Its the Great Pumpkin, Suzy Creamcheese!
Hopefully by now you have seen Part 1 of my review of the fantastic digital boxed set featuring every show from Frank Zappa’s 1977 New York City Halloween engagement, all recorded during the guitarist-composer favorite holiday! You get six complete concerts, some 16 hours of music, recorded between October 28th and 31st, all lovingly restored, newly mixed and respectfully mastered by Craig Parker Adams from the analog multi-track soundboard master tapes. Originally captured on Scotch 3M 2-inch 24-track analog tape via the RCA Mobile recording truck, this music now comes to you wrapped in a bright yellow, Punky-emblazoned, candy-bar-wrapper-shaped USB flash drive containing LPCM Stereo 44.1 kHz, 24-bit resolution WAV files. You can also stream these in the similar fidelity MQA codec via the Tidal subscription music service.
This is the pure 1977 Zappa experience as it went down those nights. And, to keep you goblin gals ‘n guys hob-noblin all year ’round, Universal Music and the Zappa estate have bundled it into a nifty package like a (strictly) commercial costume box you might have gotten as a little kid — and of course it includes your very own Frank Zappa costume to wear every holiday (or every day, if the mood suits you!). That’s me wearing mine in the photo, by the way.
If, per chance, you haven’t seen the first part of this review, which revolved around the concert from this run which I saw back in the day (10/29/77), please click here to catch up on that portion so we can just focus on the crux of the biscuit here: the music on the other shows!
Having said all that, away we go…
First, I’ll continue my gushing over guitar wizard Adrian Belew’s long-overlooked, under-played presence on this tour, taking note of some special moments I’ve found so far which you may want to check out when you get this set (there are many!). For example, the scorching jams in the different versions of “Wild Love” each have a distinct vibe. The 10/28 late show take is looser than later shows, which is a cool thing. I think I like 10/31 the best as Belew’s ideas came together especially mightily and the band was super fired up, extra tight after — essentially — five days of rehearsals; there is also a spoken word moment there (not sure what was going on on stage but something occurred). Perhaps because it was the last night of the run, but this version is even longer than others with each of the players getting a moment in the spotlight as well as Frank. It is a shame this song wasn’t released in this massively extended form this back in the day — the original album version was some four minutes long — but at least we get to hear this exploration today! There are some really lovely twists and turns, especially the ending bits where Frank goes out on a solo guitar excursion. There is a particularly amazing jam from “Wild Love” on 12/28/77 that ended up initially on the King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcast which aired the following year (I heard it on WNEW-FM back in the day) and which ultimately saw the official light of day as “Bowling On Charen” on the posthumous release Trance Fusion.
The hyper-tight (fast ‘n bulbous too!)10/31 version of “San Berdino” is also pretty amazing. It seems to be the version that made it into the movie which segues into a spectacular “Black Napkins,” an instantly epic then still quite new song which takes on even more epic proportions in the movie version as it just builds and builds. And, this new version is even longer! Not entirely sure why it was edited from more than nine minutes here to about six on the film version (or nearly eight minutes on the The Compleat Soundtrack version up on iTunes) but I suspect it had to do with pacing of the solos and such. That said, there are some really nice stereo panning touches on the mix here, especially around the 2 minute mark when Zappa kicks in his Oberheim VCF, Voltage Controlled Filter (note: the effect is the same one Zappa used on instrumental tune “Ship Ahoy” from Shut Up And Play Your Guitar, confirmed by Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers).
“Pound for a Brown On The Bus” features a terrific fretless bass solo by Patrick O’Hearn with some amazing interplay between (I think, probably keyboardist) Tommy Mars later in the piece — some mind-blowing musicianship here. Again, there are charms on each version (such as the interesting breaks on the 10/28 late show version). Frank delivers a curious substitute line in the 10/28 version of “Flakes” during the faux Dylan section: “…want to buy an un-used copy of Music From Big Pink, Bob?” Wonder what the back story is on that?
Unique song previews of significance to Zappaphiles which occurred during these Halloween gigs include several songs which eventually appeared on Sheik Yerbouti in 1979. Two scathing social commentary tunes were performed on 10/30 for the first time in embryonic form: eventual disco-skewering hit “Dancin’ Fool” and the only performance (apparently, ever!) of the controversial “Jewish Princess.” We are also treated to the second ever performance of the Peter Frampton homage-of-a-sort, “I Have Been In You.”
Oddly enough for me. the least exciting parts of the shows are the “fan favorites” like “Peaches En Regalia,” “Dinah Moe Hum” and “Camarillo Brillo.” They are fine, don’t get me wrong. But after hearing all these other bits of then-brand new wonderment, well, those “hit” song performances almost feel like an afterthought. One gets the sense that if he didn’t have to appease a certain percentage of the audience, Frank would have played only new material the whole evening. But, y’know kids, that isn’t how live concert entertainment works and Frank was the consummate live entertainer, so he knew he had to please his audiences with at least some of their favorite songs. Heck, overall, I like these 1977 versions of “Dirty Love” and “The Torture Never Stops” better than the original album takes, so that counts for something…
If all this Zappa-ween madness is too much for you, breathe easier knowing that you can also buy the concerts individually (on Amazon and iTunes). Here are the links:
10/28 – Early Show
10/28 – Late Show
10/29 – Early Show
10/29 – Late Show
10/31 Halloween Show
Any way you get it, this is essential Zappa and one of the most significant offerings to emerge from the vault in quite some time.