Fall '78 Reviews
October 23rd, 1978
This is another typically great October Fall '78 show. While it does not reach the heights of several of the other sick shows from this month, it nonetheless contains a couple "must hear" performances that make this a worthy addition to any fan's collection.
The festivities commence with a "Persona Non Grata" solo. This vamp always brings out some interesting solos in Frank, and while tonight's is nowhere near as intense as many others from the month, it still gets things off on the right foot. "Easy Meat" keeps the show moving along nicely thanks to some incredible bass drum action by Vinnie (I wish all my tapes highlighted the drums as nicely as this one), though the standard repertoire of Fall '78 again slows things down early on. Thankfully, Frank seems truly inspired for his "City of Tiny Lites" solo, whipping out some "Ship Ahoy" effects and producing a classic "choke-and-strangle" guitar solo. Vinnie, of course, helps push this effort to even greater heights.
"Pound for a Brown" has finally evolved into a bona-fide Monster, and again, this is not one of the best of the month, but it is an interesting listen. Ed goes first, followed by Frank. Neither of these solos is all that interesting in and of themselves, but thanks to some frantic bass and drum work, the end result is enjoyable. Towards the end of Frank's solo, he and Vinnie start trading licks, leading Frank into "T'Mershi Duween" territory and paving the way for the super-hyper keyboard solos. Things start off at a breakneck pace, before Frank slows things down to allow Wolf a chance to slowly build his piece. The drum and bass work is once again mind-boggling here, slowly whipping Wolf into a frenzy. They repeat this same process for Mars' solo, propelling the music towards a chaotic climax.
"Bobby Brown", as always disappoints, with "Conehead" resuscitating the quickly dying show with another nice and long Frank solo. "Little House I Used to Live In" gives Mars' and Vinnie another chance to shine, with some solid but not spectacular performances. Things hit auto-pilot for awhile, before the always enjoyable "Strictly Genteel" reveals to us the more majestic side of this band. And while the "Black Napkins" closer promises good things, Frank's solo is all style over substance. Loud and fast with some nice Vinnie support, but nothing all that worthwhile.
This is definitely not one of the best October shows of this tour, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable listen, and worth seeking out.
October 25th, 1978
As Halloween drawers nearer and nearer, the intensity just keeps building and building. This is the last show before the legendary Halloween run, and it is a smoker. Frank opens the show with one of his better opening solos (no small feat on this tour), with the "Ancient Armaments" vamp used as support. This has become my favorite opening vamp as it typically brings about a rather reflective, quite serious Frank solo. The intensity is still there, but it is pushed into a darker, more introspective direction.
From here, the same tired old set list dampens the already intense mood, though Frank's "Easy Meat" solo is quite nice. It is your typical "Easy Meat" solo, mind you, but Vinnie's playing is so maniacal that the plodding vamp gets buried under the percussion, giving the solo a somewhat different edge. We get ripped out of a "Village of the Sun", so things are once again quite dull by the time Denny sets into his standard "City of Tiny Lites" solo. Midway through Denny's solo, however, Frank steps in with some inspired rhythmic support, and quickly sets off on his own solo. While the "City" solos have been slowly getting better over the course of the tour, the monster that is unleashed here comes from nowhere. Bending, choking, strangling, grinding his strings, Frank emits some of the nastiest sounds out of his guitar, producing a solo highly reminiscent of Belew's "Elephant" solos of later KC years.
