Frank Zappa - Halloween (Recorded live in New York City, 1978; Released 2003)

NYC Audience   1:10
Ancient Armaments   8:26
Dancin' Fool   4:38
Easy Meat   6:03
Magic Fingers   2:33
Don't Eat the Yellow Snow     2:24
Conehead   4:06
"Zeets"   2:54
Stink-Foot   8:51
Dinah-Moe Humm   5:30
Camarillo Brillo   3:10
Muffin Man   3:34
Black Napkins / The Deathless Horsie   16:49

(Note: The above track times are from a CDR I made by playing the stereo track of the DVD-A through my computer, so I could listen to it at work or in the car. I had to pick track breaks myself, so track times may not match the actual DVD-A exactly).

(Also Note: Many on-line vendors have this one listed under a "DVD" or even "Movie" category instead of "Music", so you might have to search a while to find it. Also, most seem to have it listed as "Live in New York - Halloween", which seems a huge mistake since many people may see it and assume it's just the regular live In New York title. The front cover and spine of the DVD-A clearly just say Halloween, there's no "Live in New York").

Frank Zappa helped set a trend at the beginning of the CD age by having Rykodisc reissue his back catalog on CD only, no more vinyl or cassette. Many folks on the Zappa newsgroup have said that that was what caused them to buy their first CD player. So it's not surprising that the new FZ album is among the first DVD-Audio releases, with no matching regular CD release. Fortunately, if you already have a regular DVD player, you should be able to play this disc (although it supposedly sounds better on a DVD-Audio player). Some folks on alt.fan.frank-zappa have reported that the disc won't play in their DVD players, but so far I've tried it on two different DVD players and two computer DVD-ROM drives and it has played on all of them. One player didn't support certain features like pause and fast-forward, but they all played the DVD-A.

One advantage of the format is that there's a DTS 5.1 surround track available. If you have an older surround system or just a plain stereo setup, there's also a regular stereo track. But if you get a chance to listen to it in 5.1 (or matrixed 6.1), definitely do. It really gives the "you are there" feeling, with audience noise coming from behind and the band spread out in front - you can even hear louder notes reverberate off the "back wall" of the concert hall. And then there's "Zeets", a drum solo track that's mixed to sound like your head is in the middle of the drum kit, with notes swirling all around the room. And if you have a subwoofer hooked up, the bass is almost overwhelming. I tested the disc out on my parent's brand new, expensive 6.1 home theater setup, and now I have a powerful lust to own such a system myself.

While this impressive sound display is going on, each track displays a different still photo from the concert on your TV screen, along with information about which other albums the track appears on. The disc also includes a "Tricks & Treats" menu that features two music videos (a Dancin' Fool performance from Saturday Night Live and an unidentified, black-and-white concert video of Suicide Chump), plus the audio from a radio interview, a biography (one line - guess that's the trick), a discography and the lyrics to all the songs on the disc.

So far I've given a lot of info about the technical aspects of the disc, but I can hear you out there asking - how's the actual concert? Well, it could be better. Frank's son Dweezil and vaultmeister Joe Travers decided to pick and choose tracks from a series of concerts held in New York in '78, all leading up to the big Halloween show. Unfortunately, since the DVD-A is being made available through retail stores (at least that's a step in the right direction, instead of making it available only through mail-order and charging an arm and a leg), they decided to pack the disc with "crowd pleasers" like Dancin' Fool, Don't Eat the Yellow Snow and Dinah-Moe Humm. There's also a lot of chit-chat with the audience (seems a waste of disc space when they had several concerts worth of actual music to choose from). And a whole lot of guitar soloing. Plus some guitar soloing. And for those who don't like guitar soloing, there's some more guitar soloing. I like the seventeen minute version of Black Napkins / Deathless Horsie that closes the disc, but I almost have to listen to it first because coming on the heels of all the other guitar solos on this disc, it's just too much. Still, we do get some nice interaction between Frank on guitar and L. Shankar on electric violin during that last track, and Shankar also gets a small solo during Conehead. Plus Ancient Armaments finally makes its debut on disc (another version appeared as the b-side of a vinyl single).

All in all, while I'm a little disappointed in the song choices, the excitement of a 5.1 mix and the fact that it's available in stores (I picked mine up at Media Play) makes up for it. Hell, just holding a new Zappa product only months after the last one came out makes up for it. Still, if the Zappa Family Trust decides to put together another DVD-Audio release, I really hope they come up with something more interesting content-wise.

Album Cover

Image of the Halloween DVD-Audio cover