this track that Zappa announces to the crowd that “This is the big one!” And then he goes on:

“Let me tell you what I’m gonna do tonight. Tonight, since this is the big one, we’re going to play a very long show… What we’re going to do for those of you who have been here before … we are going to play a whole collection of stuff that we don’t normally do. But before we do that, we’re going to play our normal show for those of you who haven’t seen any of the other shows.”

This big band then launches into “Dancin’ Fool.” The numerous musicians in this line up really give this tune a big sound and feel, as well as a deep texture in sound. Plus you can hear Frank having fun with the crowd.

While the first two tracks are from the show Halloween night, Frank’s banter with the girl he pulls up on stage is cut short by the recording switching to “Easy Meat,” which was recorded four nights earlier on Oct. 27. My god, Zappa rips your head off with his guitar solo, the sound just sears your scalp and electrifies your ears. And Vinnie’s drumming is right there, spot on.

The next song, “Magic Fingers” from “200 Motels” is a composite, taking tracks from two shows: Oct. 27 and Halloween. The band is truly tight on this, and Denny Walley’s vocals on this are decent. “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” is from Halloween night, but the major problem here is that this song is part of a suite that was always performed in its entirety, including Halloween night 1978. Here we only get the first song.

What follows is “Conehead” from “You Are What You Is.” It’s a fairly boring performance, only made marginally better by L. Shankar’s violin solo. However, Shankar had much better solos that night that were not included in this release.

Next, we get a drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta called “Zeets.” While a great solo, I remain dubious about how it fits in following Shankar’s solo. This moves into “Stink Foot,” which was performed on Halloween and includes some interesting interaction with the audience. But the sweetest part is the solo. Many of Zappa’s solos are orchestrated numbers during which he plays precise parts, but in this one, I swear he gets lost and just soars. There are some pre-programmed parts; you can tell because Vinnie Colaiuta’s drumming is so tight, he has to know what’s coming. But there are other parts when Zappa shifts time signature and Colaiuta is still there, but you can tell he’s anticipating. Not catching up mind you; Zappa would never tolerate a drummer who had to catch up.

Although “Dinah-Moe Humm” was also played on Halloween, the version on this release is from Oct. 27. There’s some interesting audience participation during this, but overall, this song is nothing all that special.

The traditional combination of “Camarillo Brillo” and “Muffin Man” come next, which are both from Oct. 27. Frank’s guitar solo on “Muffin Man” is, well, all I can think of are hackneyed expressions filled with superlatives. However, I agree with the liner notes: it’s too short.

“Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)” is from Halloween night, and is nearly 17 minutes of some incredible guitar work. Not only does Frank deliver on this very recognizable theme, but he delves into other musical themes and progressions, seemingly spontaneously, because at times the band – except for Vinnie – just stops playing. Frank goes off into his own little guitar world, just like Joe from “Joe’s Garage,” playing those guitar riffs that must have filled his head while Frank was in Tank C after that bogus pornography charge he spent time in jail for. L. Shankar comes in for support, but that’s about it. Shankar’s truly stellar playing is omitted from this recording.

The Audio-DVD also includes a radio interview with WPIX on Oct. 30, 1978 in which Frank reveals that some police danced on the stage during one of his shows because they were “moved to dance by the majesty of the music, are you kidding?” He also reveals that he likes Devo, Blondie and The Stranglers. Cool. I love Devo and Blondie, but I’ll have to check up on The Stranglers. He also mentions an album in the works called “Martian Loves Secrets.” Huh?

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

Released Feb. 4, 2003, on the Vaulternative label.

Audio content
“NYC Audience” – 1:17
“Ancient Armaments” – 8:23
“Dancin’ Fool” – 4:35
“Easy Meat” – 6:03
“Magic Fingers” – 2:33
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” – 2:24
“Conehead” – 4:02
“Zeets” (Vinnie Colaiuta) – 2:58
“Stink-Foot” – 8:51
“Dinah-Moe Humm” – 5:27
“Camarillo Brillo” – 3:14
“Muffin Man” – 3:32
“Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)” – 16:56

Track 5, “Magic Fingers”, is edited together from versions from the Halloween show on October 31, 1978 and from the two shows which took place on October 27. The other tracks were taken from the following shows:

October 27, first show — tracks 10–12
October 27, second show — track 4
October 28, first show — track 7
October 31 — tracks 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 and 13

Additional content
“Suicide Chump” – 9:31
Video in Black and White, recorded at Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey October 13, 1978
“Dancin’ Fool” – 3:48
Color video taken from Zappa’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, in New York City October 21, 1978
Radio interview – 9:41
Audio only; conducted at WPIX with Mark Simone, October 30, 1978

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

1 comment:

left Hand said...

Re: Martian Love Secrets

Steve Vai released an album called 'Alien Love Secrets"