Thankfully, the intensity continues into "Pound for a Brown", which is a definite Monster this time round. Ed starts things off as usual, accompanied by some quirky, sci-fi keyboard noises. Frank continues with his rhythm guitar madness, eventually stepping forth and soloing over the same vamp Ed uses. Frank begins to fade out, and then returns with a second, rather non-descript solo. As Artie, Patrick, and Vinnie begin battling over the rhythmic turf, Frank once again makes broad rhythmic sweeps with his guitar. He and the bass players trade licks, before Patrick delves into a heavy, "Filthy Habits"-esque riff. Frank does some serious soloing over this, punctuating his metal intensity with nice bursts of "T-Mershi Duween"-ness. The rhythm section is obviously enjoying this serious pounding, as they continue to add to the heavy feel of the jam. Frank is heading for pure "Black Sabbath" territory now, but is abruptly yet smoothly (?) cut off by a desire for swing music. The band jumps into this wacky new musical territory, heralding the arrival of the more standard keyboard solos. Wolf and Mars both get their chance to shine, pushed to new heights by the pumped rhythm section.
"Bobby Brown", as always, stops the intensity just by being there, but it does not help that Frank has to stop half-way through the song to issue one of those "if one more thing comes on the stage the concert is over" threats. Luckily, the audience controls itself, and we shortly enter "Conehead" territory, this time with solo. This effort sounds like live xenochrany. Frank seems oblivious to the fact that he has a rhythm section, which scurries through several different vamps looking for a way to support their leader. But Frank is having none of this rhythm stuff, so the band eventually settles for a simple, almost non-existent groove. Awesome.
Out of nowhere, "Little House I Used to Live In" suddenly pops up, eventually heralding the arrival of Mars' moment in the spotlight. This is your typical Mars' solo, good but not great, eventually bringing us to a Colaiuta solo.
From here on out things enter "typical end of show" territory, though the intensity from the earlier events is maintained throughout the more standard fare. "Camarillo Brillo-> Muffin Man" (one of my all-time fave segues) brings a little of the madness back into the show thanks to a typically mean-spirited "Muffin Man" solo, with the "surprise" "Peaches en Regalia" ending closing the show out in nice fashion.
October 27th, 1978 early
This is another one of those tapes which you might get mostly in order to put everything in perspective. The show is well-played and energetic, but it only hints at the musical madness to come in this run. Aside from a certain leap in confidence and firepower, you'd be hard-pressed to tell how far these guys have come since Saarbrucken.
The only true disappointment is the opening solo (over a unique vamp - uptempo reggae in A minor), which simply peters out after a promising start. On the other hand, the only real musical highlight is Pound For A Brown, where Shankar makes his first, unannounced appearance after Ed's solo and turns out some fiery licks, prompting FZ to follow with a thrasing solo using an octave divider, with Vinnie going mad behind him. There would be more and better examples of this Shankar/FZ interaction later. Otherwise, we get the standard fall '78 set, with few extras. Even Little House is kept short and relatively shallow.
Perhaps the most commendable thing about this tape is the recording itself (at least on my copy) - though not pristine, it captures the madness of the event without shortchanging the music too much, although you can hardly hear the band during Dance Contest. Ah, New York.
October 27th, 1978 late
The first tape from this show is pure magic - perhaps the finest 90 minutes anywhere in the FZ oevre. Three more or less unique performances, and a bunch of songs that are played in their more or less ultimate versions.
The opening solo definitely falls into the "unique" category. Half of it has become world famous as the Theme From Sinister Footwear, 3rd Mvt, and the entire 7 minutes (!) epic is one of FZ's most inspired moments. Must be heard! The first 45 minutes consist of the the standard fall '78 run of songs (minus Village Of The Sun, sadly lacking from the Halloween shows due to Ike's absence). Dancin' Fool is, well, Dancin' Fool, neither more or less. Tonight's performance of Easy Meat is one of the best of the tour. FZ's solo is just great, and the band manages to make the vamp quite enjoyable. Honey Don't You want A Man Like Me is slightly more entertaining than usual because FZ blows the second verse. Keep It Greasey and The Meek are pretty average.
