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DTS presents
Frank Zappa: Halloween (1978)

"This is it. This is the big one. Happy Halloween everybody!"
- Frank Zappa

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: February 24, 2003

Stars: Frank Zappa
Other Stars: Vinnie Colaiuta, Arthur Barrow, Patrick O'Hearn, Tommy Mars, Denny Walley, Peter Wolf, Ed Mann, L. Shankar
Director: N/A

Run Time: 01h:10m:20s
Release Date: February 04, 2003
Genre: rock


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A B+

DVD Review

Whether a Frank Zappa fanatic, a casual listener, or completely unfamiliar with the man, one word will undoubtedly come to mind when listening to his music—"bizarre." I mean this in the most complimentary sense of the word, naturally. Previously just a casual listener myself, Halloween was the first instance where I shut off all external contact and truly immersed myself in Frank's music. My experience was somewhat otherworldly, filled with emotional highs and lows as Frank and his band took me on a compelling journey. Rather than a simple musical performance, the event felt more like a rock concert, a circus, and a stage comedy all rolled into one.

Upon his untimely death in 1993, Zappa had left behind thousands of hours of live recordings, including the complete master tapes from five 1978 Halloween shows. Most of this material was previously available only through bootlegs of mediocre quality, but given the brilliance of the performances, an official release seems more than justified. Frank's son Dweezil and musician Joe Travers have sifted through countless hours of these recordings and laboriously compiled them into the 70-minute performance offered on this disc. Though there are obviously many omissions, Zappa fans need not worry, as Dweezil and Joe have done a fantastic job in choosing just the right material to convey all of the verve and charm of a complete Frank Zappa show.

Zappa's accompanying Halloween band is one of the best of his career. Apparently under the impression that the best things come in twos (and rightfully so), Frank brought on board two of each instrument, even two bass guitars. Typically, two bass players is a recipe for disaster, but Patrick O'Hearn's smooth and silky fretless bass seamlessly weaves around Arthur Barrow's fat bottom end, their counterplay creating a tasteful and comfortable groove. Keyboardists Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf bring graceful melodies to the mix, while Denny Walley's penetrating vocals and tight guitar playing prove to be the perfect complement to Zappa's manic style. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta handles his drum kit with chaos and precision, simultaneously establishing a solid foundation while stepping outside the boundaries of conventional rhythms; his Zeets drum solo is one of the high points of the concert. Percussionist Ed Mann beefs up the sound with his tight rhythms performed on instruments atypically used in the rock genre. Last but certainly not least is special guest L. Shankar on the electric violin. His haunting yet melodic solos are a priceless contribution to the show.

In the middle of it all is Frank Zappa, performing on his favorite holiday and undoubtedly having a fantastic time. He paves the way for a very special concert by announcing that they will be playing an onslaught of obscure stuff in addition to the "normal" set. While Frank's bouncy vocals and sporadic audience involvement make for a lighthearted and fun show, the crowning achievement of this performance is his underrated guitar playing. Guitar enthusiasts will marvel in the searing intensity of Zappa's guitar tone. From the free form pandemonium of Ancient Armaments and Black Napkins to the blistering overdrive of Easy Meat and Stink-Foot, all of Frank's solos are innovative and teeming with originality.

Franks Zappa's music is certainly not meant for everyone. His spoken musings, over-the-top theatrics, and weird, dissonant melodies are bound to turn off more than just a few listeners, but those who allow themselves to become absorbed within this experience will be taken on quite a ride. Complete with a compelling multi-channel mix that truly exemplifies the concert-like experience, Frank Zappa's Halloween is a grand scale musical extravaganza. Frank puts it all into perspective at the beginning of the night when he states that "This is it. This is the big one."

Track List:

NYC Audience
Ancient Armaments
Dancin' Fool
Easy Meat
Magic Fingers
Don't Eat the Yellow Snow
Conehead
"Zeets"
Stink-Foot
Dinah-Moe Humm
Camarillo Brillo
Muffin Man
Black Napkins (The Deathless Horsie)

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DTSEnglishyes
PCMEnglishno
Advanced ResolutionTypeRemote Access
Surround6-channel, 96k/24-bit Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: After reading all of the hype, I finally let my ears be the judge, and I can honestly confirm that advanced resolution DVD-Audio is far superior to conventional compact discs, thanks to its higher sampling rate. So crisp and clean is the fidelity on the 96k/24-bit 6-channel Halloween audio track, that I closed my eyes and could almost believe that I was in a concert hall. Utilizing a lossless compression technique called Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), DVD-Audio is a sonic experience that neither Dolby Digital nor DTS can offer—a much closer representation of what the artist intended us to hear with no loss of audio information.

