August 2003

Frank Zappa - Halloween
DTS Entertainment DTS 1101
Released: 2003

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Frank Zappa is considered a visionary, not only as a composer and player, but also as a staunch activist whose political beliefs fueled his creativity. Drawing inspiration from classical music as well as traditional rock and roll, this extremely prolific artist penned no less than 70 albums over his three decades as a musician. Born in Baltimore Maryland in 1940, Zappa is best known for his unbridled sarcasm and wit, which constantly bumped heads with the establishment.

Given Zappa’s cutting-edge approach to writing and producing music, it is appropriate that his music appears on a cutting-edge format like DVD-Audio. This is an extremely well-produced disc that makes a great argument for the benefits of multichannel playback. Sounds are crisp and clear, and the ambiance of the venue on these live recordings is completely intact.

The power and energy of these concerts is infectious. Top-notch musicians like drummer Vinnie Colaiuta play each song with passion and fervor. Cuts like "Zeets" fly around the stage and place the listener front-row center. Both the placement of the artists and their instruments are always rock-solid, and sounds never come from an area of the surround image that seems unnatural. And although this DVD-A is a compilation of songs from five different performances, the energy and consistency across 70 minutes never wanes -- only the rough edits between cuts give any indication the songs were not played on the same evening.

Contrary to what his music may suggest, Frank Zappa was not an obnoxious human being. He was a down-to-earth, personable fellow who had strong opinions and a solid self-image. The special features on this DVD-A include radio interviews and live television performances. In every case, Zappa conveys humor and honesty that are consistent with a man who cared about what happened in the world. His Saturday Night Live performance of "Dancin’ Fool" is playful, while his radio interview on WPIX- FM in New York is free of arrogance. Many artists could take a lesson from Zappa. He may have had an air of confidence, but he never came across as abrasive or anything less than a decent man.

We have all been to concerts where the performers simply play their music amid colorful blinking lights and projected images. Such concerts can scarcely be called performances because they sound no different from what you would hear in your home from a $20 CD. Although I never got a chance to attend "The Big One," it’s apparent that Frank Zappa’s Halloween concerts were great events. Zappa's virtuoso guitar work comes through here with so much power and energy that it made my living-room experience electric and the 14-minute finale, "Black Napkins/Deathless Horsies," a truly religious event. Thanks to this wonderfully produced DVD-A, it’s an event I will be able to enjoy again and again.