Next far-better-than-usual song is City Of Tiny Lights. Denny Walley has gained confidence during the tour, and this is one of his better efforts though you recognize most of the licks. And FZ's is great, with the Ship Ahoy-like effect he had discovered near the end of the tour. So far, an above average show, but we ain't seen nothing yet! After Ed's vibes solo in Pound For A Brown, things wouldn't be the the same again for quite a while. It's time for the world premiere of Thirteen. FZ's introduction, hand-clapping instructions and Shankar's solo can all be heard on YCDTOSA vol 6, and is one of my all-time favourites moments in FZ's vast output. The guitar solo on the CD comes from the 10/31 show, a wise choice in my opinion. It's an excellent solo, no question about that, but FZ would grow more comfortable with the environment over the next few days. It's also fascinating to hear the bass players struggle to keep the beat going, while Vinne does his best to tear it apart. The playing is very near total free-form at times, but the rhythm section has grown so tight by now, they manage to come up with new intriguing vamps out of what seems to be chaos. We get a little FZ/Shankar duel, pretty amusing, if not that musically great. At this point, when the jam slowly begins to lose focus, FZ cues the band back to the 13 vamp for a finishing round of keyboard solos. Truly great, and as things get more calm, O'Hearns seems more at ease, and delivers some really great lines. All in all, 20 minutes of incredible jamming, with almost no dead spots.
Things get back to normal for a couple of minutes with Suicide Chump. FZ takes the vocals tonight, giving the lyrics an even more sarcastic tone. And this is another of those far-better-than-usual songs, due to some really good FZ/Walley playing at the end, where even the bass players join in. And I just love the minor/major-dualistic riff that the song ends up in!
And it's here that we approach the most unique performance of the night. The "Improvisations In Q" is one of the most famous and beloved unreleased goodies from FZ's live career, and rightly so. This is what this band should have been doing most of the time - just pure improvisation, conducted by FZ. It begins with Tommy Mars solo, before the band joins in on a coool, dreary vamp. Tommy continues with some more pyrotechnics, and invites Shankar for some "dialogue". Magnificent, but Arthur actually manages to exceed this with his solo - a showcase of amazing technique as well as great melodic and rhythmic sense. FZ, realizing this was the climax of the jamming, decides to make an as-bizarre-as-possible turn here, and cues Patrick into playing a surf music/twist type bass line. The rest of the band catch up immediately, and Arthur starts harmonizing Patrick's line with major 3rds - so twisted, but oh so wonderful. Arthur's bass solo continues over this surf jam, and FZ tries to break in with a "OK, back to the real world", but no - the band is having too much fun now, and continue to play for an extra minute.
Why Does It Hurt falls into the better-than-usual-category, mostly because of an imrpovised, FZ-conducted coda. Then, it is back to the real world for real, with Magic Fingers and the Yellow Snow suite. But we do get another highlight, a really majestic Yo Mama. This version is right up there with the best performances from the spring tour, and is quite similar to the SY version in structure - the 3-stage-rocket. I think it was on the original "Warts 'n All", and is indeed worthy of release.
The show closer, Strictly Genteel, rounds off this incredible show. Depending on moods, I might rank this as my favourite Zappa show ever, and definitely in the top-5. If one Halloween '78 show is to be released, I'd drop my vote on this one.
October 28th, 1978 early
Halloween #3, and a solid show all round, even if there is only one highlight.
The opening solo has the Persona Non Grata vamp, and Frank turns in an excellent effort, using the whole guitar. Likewise, Easy Meat is frenetic, and Frank barely waits for Denny to finish singing before tearing into it. Keep It Greasey is more interesting than usual, with Frank accepting gifts from the crowd, so we get some Penguin in Bondage and Punky's Whips refs.
City of Tiny Lites features a great Denny slide solo, one of the better City solos I've heard from him. Frank can't let Denny top him, of course, so he goes all out as well, with the most in-your-face solo of the night.
Then comes the big highlight - Pound for a Brown. Unfortunately, here we get one of the dangers of tape trading - glitches that make for incomplete shows. In the midst of Ed's tape, Side one cuts out, and Side two picks up in the middle of Shankar's solo, so I can't tell you much about the beginning. But who cares, because while I'm sure Frank and Shankar did a fine job, this is not their spotlight. This night belongs to Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars. About half of this performance can be heard of Stage 4, but this tape actually sounds better (sometimes Frank's mixing leaves much to be desired). I'm trying to come up with words to describe the next 14 minutes, but I can't - Peter and Tommy Play Majestically will have to do. This is what you get the tape for.
