Monday, December 17, 2012

DVD Review-Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe

Throughout his career, Frank Zappa thumbed his nose at commercialism. He never let the marketplace dictate his direction, and his instincts (and taste) almost always ran contrary to whatever was `popular'. In fact, if Frank liked what you were doing, it was a sure sign that you would suffer commercially; just ask Captain Beefheart, or Wild Man Fisher, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or Alice Cooper in his early days. The name `Frank Zappa' may now be copyrighted and a household name, but few people really ever knew his music. His albums were tailored to appeal to those who were outside of society, so what went wrong with "Apostrophe (`)" and "Over-Nite Sensation" that allowed them to become hugely famous?

For a short period of time in the early seventies, Frank Zappa and the counterculture experienced something akin to acceptance by the media. Perhaps this was due to the huge success of FM radio, or maybe it was the zeitgeist that enveloped the globe after the late-sixties meltdown of hippie culture. Either way, Zappa's music was at a creative peak, and the world was willing to pay attention. "Apostrophe" and "Over-Nite Sensation" followed one another within a year's time, and each of them featured pretty much the same line-up of musicians. They represent his most accessible work, and this `album documentary' tells the story of how they got made.

If you are familiar with Frank Zappa's work, then I highly recommend this DVD. If you are not familiar with Zappa's work, buy each of these albums and then buy this DVD. The information contained herein is invaluable to any fan. I've seen many, many of these `album documentaries', but none come close to the authoritative entertainment of this package. The fun facts alone are outstanding. Did you know that Zappa rehearsed his band six hours a day, five days a week? Show me another band with that type of work ethic. Did you know that the backup vocals were by the Ikettes (with Tina Turner)? Did you know that Zappa has a library of recordings that could rival the Grateful Dead in its breadth?

The editing between live performance (including a killer version of "Montana") and studio analysis is brilliant. Son Dweezil takes us deep into recording analysis, sitting at a mixing board and moving the faders while making insightful observations. The documentary is relatively short - only one hour - but there's another hour of extras that convey just as much information, while focusing on all aspects of Zappa's music, including its topicality, its technique, and its humor. Frank Zappa was a thoroughly unique character, incapable of being categorized or lumped into a box. If you know these albums, you may think you already understand how his mind worked. See this documentary and you'll understand why. In a word, it's astounding.

Friday, December 14, 2012

DVD Review- Zappa in Barcelona

Zappa In Barcelona European Tour May 1988
It's not an official legal Zappa release. You can get it for free on torrent sites, possibly a better copy. It's a good quality video taken from a TV special. It's great, but you shouldnt pay 30 dollars for it. For an unrelated reason, maybe, visit It's an awesome 1988 concert with Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Ike Willis, Ed Mann, Bobby Martin, Scott Tunes, Chad Wakerman, Mike Kenelly, and I forget the other horn players. Some of the songs are The Black Page, Big Swifty, Black Napkins, Sofa, a cover of I Am The Walrus, Strictly Genteel and many more great songs. By the way, that IS Strictly Genteel at the end and not a Sofa variation as another reviewer said, Sofa is played in the middle of the show. I'm a musician, I know and play both pieces quite well, I am very familiar with the different arrangments of both over the years, and I can tell you without a doubt that the concert ends with a great performance of Strictly Genteel.
When I saw this under "Today's Deals", I got excited. I thought maybe this was finally being released officially.
As soon as I got to the product page, I could tell right away it is indeed a bootleg. For starters, the label is "101 Distribution." Have you ever heard of it? I haven't.
Second, the cover art....neither the stage nor the large picture of Frank is from 1988. Not even close.There has been an "unofficial" fan copy of this in circulation for years, and the quality is better than this one (re-dubbed audio and relevant artwork). Best of all, it's for FREE trade, not selling. You just have to know where to look.
Until such time that they release an official version of this made from the master recording, I wouldn't recommend anyone spend a dime on this. Save your money and find a better copy elsewhere.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

DVD review -Torture Never Stops

The torture never stops DVD
Frank Zappa's New York Halloween 1981 concerts were filmed Live at The Palladium. This 'thing' entitled "The Torture Never Stops was created in its entirety by FZ from the original concert production and intended by theArtist as one of 3 Television Specials. This is the longest version of the three - the others, "You Are What You Is" and "Dumb All Over", having actually aired. Halloween was Frank Zappa s favorite holiday, and New York was the site of Frank Zappa Halloween concerts for years! The billion and a half airings by MTV of the concerts
(non-edited) followed on closely from the release of the double album You Are What You Is in September of that year on Frank Zappa s own recently founded and thoroughly independent label, Barking Pumpkin. Much of the set list is drawn from that work. All Frank Zappa shows were unique experiences with Zappa on guitar and baton, leading his band on flights of improvisation and drawing ever more intense performances from them. The Torture Never Stops cements Zappa s reputation as one of the most innovative and challenging composers and performers of the 20th century.
Line-up: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocal); Ray White (vocal, guitar); Tommy Mars (keyboards, vocal); Scott Thunes (bass, vocal); Chad Wackerman (drums); Ed Mann (percussion, vocal); Bobby Martin (keyboard, sax, vocal),  Steve Vai (guitar, vocal)

1) Black Napkins
2) Montana
3) Easy Meat
4) Beauty Knows No Pain
5) Charlie s Enormous Mouth
6) Fine Girl
7) Teen-Age Wind
8) Harder Than Your Husband
9) Bamboozled By Love
10) We re Turning Again
11) Alien Orifice
12) Flakes
13) Broken Hearts Are For Assholes
14) You Are What You Is
15) Mudd Club
16) The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
17) Dumb All Over
18) Heavenly Bank Account
19) Suicide Chump
20) Jumbo Go Away
21) Stevie s Spanking
22) The Torture Never Stops
23) Strictly Genteel
24) The Illinois Enema Bandit

 was a little bummed the first few times I watched this. I was kicking back during "Montana" anticipating the killer guitar solo in that song, but the solo was not there! I know Frank liked to rearrange, change tempo's, and omit parts of songs during live performances, but to leave out the blistering solo during "Montana" just bummed me out. However, after several viewings this DVD is killer and a must for Zappa fans.

The concert footage comes from a 1981 show and runs 1 hour 55 minutes. The video and audio (stereo only) are very good. The set list includes lots of songs from "You Are What You Is", so if you want Frank's early stuff you may be disappointed. Most of the time, the band is incredible... there are a few vocals out of pitch and some of Vai's leads are really sloppy, but when they play "Alien Orifice" my jaw hits the floor. Is anyone writing cool music like this anymore?

Extras include two bonus tracks - "Teen-Age Prostitute" and "City of Tiny Lights", the video of "You Are What You Is", a photo gallery, a discography, a DVDography, and liner notes from Scott Thunes.

Overall, this is a treat for fans and I hope more releases like this are planned for the future.