Sunday, December 6, 2009

Halloween 1981 The Palladium late show

What is really amazing about the 1981 Halloween shows at the Palladium is that they were simultaneously broadcast live over radio and on MTV. And the second show kicks off with a kickass performance of “Black Napkins” from “Zoot Allures.” Granted, Zappa had already warmed up pretty well with the early show, but opening a show with this number, composed around an intense guitar solo, is very ballsy.

Probably because of the live broadcasts as well, the set list is actually pretty tame, although the songs are performed exceptionally well. But even the second song, “Montana” is nothing like the studio version or any other live version I have heard. It is frankly quite tame and even a tad disappointing.

The band is tight, however. Their playing during “Easy Meat” is outstanding. And we're treated to another stupendous Zappa solo. But what really gets me is the polyrhythmic structure to the solo section. Chad Wackerman is really amazing during this section, which finishes with a time signature I still haven’t figured out.

Both the early and the late shows pull heavily from “You Are What You Is.” The band gives “Society Pages” a very funky beat that is utterly delicious. Ray White gives “I’m a Beautiful Guy” a very Rat Pack sound that is sumptuously glib. The band’s expertise is exemplified again with “Beauty Knows No Pain,” a number so tightly orchestrated that any fuck up would stand out like a hardon at a junior high dance.

Steve Vai’s guitar playing is a bit understated on “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth,” but make no mistake, it is excellent. We get a reggae rhythm with “Fine Girl,” as well as some keyboard playing by Tommy Mars that I actually enjoy; his falsetto singing is also quite good.

The bands returns to “You Are What You Is” with a couple very tightly performed songs: “Teenage Wind,” and “Harder Than Your Husband.” About the latter, I get the feeling that the song is both a rip and an homage to the Rolling Stones’ “Girl with the Far Away Eyes.” What some listeners fail to grasp is that a Zappa spoof that is obviously directed at a particular artist or band isn’t necessarily done because Zappa dislikes the target. Some were darts thrown with unmistakable disdain. But remember that Zappa often did satires of doo-wop music; yet he held a deep regard for that genre.

Talk about a heavy rock beat, “Bamboozled By Love” comes along and crushes your head. Ray White is getting off on his Allman Bros. muse. It is an incredible interpretation of the song. And the guitar solo is worthy of adoration, although it is too short.

“Sinister Footwear” comes along, showing some more of Zappa the composer, and for true Zappa fans, pieces like this are gems. I really like Bobby Martin’s keyboards just before Zappa’s guitar solo. The precision of the setup is chilling, as the mood is completely translated and delivered with impeccable skill. Jesus, this shit is good! Again, even Tommy Mars’ keyboards are excellent, recalling a choir of voices bringing a triumphant crescendo (sorry, I’ve never been a fan of Tommy Mars’ style of playing. It has always struck me as rather pedestrian, like he was stroking Keith Emerson).

“Stevie’s Spanking” is a grandiose heavy metal head-banging splurge of electronic musical madness that delights the synapses. After all, “it’s not that he required grooming.” You can tell how Stevie Vai was influenced by Zappa with his guitar solo. While distinctly different in timbre, you nonetheless hear the Zappa influence. And when the two of them are jamming together, it’s killer.

The two CDs that make up this boot are nicely divided, with the first disc ending with a commercial break for the live FM broadcast. CD 2 picks up with “Cocaine Decisions,” a song that wouldn’t be released for another two years on “The Man From Utopia.”

Next comes an obscure blues number, “Nig Biz,” a substantial surprise in many ways considering the concert was still being broadcast. This is a rollicking blues number that officially appears only on YCDTOSA Vol. 3 and “The Dub Room Special” DVD. Next come another two songs from “You Are What You Is,” beginning with “Doreen,” which in this live version really lacks the oomph of the official release. This is followed by “Goblin Girl,” a song seldom performed live, but which was a welcomed number in the show’s lineup considering it was, after all, Halloween. It’s a very short rendition of the song, coming in at less than two minutes, quickly transitioning into the more complex “The Black Page #2.” I have to comment here that Ed Mann’s percussion, particularly with the vibraphones, is outstanding and precise. Wackerman’s drumming is also spot-on. But, of course, Zappa’s solo on this number is exquisite as well.

This concert’s performance of “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” in my opinion is merely mediocre. The playing is great, but it’s just not the same without Terry Bozzio singing. What follows is much better, a very cool interpretation of “Strictly Genteel,” sans vocals. While there are a lot of good songs on this boot, this performance of “Strictly Genteel” is worth tracking it down alone. There’s even a section almost four minutes into the song that recalls sounds from the “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” era. The song acts as an end to the FM broadcast, with Frank coming in and saying goodnight. However, the FM broadcast didn’t end until about half way through the next song, “The Torture Never Stops,” which Zappa proclaims is “a traditional Halloween number.” It is the title number for a DVD released in 2008 that contains video from both the early and late shows. Frank says “Good night to our television audience” at the end of this, but there is still plenty more.

The “rest of the show” starts with “Joe’s Garage,” which is followed by “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee.” Unfortunately, there is some feedback buzz in the background during portions of these songs. Two long classics come up next with “The Illinois Enema Bandit” and perhaps one of Zappa’s most brilliant as well as flexible compositions he ever wrote: “King Kong.” To demonstrate its flexibility, the band performs it with a reggae beat and a variety of interesting percussive solos, featuring some very cool “outside” playing by Ed Mann. Of course, there is a guitar solo. The show closes with “Auld Lang Syne.”

This Web site outlines the various official formats that material from the two 1981 shows was released on.

I rate this 4.5 of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Track listing

Black Napkins – 6:53
Montana – 3:44
Easy Meat – 6:44
Society Pages – 2:29
I’m A Beautiful Guy – 1:53
Beauty Knows No Pain – 2:52
Charlie’s Enormous Mouth – 3:36
Fine Girl – 3:09
Teenage Wind – 2:57
Harder Than Your Husband – 2:23
Bamboozled By Love – 5:26
Sinister Footwear – 6:38
Stevie’s Spanking – 6:32

Cocaine Decisions – 4:48
Nig Biz – 5:03
Doreen – 2:02
Goblin Girl – 1:45
The Black Page #2 – 4:14
Tryin’ To Grow A Chin – 2:27
Strictly Genteel – 6:41
The Torture Never Stops – 12:46
Joe’s Garage – 3:40
Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? – 2:38
The Illinois Enema Bandit – 10:44
King Kong – 11:59
Auld Lang Syne – 2:57


Frank Zappa – guitar and vocals
Steve Vai – guitar
Ray White – guitar and vocals
Scott Thunes – bass
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards

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