Bobby Brown is not. OK, I admit it, even *I* am sick of this song. Luckily, we have Conehead, which may annoy some people, but not me (at least not till the 1980 tour). The bassline kicks, and though we don't get FZ we do get Shankar, with quite a funky solo. After about a minute Vinnie decided to freak out, and the intensity rises accordingly. Nice one.
We then get Little House, which can't possibly top Pound, but does its best. Both Tommy and Peter trot out their more subdued sides here, and Vinnie makes up for that with a wild drum outing. I know drum solos are the ultimate prog cliche, but if every drummer was Vinnie, we'd be clamoring for solo releases. ^_^
Magic Fingers is always a treat to hear (for me, at least). Then there's a nasty cut into Dinah-Moe Humm, which means we're in encore land. Frank comments on how he's been singing this for hundreds of years, and we can believe him. Ditto Camarillo.
I understand from Jon Naurin that we now have Muffin Man and Peaches to add to the end of this tape, and I should be getting that soon. Since I don't have it now, my review ends here. A nice Halloween show, if not the best, and contains perhaps the best keyboard work of the tour.<
October 28th, 1978 late
Another chunk of history begins with a terrific Deathless Horsie clocking in at around 10 minutes. Band intros include a very sick Vinnie, and Frank tells the audience if Vinnie has to be taken away to the hospital, theyll be required to clap the beat in his place. OK!
Easy Meat includes a big solo break by FZ using what sounds like another of those terrific sound effects boxes from the 70s called something like an octave multiplier. Frank concentrates on the low notes. Keep It Greasey is the tightest Ive heard up to this point and Denny and Frank both turn in good solos for City of Tiny Lites.
Enter Pound for a Brown and the first of the evenings big events. After the opening head, Ed solos for a bit and gets a nice applause. Frank steps to the mic and introduces L Shankar who will "play the violin real good for you" and the band steps into the Thirteen groove. Shankar does a terrific solo like only he can do and FZ takes a turn. Hes a bit slow to start, searching for a key to match Shankar - and then just shreds. Patrick starts jumping in along with Shankar and then all 3 are gonzo with Vinnie scattering beats like 3 machine guns. The jam quiets and goes back to the Thirteen riff and Peter takes a terrific synth and piano solo - a long one too. This melds right into Bamboozled By Love. Im always a little surprised when I listen to this tape that this song happens next but Frank sings it with Ike absent and this make it sooo much better. It changes the song somehow. Denny turns in a great slide solo and Franks solo is cool too.
Sy-borg follow and is without vocals, again no Ike. I like it! Tommy sort of sings it through his chorus and Peter takes one of his patented solos - sounding a lot like Shankar! Segue Mos Vacation - incredible. I love this piece and Vinnie and Arthur really perform it well. An impossible segue to Bobby Brown follows that somehow works too. Magic happened during this run.
FZ intros one of the new songs in Suicide Chump with his usual suicide rap and also intros Packard Goose (the first live version with the new instrumentation?) which follows hoping everyone can understand the words. He recites the Information is not Knowledge rap and Shankar takes the first solo over a pretty cool vamp, different from the LP. Frank takes the next solo and then they both trade off. Back to the head and the main show is over. Before doing the band outros and before the last verse, Frank quiets everyone down after spotting a small child in the front. He holds the mic up to the kid and asks his name. "Yagi" or something. Franks asks where his parents are and the answer is "somewhere out there". He must haul him up on stage, asks the parents to come forward and seeing nobody, the dancing policeman from one of the previous years Halloween shows takes him off the stage, but Yagi gets outrod along with the band. Very cool.
