Halloween 77

Posted: November 7, 2017 in album review, obsession, zappa

Halloween 77 – Costume Box Set, Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017

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15 hours 45 minutes 26 seconds. This is the piece of information that better describes the Halloween 77 Costume Box Set that celebrates the concert run’s 40th anniversary.

It is a six full blown shows long journey through material that Zappa condensed in Sheik Yerbouti (with overdubs) and Baby Snakes, and that has been scattered somewhere else (namely YCDTOSA 6 and Trance-Fusion, with its special case Bowling on Charen).

Audio quality is excellent and derives from 24-bit WAV audio files carried by a candy bar-shaped USB drive in punky yellow (consider the use of an appropriate external Digital/Analog Converter for your hi-fi set). Patrick O’Hearn is particularly clear on these recordings.

Halloween 77 USB stick (front), Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017

Halloween 77 USB stick (back), Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017

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After a first show by show listen, that demands some planning (if you can, think about three hours sessions, 6 of them), it could be convenient to focus on the material, that of course has some redundancy.

Since time is still of affliction nowadays, it could be useful to go straight to the crux of the biscuit when you do not have a three hour space available.

The set lists of the first four shows (an average length of 2:20, 2 each day, October 28th and 29th) are quite similar, while for the October 30th and 31st Zappa delivered three hours programs with some special treats. 158 tracks, 25 songs (including 3 “audience episodes”) played 5 or 6 times, 11 songs (2 “audience episodes”) performed once or twice on the 30th and the 31st only.

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The 11 songs set is 1h17min long, it can be easily managed. Here it is (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances):

A Halloween Treat with Thomas Nordegg (06:17; 1)
Black Napkins (09:19; 1)
Dancin’ Fool (World Premiere) (04:50; 1)
Dirty Love (02:32; 1)
I Have Been In You (08:35; 1)
Jewish Princess (Prototype) (04:41; 1)
King Kong (08:45; 1)
San Ber’ dino (11:21; 2)
Stink-Foot (07:45; 1)
The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask (08:33; 1)
The Poodle Lecture (05:10; 1)

The first one is a stage number featuring Roy Estrada, Peter Wolf and Thomas Nordegg, the Austrian guitar tech, video cameraman and personal acquaintance of Peter Wolf that was in the Zappa crew for a long time. For recollected memories of the episode, refer to ZappaCast Episode 34 (A Halloween Treat with Thomas Nordegg!).

In this ZAPPAWEEN Podcast Scott Parker interviews Joe Travers and Thomas Nordegg around the subject of this release, and gives a preview of the NYC Palladium Halloween concerts.

As for some of the other items on this 11 songs list: Black Napkins is the movie version; Dirty Love features a short Belew solo; I Have Been In You includes Is That Guy Kidding or What? (YCDTOSA 6); for King Kong there is room for Phil Kaufman (the road manager) as human trombone and for Roy Estrada with his Gas Mask (solos: Mann and Mars); Stink Foot takes in a short FZ solo; The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask, a Roy Estrada stage feature; The Poodle Lecture has been previously released on YCDTOSA 6.

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The 25 songs set is 14 hours and half long, you need some criteria to go through it.

For my convenience I have further divided those 25 songs set into two different groups, those which take in some improvisation (9 numbers that you may want to focus on), and those that deliver more or less a standard version or a routine (that you eventually will listen to in complete show sessions). Here is the first group (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances; in order of duration):

Lather (22:39; 6)
Terry’s Solo (26:42; 6)
Muffin Man (32:46; 6)
Conehead (Instrumental) (39:17; 5)
City Of Tiny Lites (44:13; 6)
Pound For A Brown (58:38; 6)
Punky’ s Whips (1h:02:27; 6)
The Torture Never Stops (1h:16:54; 6)
Wild Love (2h:36:00; 6)

This group is 8 hours and 40 minutes long, and probably most of the crux of the biscuit is here.

Lather is in this group even though it includes a very short FZ solo. However it is the first officially released version after the original, most probably you will go for it often. Also, it features a different coda if confronted with the Zappa in NY original.

Terry Bozzio solos are always worth a listen, and these 6 are no exception. In the economy of the Palladium shows they do function as Terry’s Firma does in Hammersmith Odeon, which presents live recordings captured few months later in the same tour (Jan-Feb 1978). The structure of these solo has been very well synthesized by zappateer pbuzby:

Bozzio’s solos from fall 77/winter 78 were similar from show to show as well, always with the Syndrum bit, the bit where he plays phrases on the toms and then the same phrases on the double bass drums, and the closing explosive cymbal crash bit. Kind of a composed piece with some varied bits rather than the entirely improvised solos FZ played.

