Artist: Frank Zappa
Album: Roxy: The Movie
Label: Eagle Vision
Release Date: 09/10/2015
Ok, I’m biased. I admit it. Frank Zappa & the Mothers’ seminal Roxy and Elsewhere album ranks as not only my favorite Zappa album but also as one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s the complete package: humor, solid musicianship, spontaneity and the archetypal Zappa raunchiness all rolled into one spectacular entity.
Until the release of this concert film documenting the show heard on that album, I was left to imagine what was taking place in real time on the Roxy stage. Alas, what I envisioned was much more involved than what this film actually showcases. Sure, the tunes are still funny and Zappa and his well-oiled crew know how to enthrall their audiences, but beyond a few split screens and close-ups, the film largely consists of wide shots of the band playing, devoid of pop and flash. It has DIY written all over it, but it’s still an hour-and-a-half worth watching.
Thus, the emphasis here needs to be on the musicianship and the virtuosity on the stage. At one point, Zappa and percussionist Ruth Underwood merge into a twin-like blur as their sticks fly across their instruments on “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat.” It’s also fun to see the former having fun trying to distract Underwood with a drum stick as she races to keep pace with the other talented Mothers.
We also get to see a young George Duke behind the keys and the black-clad band members playing their hearts out, particularly on Zappa’s more complex, instrumental pieces. “Big Swifty” is a fantastic highlight that was not included on the original album, leaving one to wonder why it was kept off in the first place.
“Inca Roads” is slowed down considerably to an almost nightclub vamp. Even Duke has trouble keeping a straight face singing the spacey lyrics. In essence, the show is a jazz concert masked in rock sensibilities. But Zappa gives credit where credit is due, instructing a cameraman to turn his shot towards trombonist Bruce Fowler for a hearty solo during this track instead of himself.
“Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” is arguably the most structured, frenzied jazz ever packed into six minutes. Watch it live and it’s clear it’s a Julliard piece—if you want to get into the school, just play this before the admissions board.
Be sure to also take advantage of the bonus tracks: “Pygmy Twylyte” features famed groupie Pamela Des Barres (nee Miller) attempting to seduce each individual band member as the tune takes place. “Dickie’s Such an Asshole” is a not-so-subtle commentary on the era of Nixon. Never afraid to stir things up politically, musically, and every other kind of way, Zappa and the Mothers gain some renewed life with this film. Let’s hope the vault of treasures keeps on spilling out goodies like these.