My tape cuts during the encore of Yellow Snow medley during St. Alphonso, but it is a good version. Im sure more followed, we just dont know what. Anyone know?
Throughout the show, Frank was very animated and talked frequently with audience members. Janet the Planet (Dennys future wife) gave Frank some sort of nice ornamentation early on as well. Frank says during the end of he show how his shows in NYC are more of a party than a concert with everything involved included the chandeliers and the seats. It truly was an event to listen too.
October 29th, 1978
One intriguing aspect of the Halloween tradition is that FZ had a tendency to play shows on other nights (10/30/77 and 11/1/81 are the most obvious examples) that were more adventurous and successful than the 10/31 shows themselves. While I'll have to dust off my copy of the Halloween 78 behemoth one more time to feel certain about making the same claim for this night, it undeniably comes close, even without Shankar.
The show starts with Watermelon, which, like Deathless Horsie the night before, wanders away from the structure and barely returns. (One wonder if this is why FZ neglected these 78 shows on the guitar albums - just too wild.) Then, after a lengthy round of intros and Dancin'/Easy, we get the first of several surprises - Idiot Bastard Son, with an arrangement that's as close as we'll get to "FZ Unplugged." Though obviously underrehearsed, this is a worthwhile new take on this neglected song. The ensuing round of short numbers includes a few more interesting cases, such as Black Page #2 sans Dance Contest (notable for Vinnie's variations on this Bozzio standard) and a vocal Sy Borg sans Ike (it takes three tries for FZ to make it through the bridge).
Next, it's Monster time, and since Foggy does a good job of describing what happens on his web site I'll only mention that what could have been just Little House becomes Little House/Lobster Girl/Mo's Vacation/Twenty One/Little House. Except for Denny, everyone onstage gets a chance to stretch out and they do so in fine style. This is also perhaps FZ's best overall night of the run guitarwise (even Easy Meat and Tiny Lites get class treatment), and he brings this point home with the much-praised set-closing Yo Mama. The second public version of Packard Goose ends the night. See you on Halloween.
October 31st, 1978
How to describe this show? Heck, how to *review* this show? I'm writing this review up late because I've been wracking my brains thinking of how to approach Frank's longest ever concert (I believe). It's 4 hours long. Listening to it took 3 days, and I don't even have the last 10 minutes that were recently discovered. It's quite a beast.
OK, bit by bit. The solo was released by FZ as Ancient Armaments, one of the few things he chose to release officially from these 6 shows. It's a murky little thing, with Frank abusing the low end of his guitar. After that comes the standard 'beginning' part of the Halloween shows, with Easy Meat and City of Tiny Lites having good Frank Efforts.
Pound for a Brown has a bunch of highlights, including Shankar and Frank apparently attempting to play through each other, and Peter desperately attempting to solo while chaos reigns around him. Then...well, then you can skip to the second tape, basically. Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder is nice to hear, but between 8 minutes of Warren, 5 minutes of Nancy, and a Dinah-Moe Humm, I was almost asleep.
The show picks up again around Conehead, feauring a great Shankar solo and a GREAT FZ solo, with a beautiful segue into Suicide Chump. Frank chooses to slow the pace down, which is an iffy decision, but he redeems it with a nice solo effort.
Little House is not as zany as the 10/29 performance, but it probably equals it for sheer playing chops. Tommy takes a longer than usual solo, and manages to amaze us in his spotlight. Then, of all things, Shankar and Peter Wolf have a duel, which is so amazingly weird that the entire band descends into chaotic improvizations. It's gotten so insane that only Vinnie can bring us back to the show, with a frenzied drum solo.
Then comes an absolutely gorgeous version of Watermelon in Easter Hay, a full-blown version rather than just a solo vehicle. Shankar and Frank throw in calm, yet powerful solos that help build the mystique of this piece. Can it get any better than this?