As for Muffin Man, every hard-core maniac knows all about that, and if he wants more, well here is more!

Conehead enters in the Zappa repertoire in late ’77 as an instrumental from 6 to 9 minutes long, a number much different than the song with lyrics as has been performed from late ’78 on. In its early stage, it works as a vehicle for a Zappa guitar solo, the main theme can be also heard during the Baby Snakes movie (namely Conehead/”All You Need To Know”, as featured in AAAFNRAA – Baby Snakes – The Compleat Soundtrack), however this version has been released in Halloween 77 for the first time in its complete form. And these five Zappa solos are great guitar time (Conehead is out in the October 30th setlist). On a steady rhythmic pulse, FZ builds his improvisation as an instant composition, a musical event where there is nor before neither after (note how these solos sort of abruptly finish). As remarked by Brett Clement: “Zappa’s solos seem often to begin “in the middle,” and, even more importantly, their endings are often heard as arbitrary” (from “A Study of the Instrumental Music of Frank Zappa”, see also “In control of garlic, moment to moment“).

For City Of Tiny Lites I would like to quote Foggy G, “The Songs That Were Played,” We’re Only In It For The Touring.

Frank’s solos were usually a bit longer than the one we have on SY, but they were not yet quite the tour-de-force solos that this tune would deliver on later tours. Note the written guitar part to close the solo section, and the little piano break before the return to vocals—two aspects of this song that would disappear in the ’80’s.

Short solos (1 to 3 minutes) with great moments of Bozzio-Zappa interplay (go for 28 show 2 and Halloween, the most long).

Pound For A Brown works as an improvisation vehicle for Patrick O’Hearn, Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf. Bass solos feature a tight interplay between O’Hearn and Bozzio who sometimes recalls some The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution workouts. Also, O’Hearn occasionally quotes rock classics, such as Aerosmith Walk This Way on Oct 29, second show (shortly thereafter Mars quotes Inca Roads). Notably, Mars improvisations are often enriched by his typical scats. And the short rhythm guitar preamble to the solo section is also to be noted.

Torture is a special case. In spite of the fact that the song is richly documented throughout the discography/filmography, these 6 versions are a must. FZ did like the song and published a lot of live versions covering all the touring bands (sometimes as solos on guitar albums, or as improvised sections on the YCDTOSA series), and so did ZFT who added some relevant episodes. For a full list please refer to and remain impressed at IINK. The Halloween 77 band already had three entries in this list (the ’78 versions: SY (as Rat Tomago), YCDTOSA 1, Hammersmith Odeon) however the structure of these 6 late ’77 solos is slightly different: FZ starts slowly then the tension gradually rises, and 2 or 3 minutes later the listener loses the sense of time: again, before and after make no sense anymore. For the Halloween solo, FZ delivers a shorter slow preamble, then he enters in the timeless realm of his improvisation. Instead, in the released ’78 solos he enters straight (no chaser) to the timeless point. A perfect example of such a thing is Rat Tomago, a solo that has been slightly edited to increase the effect.

Oh, by the way, did you know that Rat Tomago was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1979?

Back to October 1977 Tortures there is one last tiny detail to be pointed out: this is the last version that does not include a quote of Chattanooga Choo Choo that was used by FZ in Torture from the beginning of 1978 onward (at 3:20 in the Hammersmith Odeon version). For this tortured matter, the cleaner the better to me. And if after these 6 versions you need more, here is more: 30 The Torture Never Stops live guitar solos (1976-1988).

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Punky’s Whips is the Bozzio vocals/drums showcase to be fully enjoyed in its visual movie epitome. Punky is in this list because of the final short FZ solo, less than 2 minutes for the first 4 shows, a little bit longer for last two. The hard way, as expected.

Wild Love, 6 performances, an average of 25 minutes each, with a special 30 minutes Halloween number. Solos for everyone but Bozzio, the Zappa workout being known as Bowling on Charen (Trance-Fusion) which is an edited version of the October 28th early show solo. For a piece previously unreleased in this monstre form, the complete Halloween 77 set let the listener know a lot about it and brings 5 different unreleased takes of Bowling on Charen. These solos, the solos to Torture and Conehead probably are most of the crux of the Halloween 77 biscuit, or of the Oh Punky USB stick! Three more facts to be reported here: Wild Love shares its coda with Lather (it is the same previously unreleased short piece of music); on October 31st FZ delivers a different finale as a further guitar solo; as noted by zappateer pbuzby “in 10/28 show #2 Wild Love, they sing the second verse (“Mama stroked his dinger…“) twice”, “it seems like an editing mistake“.

