Frank Zappa: The Palladium

By Steve Wishnia

Good Times, 8 December 1977

"Percussoid" Ed Mann used a No Parking sign as a thundersheet at one point during this year's Halloween show.[1] That's as good a metaphor as any for the content of the 3-hour set: avante-garde allusions and pretentions peeking out from behind Zappa's traditional low-taste, dadaistic slapstick.

As such, there were few differences between this and previous Zappa concerts: bizarre stage antics, much parody of "totally preposterous" rock, and long instrumental versions of "Lather" (pronounced Leather) [2] and "King Kong" which featured Zappa's highly underrated neck-fingering guitarwork and the usual thefts from Varèse and Stockhausen. The main difference is that this is Zappa's most comprehensive show, with material from several periods of his career performed by his most overtly rock 'n' roll band since the original Mothers of 1967. He even plays some heavy licks, though they're hidden behind the guise of mocking punk-rock ("I Wanna Be Dead" [line from "Tryin' To Grow A Chin"]).

Zappa concerts have more audience participation than even Patti Smith's, as numerous people are invited on stage to join in the fun. His humor, though, is often confined to his cult, having lost most of the social-political sting that made "Status Back Baby" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" among the few truly underground songs of the sixties. ("What's truly underground?" They never got on the radio, but every kid in high school knew the lyrics.) These days, it's more in-group humor, revolving around the fetished of poodles, stink, titties, and beer.

The other side of his relationship with his audience is contempt. Only Werner Erhard [3] would have the gall to do a song with the hook-line "you're an asshole". This also comes out in his affectation of an attitude of purveying shit to fools who scream for it perfunctory versions of "Dinah-Moe Humm" and "Camarillo Brillo", with the latter slowed down to satirize Dylan.

All in all, it was an enjoyable concert, but Zappa seems to be in the trap of thinking "if everybody who takes anything seriously is an asshole, I can't take anything seriously except labelling these people assholes". On the other hand, sometimes they deserve it: "Disco Boy" and his Frampton parody ("I Have Been In You") were right on target. However, the card tricks were funny only because nobody else would do something so completely pointless in front of a paying audience. After ten years, his role as tireless lampooner of pop trends and minister and grand jester to those who save their bellybutton lint in a jar is still unique, sometimes tiresome and sometimes hilarious.

1. Frank Zappa performed a series of six concerts at the Palladium in New York City from October 28th to October 30th, 1977. In October 2017, a live album titled Halloween 77 was released, featuring all six recordings from these shows.
This article is based most probably on the October 30th show, because only this show's songlist included "King Kong". According to FZShows the full songlist was: Stinkfoot, The Poodle Lecture [YCDTOSA6], Dirty Love, Peaches En Regalia, The Torture Never Stops, Tryin' To Grow A Chin, City Of Tiny Lights, A Pound For A Brown, I Have Been In You [incl. Is That Guy Kidding Or What?, YCDTOSA6], Dancin' Fool (world premiere), Jewish Princess (world premiere) [basic track on SY], King Kong (incl. Gas Mask with Roy Estrada on vocals & Phil Kaufman as human trombone, q: Dragnet), Disco Boy [BS], Envelopes, magic trick with Thomas Nordegg (q: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony), I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth, Wild Love (q: Lohengrin), Titties 'n Beer, Dance Contest, The Black Page, Jones Crusher, Broken Hearts Are For Assholes, Punky's Whips, Dinah-Moe Humm, Camarillo Brillo, Muffin Man, San Ber'dino

2. As announced by FZ "The name of this song is 'Lather', formally titled 'I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth'". In Palladium, it was performed in segue with the long and mostly instrumental "Wild Love".

3. Werner Erhard is an American author and seminar leader who gained prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. He is best known as the founder of the self-improvement program called "Erhard Seminars Training" (EST) or "The Forum." Erhard's programs focused on personal growth and transformation and attracted thousands of participants. Despite its success, EST faced controversy and criticism for its unconventional methods. Erhard later sold his rights to EST and continued his work in personal development through various organizations. His impact on the self-help movement remains a subject of study and discussion.