What do you give the Zappa fan who has everything? Why, of course, the three-disc set, Frank Zappa Halloween 77—a document of Zappa performances at New York’s Palladium in 1977 during a Halloween weekend stint—just released only a few days ago in an official form, as well as in a box set featuring 158 tracks and a Zappa mask and costume. Ah, it is too late! Too late! you say. The day is upon us! Truly, it is, but a Zappa costume never goes out of style—it can be worn year-round without embarrassment. And while you wait for the swag to arrive, light up your Halloween night with 15 hours of tracks from the four-night engagement in the Spotify playlist below.
By the time of these recordings, Zappa’s Halloween shows were “already the stuff of legends,” we learn from the official source, Zappa.com. “While the shows began in the late ‘60s, around 1972, these monumental performances would become annual events, initially in Passaic, NJ and Chicago IL before moving to New York City in 1974, where they’d remain…. From October 28-31, Zappa and his band played six historic shows at the 3,000 capacity Palladium. All the performances were recorded with four being filmed, resulting in Zappa’s mammoth film project, ‘Baby Snakes.’”
The 1979 film failed to find an audience beyond Zappa’s rabidly loyal cult following, or a distributor beyond Zappa himself. Many of the songs Zappa and his band played during the series of concerts appeared that same year on Sheik Yerbouti (say it out loud), an album that made sure to piss people off. The song “Bobby Brown” was banned from the radio in the U.S.; The Anti-Defamation League demanded an apology, which Zappa refused, for the song “Jewish Princess,” which was only performed once, during the ’77 Halloween shows; and the album’s major hit, “Dancin’ Fool,” made audiences dance to a song that made fun of them.
Zappa’s anti-social antics were not bugs but features—he maintained a rabid fanbase no matter what he did because he was a phenomenally talented, irrepressibly creative musician who attracted the best players in the business. The 1977 Halloween show band—including madman drummer Terry Bozzio and King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew—could not have been in finer form. Zappa’s arrogance may have rubbed non-fans of his music the wrong way, but to those who couldn’t get enough of his virtuoso prog-rock carnival, he had every reason to hold such people in contempt.
Zappa inspired so much devotion among fellow musicians that a number of them have agreed to tour with a hologram of the late guitarist-bandleader, to be produced by Eyellusion, “live music’s premier hologram production company,” explains the official Zappa site. The project has proven, in the words of Belew, who signed on then dropped out of the tour, “caustic and divisive.” It may also, whether you’re a fan of Zappa or not, seem more than a little spooky, and not in the fun trick-or-treat way. Maybe you, or your Zappa fan, would prefer to remember him as he was, in the flesh, sneering and shredding at the Palladium on Halloween night, 1977.