For a sample of the 9 numbers just described, refer to the above mentioned ZappaCast Episode 34 (direct link below).

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Namely: The Torture Never Stops (October 29th early, starts at 00:35:47), Lather (October 28th late, 00:56:33), Conehead (October 28th late, 01:07:02).

To complete the USB stick program, the last group of songs (standards/routines, 5h 48 min) is to be mentioned (in brackets: sum of the durations, number of performances; in order of duration):

Big Leg Emma (09:14; 5)
Encore Audience (11:01; 6)
Envelopes (15:20; 6)
Peaches En Regalia (16:10; 6)
Jones Crusher (17:19; 6)
The Black Page #2 (18:12; 6)
Flakes (18:38; 5)
Start/Introductions (19:59; 6)
Camarillo Brillo (21:01; 6)
Tryin’ To Grow A Chin (21:31; 6)
Broken Hearts Are For Assholes (23:08; 6)
Disco Boy (23:34; 6)
Audience Participation (26:41; 6)
Bobby Brown Goes Down (29:16; 5)
Dinah-Moe Humm (33:14; 6)
Titties ‘N’ Beer (43:44; 6)

With the exception of Big Leg Emma (and counting out the audience interaction tracks), these songs are already available through Hammersmith Odeon exactly in the same versions. No great news here, even though the intros to Bobby Brown are to be mentioned: they all include variations on a story about “three assholes” (but also “crumpet munchers”) that wanted to interview Frank and brought their girlfriend along to impress them, letting them know that they were into the Woman Liberation Movement. Zappa acid Fun!

Also to be mentioned is this version of Envelopes with Tommy Mars on vocals, released for the second time here after Hammersmith Odeon.

The USB stick includes also a “28-page digital booklet featuring never-before-seen photos and liner notes from Vaultmeister Joe Travers, co-producer of the box alongside Ahmet Zappa, and personal firsthand accounts from many of Zappa’s bandmates, crew and fans who were there, including guitarist Adrian Belew, percussionist Ed Mann, keyboard tech Thomas Nordegg, tour manager Phil Kaufman, and fan Janet “The Planet” Walley (from zappa.com, “keyboard tech” should be probably corrected in “guitar tech”).

And of course the box set also include the FZ Halloween mask & costume, an artwork by David Calcano of Fantoons, who also contributed to the illustration of the cover of The Crux Of The Biscuit: An Fz Audio Documentary Project/Object.

Whistler’s Mother of Invention, Cotton Rag paper, 16×20 inches, limited edition of 50, Fantoons Animation Studio in Los Angeles, 2015

original FZ mask sketch, Fantoons Animation Studio in Los Angeles, 2017

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If you are not willing to deal with this more than 15 hours audio trip, you may want to go for the 3 cd reduction (3h28min), that consists of the October 31st complete concert plus a few bonus tracks from the 30th (King Kong, A Halloween Treat With Thomas Nordegg, Audience Participation #5, The Black Page #2). If you already know Hammersmith Odeon, such a choice would bring you Wild Love and Conehead as main news, on the other hand if you don’t know both and you want to choose one only, I would go for Halloween 77, it is the same band but the program is slightly more interesting. However, with such “physical” options you are going to miss the big amount of the assorted improvisations included in the 8 hours and 40 minutes 9 songs group outlined above, and a chance to immerse yourself in a memorable Zappa Halloween week.

Halloween 77, Zappa Records/UMe, October 20, 2017

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For detailed images of the Costume Box Set, refer to kompaktkiste.de.

Finally, for really obsessed hard-core fanatics, click HERE to get the Excel file used to sum Halloween 77 durations.

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A late November update

On November 21st 2017 Zappa Records confirmed through zappa.com that the track Wild Love from Show 2, 10-28-77 has an error. Zappa Records lets acquirers of Halloween 77 Box Set download the correct track if they send an email with a picture of of the box number (those who purchased the box through the zappa.com store received an email with a download link).

The corrected track is 24:57 long while the previous one lasts 26:01 (in the latter the band sings the second verse twice, as noted above).

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