DVD Review: Frank Zappa - Roxy The Movie

Video of Frank Zappa and the Mothers' killer 1973 Roxy shows finally sees the light of day.
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When Frank Zappa announces, "something terrible has happened" at the beginning of the excellent new Roxy The Movie DVD, he wasn't kidding. The audio equipment had malfunctioned, making it virtually impossible to synch the audio to the video. Four cameras were used and four shows were recorded, making for a massive amount of footage that just couldn't be synched properly using 1973 technology. So the show sat. For four decades. Now, some 15 years after being promised all the shows, one performance has been edited together, and it is a revelation.

The show opens with "Cosmik Debris," which is a sort of blue track, done Zappa style. Saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock gives a killer solo, while keyboardist George Duke and Zappa deliver great leads of their own, the latter of which is drenched in wah pedal. This band, which also featured drummers Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson (Later of Genesis fame), Tom Fowler on bass, Bruce Fowler on trombone and Ruth Underwood on percussion is considered to be among Zappa's best. That is saying something as the caliber of musicians Zappa played with was always top notch, but the proof is in the recordings and some of these tracks display a staggering level of virtuosity, while maintaining Zappa's offbeat sense of humor.

"Penguin In Bondage" finds the band locked into a mellow groove. The track features many intricate passages and shows how Zappa's band could go off on a tangent at any given moment. Similarly "T'mershi Duween" showcases the band's considerable chops, with Zappa "conducting" the madness on stage.

On the jazzy "Dog/Meat (The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat," Zappa puts down his guitar and joins the percussionists making for a formidable percussion army. George Duke handles vocals on the intricate "Inca Roads," with Zappa once again conducting. This was Zappa's music, but he let his fantastic band shine and often looked on in approval as they played these difficult songs.

Brock gets to shine vocally on "Cheepnis," an ode to cheap monster B-movies. Brock sells the song's over-the-top nature both visually and vocally. It is a highlight of the show to be sure. "I'm The Slime" finds the band back in blues territory, with more spoken-word type vocals and more killer leads from Zappa. The ease at which the band shifts between blues, rock, jazz, fusion and other musical forms is astounding, really. An amusing studio run through of "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" happens during the movie's end credits, with Zappa forgetting the words and having to restart the band. It provides an entertaining end to the proceedings and shows, once again, that in spite of the technical nature of his music, Zappa never took himself all that seriously. Those who that is lost on are missing the point.

The video is presented in 16x9 format and, for 1973 standards, looks good. It is definitely well filmed, as John Albarian, who was tasked with editing the footage, does not like the modern filming style where there are cuts every two seconds. If only every video editor thought this way. If Zappa is soloing, people want to see him solo! Audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. The show sounds great and is well mixed.  Three performances are included as bonuses as well, including "Pygmy Twylyte," "Bastard Son," and "Dickie's Such An Asshole."

Four decades later, while Roxy The Movie might not be four shows as promised, it is a fascinating look into one of Zappa's best periods and showcases this brilliant band's talents. Highly recommended for Zappa fans or even for those wondering what all the fuss is about.