Written by Miembro Amargo
Frank Zappa was an iconoclastic artist for over 30 years and he created a seemingly endless string of studio and live records. Zappa’s music has been as much of a tribute to the styles he explored as well as a complete deconstruction of those idioms. Whether it was doo-wop, rock, orchestra compositions, jazz, blues, electronic, surf music, sound collages, or country, he always put his own humorous twist to the music and is one of the great avant-garde composers of the 20th century. Unfortunately, Zappa died of prostate cancer at the age of 52 in 1993. Fortunately, he recorded or filmed just about everything he did and his family has continued his legacy by sharing the gems from the wealth of this material.
An Evening With Frank Zappa During Which…The Torture Never Stops is the latest DVD release by the Zappa Family Trust via Eagle Rock Entertainment. It presents live concert footage from the NYC Palladium on Halloween night, edited and produced in its entirety by Frank Zappa for airing on MTV back in 1981.
Over the years Zappa’s band lineup changed often but always consisted of top-notch musicians and this is no exception. With Ray White (vocal, guitar), Steve Vai (guitar, vocal), Bobby Martin (keyboard, sax, vocal), Tommy Mars (keyboard, vocal), Ed Mann (percussion, vocal), Scott Thunes (bass, vocal), and Chad Wackerman (drums), this band delivers.
The concert was filmed around the same time as the release of You Are What You Is and many of the songs on the DVD come from that album. True to Zappa form, “Harder Then Your Husband” lampoons a country song about an extramarital affair coming apart. “Beauty Knows No Pain” utilizes syncopated and off-kilter rock riffs and is about the price of vanity and the commodity of beauty. “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” lambastes religion and evangelism. Of course with a running time of 120 minutes Zappa was able to put in many of his classic songs like “Montana,” “Easy Meat,” “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes,” and “The Torture Never Stops” assuring a diverse, eclectic, and, with Zappa, always eccentric set.
This DVD gives you everything you would want from one of Zappa’s rock bands. From face-melting leads, improvisations, comedy, social satirical lyrics, rock riffs, melody, composition, rock deconstruction, stunt musicianship, and endless innovation, this show packs in a lot of music. The band never takes a break going from one song into the next without even a pause for the audience to show its appreciation. Zappa shifts throughout the show from playing guitar, singing, and grabbing his baton to lead the band thru more complex and orchestrated parts of the show.
Fans of Zappa’s lead playing will enjoy the dueling guitar leads between Zappa and Vai at the end of the song “Stevie’s Spanking.” Zappa is known for his stage antics, and I assumed since the show fell on Halloween it would consist of some sort of mischief. But on this night he was all about the music and the band didn’t even wear costumes unless Vai’s skintight leopard-print shirt counts. Over all, the sound is great, the band is tight, and the show is endlessly entertaining.
The disc also contains some bonus features, which consist of two additional performances from the concert, one short film, and a photo gallery. Why the performances were separated from the rest of the concert is anybody’s guess. “Teenage Prostitute” is relentlessly rocking, and since its inception, “City of Tiny Lights” has always been a Zappa concert staple. The short film is a music video for the song “You Are What You Is”. The video was banned from MTV because it showed a Ronald Reagan look-alike strapped into an electric chair.
An Evening With… is but yet another great example of Frank Zappa’s endless creativity and individuality as a composer and performer. It is a must for any Zappa fan and a good place to start for those who wish to become more familiar with him and his music. Arf.