THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “By 1981, Frank Zappa’s Halloween shows in New York were already legendary — a rock ’n’ roll bacchanalia of jaw-dropping musicianship, costume-clad revelry, spontaneous theatrical hijinks and of course a heavy dose of Zappa’s signature virtuosic guitar workouts. Eagerly anticipated every year, fans never knew exactly what was in store but knew it would be of epic proportions and one-of-a-kind experience that only Zappa and his skilled group of musicians could provide. When Zappa returned to The Palladium in NYC in 1981 for a five-show four-night run from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, the nearly-annual tradition was even more anticipated than usual as the 1980 concerts were cut short due to Zappa falling ill. Curiously there was no fall tour the previous year and thus no Halloween shows.
Perhaps because of this, Zappa arrived at the 3,000 capacity Palladium raring to play, armed with a cracking new band, a just-released double album and a film crew in tow. In addition to recording all shows with a professional mobile rig and filming the Halloween night festivities for future releases, the midnight concert was to be the first live simulcast in cable history, broadcasting via satellite over the radio and on a recently launched music channel called MTV. The early 8 p.m. show was captured on video by Zappa’s crew and the footage of the two shows ended up being utilized for a number of different video projects over the years, most notably the home video releases, The Dub Room Special (1983) and The Torture Never Stops (1982). While some of the audio from these concerts has been released on CD over the years including as part of the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore live series, The Dub Room Special soundtrack and One Shot Deal, audio from the complete shows has never been released in its entirety…until now.
For the first-time ever, Zappa’s historic Oct. 31 Halloween night concerts and the closing Nov. 1 show recorded live at The Palladium in 1981 will be released as a gigantic six-disc box set featuring 78 unreleased live tracks totaling more than seven hours of live performances from three complete concerts. The expansive release is the next in the acclaimed costume box set series which began with the Halloween 77 box set in 2017 to chronicle these iconic concerts and celebrate Zappa’s love of Halloween. The specially-designed costume box will include a Count Frankula mask along with a red and black cape so fans can dress like vampire Frank Zappa for Halloween or display alongside their FRANKenZAPPA mask and gloves from last year’s Halloween 73 box or the retro mask and costume of the maestro himself from the inaugural release. Fully authorized by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers, the concerts have been newly mixed from the original Ampex 456 2-inch 24-track analog tape masters by Craig Parker Adams in 2020. This king-size offering also includes a 40-page booklet with rare photos from the event by John Livzey and new liner notes by touring band member Robert Martin, Vaultmeister Joe Travers and super fan-in-attendance Gary Titone who pens a remembrance of the shows. In addition, a 1 CD version titled Halloween 81: Highlights From The Palladium, New York City will also be released, featuring performances from all three shows along with an exclusive track, Strictly Genteel, from the Nov. 1 show not included on the box set. It will be packaged in a jewel case with liners by Travers.
Zappa returned to The Palladium boasting a brand new band with three new players — Scott Thunes on bass, Chad Wackerman on drums and Robert Martin on keyboards — joining veteran members Ray White on guitar, Ed Mann on percussion and Tommy Mars on keys along with that “Little Italian Virtuoso” Steve Vai, now on his second tour as a band member. While the group had only been on the road for a month, by the time the Halloween shows took place they were in lockstep when they hit the stage and delivered sensational performances night after night. As Travers writes in the insightful liners, “although there may not have been as much audience interaction and festivities as in the past, the performances lived up to the hype. There were hardly any stops in the action, song after song being presented like rapid fire, all the while drenched in Halloween spirit.”
From the audience’s exalted roar and opening salvo of Chunga’s Revenge from the early 8 p.m. Halloween show that kicks off disc 1 to the closing notes of The Torture Never Stops on disc 6 that concluded the Nov. 1 show, that spirit and enthusiasm is palpable throughout the more than seven hours of performances which features Zappa leading his band through three wildly eclectic concerts, handling vocals for many of the songs. Having recently released his new album You Are What You Is in September of that year, the setlist is a showcase of many of the songs from that double LP such as the title track, Teen-Age Wind, Goblin Girl, Doreen, I’m A Beautiful Guy, Mudd Club, Dumb All Over, Suicide Chump and others, alongside Zappa classics like Black Napkins, Strictly Genteel, Dancin’ Fool, Bobby Brown Goes Down and King Kong. Zappa and Vai’s mind-altering guitar prowess is on full display throughout the shows and spotlighted here with extensive guitar workouts on The Black Page #2, Easy Meat and Stevie’s Spanking. Other highlights include the band’s feverish take on the Allman Brothers Band’s Whipping Post and standout tracks Drowning Witch and Sinister Footwear II.
Although the final concert ends with Zappa saying, “see you next year,” unbeknownst to him this would actually be both the last Halloween show at The Palladium and the last time he’d ever play the classic venue. It would also end up being the penultimate Halloween show as the final one would take place in 1984 at the Felt Forum where the N.Y.C. tradition began in the ‘70s. “Halloween 1981 became one of Zappa’s most popular of all the Halloween residencies in New York City,” Travers writes. “The image of Frank in his hot magenta jumpsuit has gone on to become an iconic one in the world of rock ’n’ roll.”
Now nearly 40 years later, Zappa’s legendary Halloween 81 concerts have been immortalized for all to experience or to revisit for the lucky ones that got to witness these transcendent nights of musical history. Robert Martin, who manned the keyboards at these shows, offers in the liner notes, “All in all, the elements of sonic exploration and social commentary that run through all of Frank’s albums and tours are especially well represented in this release, perhaps amplified by the surreal aspect of Halloween and the openness of the crowd to participate even more fully in the ‘anything can happen’ experimental atmosphere that Frank lived in and personified.”