Sunday, 5 November 2017

Frank Zappa - Halloween 77

Halloween 77 is an unusual box set containing all six concerts that were filmed for the Baby Snakes movie, with all the music in high-res WAV on a USB stick, and a Zappa Halloween costume and mask. Or, for those of us with more sense than money and no desire to have six concerts with the same set list, a mere 3-CD version of Uncle Frank's celebration of that lovely American cheesy horror fest and primary school bullies' night out Halloween at The Palladium, NYC, containing the whole set from the 31st October show.

A collision of extraordinary musicianship and occasionally toe-curling non-PC, some might say mysoginist lyrics that defies categorisation, Halloween 77 showcases a band that are drilled to perfection, and the musicianship on display here is of the highest quality. Thankfully the worst of the lyrics are only a minor intrusion into this gargantuan musical feast, and even the base scatalogical humour of the lyrically cringeworthy Punky's Whips is eventually overshadowed by some mesmerising musical derrring-do. Mind you, the less said about Bobby Brown Goes Down, the better. Shut Up, and Play yer Guitar, indeed. Incidentally, listening to the intro of this version of Punky's Whips makes you realise where the roots of the then unknown second guitarist and all-round Zappa foil Adrian Belew's 80s Crimson classic Indiscipline came from.

The first Zappa album I bought new was Zoot Allures in 1976, and most of that album is included in the set list. Black Napkins has always remained my favourite Frank Zappa guitar excursion, and, daft as it sounds its inclusion here was the main reason I bought this triple CD set. There is also a half-hour long (!) version of Wild Love from Sheik Yerbouti, most of which was recorded at marathon sessions thinly disguised as rehearsals for these gigs, although the album itself was not released until 1979.

Boy, could Frank write a tune, as well as being a great entertainer, witness Halloween Audience Participation Time, aka "A re-enactment of the sum total of human civilisation" which includes a blast at Warner Bros. Records, whom Frank had acrimoniously left not long before, and audience members administering discipline to each other on stage. It ends with Frank as ringmaster getting the entire audience to attempt to dance to the impossible time signatures contained within the otherwise straight 4/4 of The Black Page #2.

The final CD is mostly given over to the half-hour long encore, which brings the set up to the three-hour mark. You don't often get bands doing that nowadays, and you can see why Adrian Belew in his brief but amusing and informative essay in the otherwise overly slim and less than comprehensive CD booklet reckons Zappa was the hardest working musician he ever played with, Adrian eventually coming off stage with "that happily-drained feeling, no more to give...". The encore includes the aforementioned Black Napkins, so, I can't hear you asking, "was it worth wading through the rest to get here?" Too damn right, it was!

After the encore comes the Bonus Section, basically a few extracts from the other five shows and a further near half hour of classy music and Zappa's larking about. There's more comedic audience participation with a dance competition for those who freely admit to being a "chump" and are "definitely unco-ordinated", as the previous night's contest had been for those with "no natural rhythm". No more spoilers, go find out for yourself.

Halloween 77 is without a doubt one the most important archival releases of the year, and even if, like me, your ventures into the wild and wacky world of Frank Zappa are only fleeting, I recommend it highly.

"Just remember one thing...rock'n'roll is totally preposterous"

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