It can certainly get weirder. STINKFOOT? Damn, this tune pops up everywhere. Frank claims that the band has barely had time to learn it, and he's right, but that doesn't stop him turning in a respectable effort on guitar. Then we get Take Your Clothes Off, another in the string of surprises. I like this lengthier version better than the edit on YCDTOSA6. From here, it's encore country, with Peaches, Genteel, and Sofa, though we're nowhere near the end.
Then comes Packard Goose. Whoo boy. Words cannot describe the Shankar/FZ duel here. It just needs to be heard. Jason likened it to a boxing match on his page, and that's not far off. It reminds me of Annie Get Your Gun...'Anything you can play I can play better'. And it's over the Packard vamp, one of my favorites.
Here the show gradually slides into standard territory, with an energetic Magic Fingers and an I'm totally bored with this suite by now Yellow Snow. Muffin Man always provides nasty, if not nice, solos, and we get John Smothers singing the words. Then Black Napkins starts up...and my tape finishes, midway through the solo. Guess it's up to the others to let you know how the Napkins/Horsie ending went.
Despite the deathly dullness for about 15 minutes into the 2nd hour of the show, this is still one of FZ's best concerts. There is something for EVERYONE here. Big, weird...this is Zappa on Halloween.
"This is the big one" announces FZ, and boy he wasn't kidding. This is one monumental show, encompassing most of this band's repertoire + some songs never-played-elsewhere. But the reason for loving this show isn't its length (it does have its half-dead spots), it is the Shankar Jams! We get 7 appearances by mr. L, all of which turn out magical. Now, let me divide the show into three sections:
The Usual Stuff:
Dinah-Moe Humm pops up surprisingly in the middle of the set. We also get Bobby Brown, Peaches, Sofa, Strictly Genteel, Magic Fingers, the Yellow Snow Suite and Camarillo/Muffin Man to rest our ears upon in between the monster jams. Suicide Chump starts off at nearly the YAWYI tempo, before FZ slows it down. Pretty good solos.
It's nice to hear the oldies FZ has dusted off: Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder (incl Rubber Girl) and The Idiot Bastard Son come as a combo. Bastard Son is one of my favourite Zappa songs, and FZ's, shall we say not- really-top-notch, vocals are a bit painful to hear. Stinkfoot is another surprise, with a good, dirty guitar solo. But the coolest resurrection is Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (as heard on YCDTOSA #6), with its short, nice solos.
The Shankar Jams:
Conehead is another solo vehicle that would always fit Shankar perfectly. Great solo, but this time FZ outdoes him with a very dynamic workout. He keeps shifting modes and between melodic/aggressive. Little House I Used To Live In provides some more keyboard heaven, before Shankar gets his cue. FZ hasn't got enough of 13 yet, and steers the band into that direction. The jam that follows is brilliant, rather "free-form" and laid-back compared to the earlier 13 outings. This environment is perfect for Patrick, he and Shankar (switching between bow and pizzicato to great effect) rule throughout the jam.
But things would get even better: Watermelon In Easter Hay is one of the highlights of the whole Halloween run (and thus, of the entire concert tape catalogue). Shankar begins with an amazing, beautiful solo, and FZ continues in the same style, slowly moving into the more aggressive area. After that, it's lick-trading time, and this is so great. Why Frank didn't release this is a mystery to me - maybe because he and Shankar sound a bit out of tune in the unison parts?
Packard Goose is another lenghty exercise. The solo section, one of the few with this 'Joe's Garage' vamp, sounds a little hesitative at first. But they grow into the vamp, and things get gradually better, to reach a really intense climax at the end. The best part is when FZ comes up with a line, developed from his ol' fave Rite Of Springs melody, and keeps repeating and building melodies around it.
After nearly 4 hours of playing, the boys manage to come up with yet another good jam. It starts out as a regular Black Napkins, with your typical, good FZ solo. Then, out of nowhere, FZ whips out the Deathless Horsie vamp, which he and Shankar keeps soloing around for nearly 10 minutes. Not the greatest jam of the night, but a cool ending to the show.
--JNBack to Main Fall '78 Page
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