Advanced resolution or not, I have heard several multi-channel music mixes that sound awkward and unnatural, but I am pleased to state that this is not one of them. I found myself completely immersed in sound without ever feeling distracted by a sense of artificiality. The channel separation is amazingly distinct, while the music soars through the room rather than simply from speaker to speaker. My speakers actually seemed to completely disappear, and all that was left was a room full of crystal clear sound. The separation between the rhythm guitar and the xylophone on Dancin' Fool is truly amazing, with Denny Walley's funky guitar distinctly placed in the left front of the room while Ed Mann's xylophone zigs and zags across the entire right wall. Zappa fans certainly know how elegant Frank's guitar tones were, and the magic of DVD-Audio shot them through my room like a surge of lightning. Hearing his inimitable solos in advanced resolution is truly a lifelike experience. If that is not enough to satisfy, surround sound devotees will flip their lids over the manic mastery of the Zeets drum solo. This truly is multi-channel heaven!

The most disappointing aspect of the DVD-Audio format is that nearly all players do not yet offer any kind of bass management. While my five main speakers are reasonably large, they certainly cannot handle an onslaught of continuous 40Hz tones. I am pleased to state that it sounds as if Halloween was mixed logically, with most of the deep bass routed to the .1 LFE subwoofer channel rather than some loony location like the center channel. The low end from the kick drum and the bass guitars is deeply satisfying throughout.

In addition to the advanced resolution 6-channel audio is a DTS mix. While also fantastic, it actually pales in comparison to the DVD-Audio track. I never believed I would say this about a DTS soundtrack, but it draws attention to itself, not sounding quite as pure as DVD-Audio. On the advanced resolution track, the descending chord pattern in Magic Fingers gently washes over the room like a warm blanket, while this same riff on the DTS track merely sounds like the music is moving from the front speakers to the rear speakers. The DTS mix is astounding in its own right; however, the DVD-Audio remains far superior. The inclusion of the DTS track assures that anyone with a decent home theater setup can enjoy the pleasure of this tasteful surround mix, not just those who own DVD-Audio players.

Also included is a stereo mix, but unlike many DVD-Audio titles, it is not an advanced resolution track. Basically, this track sounds like a good quality compact disc, and naturally, much of the pizzazz is lost in comparison to the 96k/24-bit multi-channel track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
Packaging: Super Jewel Box
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Videos
  2. The Libretto
  3. Official Discography
  4. Radio Interview
  5. Frank Zappa Biography
Extras Review: While many DVD-Audio discs allocate the majority of available disc space to the audio tracks, some, like Frank Zappa's Halloween, contain a decent collection of special features.

The first of two music videos is Suicide Chump. Presented in a full-frame black & white transfer, the image quality is quite excellent considering the age of the source. Though the first six minutes is somewhat tiresome, Zappa's blazing outro solo makes this eight-minute song fully worthwhile. The second and better of the two videos is Dancin' Fool, taken from Frank's appearance on Saturday Night Live. Once again, the image quality is quite impressive for a clip of this age; colors are vibrant and the overall aesthetic is smooth. Zappa and his band put on a great performance of this anti-disco song, with Frank simultaneously impersonating and parodying the genre.

The radio interview is a 10-minute audio segment taken from Zappa's discussion with Mark Simone on the eve of Halloween, 1978. Frank sounds particularly excited in anticipation of the upcoming Halloween show. Though short, this is a great interview encompassing a number of interesting topics.

The Libretto features lyrics for all of the songs featured on Halloween. The inclusion of only the song lyrics would have been admirable enough, but also included are translations for all of Frank's spoken ramblings during the show.

The Discography contains a listing for all of Frank Zappa's official releases. With over 70 entries, his was indeed an impressive career.

Rounding out the special features is a Frank Zappa biography. Those who are expecting a lengthy story on the man's achievements will be blind-sided by the brevity of this feature, which is nothing more than a Zappa-esque joke.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

If all future DVD-Audio titles are produced in the same manner as Frank Zappa's Halloween, the time may soon come when we can relegate all of our compact discs in the same place as our old VHS tapes, the garbage can. Thanks to advanced resolution DVD-Audio, Zappa fans can now immerse themselves in high-fidelity sound quality that comes close to that of Frank's original master tapes. I never believed a 1978 concert could sound so clear and so convincing in 6-channel surround, but Halloween has proved me wrong. While I encourage everyone to utilize this exciting format, this release also features high quality DTS and PCM stereo tracks, allowing those who are not yet capable of listening to advanced resolution audio to still benefit from the excellence of this title.

Highly Recommended.

 


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