Friday, June 14, 2013

FZ's "A Token of His Extreme"

About half of this DVD has been seen before, on the Dub Room Special set, but there it was intercut with footage from the '81 Palladium Halloween show that was broadcast on MTV and is now available in its entahrty as The Torture Never Stops.

This is better because the '74 Brock/Duke/Underwood/Fowler/Thompson lineup probably had the best balance of chops and personality of any Zappa band after the original Mothers (around whom they could play circles). The '80s bands added virtuosity but were kind of boring, and the material got more self-indulgent (songs like "Bobby Brown" were the auditory equivalent of the fictitious "gross-out contest" wherein FZ is purported to have eaten shit).

As Frank explains in the special feature Mike Douglas Show interview (which also includes a nifty performance of "Black Napkins" through a Pignose, accompanied by the Douglas show band), A Token of His Extreme was shot on his dime and shopped to American TV networks and syndication, which roundly rejected it.

The editing -- lots of quick cuts and overlays -- can be distracting, but I suppose one could argue that it allows you to see more of the action than if Frank had chosen to focus on one muso at a time. The intimate club vibe of the TV studio, with the band dressed as though for a day at the beach, is light years away from the Big Rock Show dynamics of Baby Snakes, Does Humor Belong In Music?, and Torture.

The band is ace: the humorous interplay between rubber-legged Napoleon Murphy Brock and Hancock/Corea surrogate George Duke, and the intertwining of their soulful voices; Ruth Underwood's joyful presence as she plays those impossible percussion parts and more than compensates for the absence of Roxy and Elsewhere second drummer Ralph Humphreys; the elastic riddim section of Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson.

FZ's guitar plays a bigger part in the arrangements here than it did on Roxy (in the same way Robbie Mangano's did with the Grandmothers of Invention at the Kessler last summer), and he's still soloing in the jazzed acid-blues bag of Hot Rats (rather than the metalloid approach he'd roll out with Zoot Allures). When he plays a mundane solo, he has the good sense to throw in some of Bruce Bickford's wacko animation to provide some visual interest, but the ones he plays on "Florentine Pogen" (excised from the version on One Size Fits All, although the basic track came right from this show), "Pygmy Twylyte" (greatly altered and distended from the Roxy version), and "More Trouble Every Day" are fiery and satisfying.

So for now, A Token of His Extreme is probably the best way to experience this band, at least until the Zappa Family Trust finds a way to get the post-production done that Gail says would be necessary to make the Roxy video releasable. Within our lifetimes, perhaps?


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