Friday, October 30, 2015

FZ's "Roxy: The Movie" (Part Two)

Last time I enumerated all my reservations and doubts in the run-up to this release. Now it's here, and I couldn't wait to view it. Some initial impressions:

The movie starts with Frank describing to the Roxy audience the technical issue (sound synchronization) that will wind up delaying the film's release for 40 years, by way of introduction. How weird is that? Then the Mothers start with a leisurely blues that turns out to be "Cosmik Debris," in a version that's much more naturalistic (e.g., funkier) than the record. The band is relaxed (bassist Tom Fowler puffing on a cigar while he plays), Frank's vocal is less mannered, and he has some fun with his Mutron auto-wah.

"Penguin In Bondage" is the first tune that's familiar from Roxy and Elsewhere, only here it features instrumental solos that were cut from the record, as well as a stunning thematic section that leads into the "Dog Breath"/"Uncle Meat" medley that was also featured (replete with annoying edits) on A Token of His Extreme and (in full orchestral magnificence) on The Yellow Shark. Here and elsewhere, Ralph Humphrey shines as the linchpin of the percussion section. By the time A Token of His Extreme was taped, Ruth Underwood and Chester Thompson had mastered the material to the point where Humphrey's absence isn't missed, but at the Roxy, he was clearly the glue that held the section together. I would never have guessed that without seeing this movie.

An example of audience conduction (previously demonstrated by FZ on Australian TV and viewable on Youtube) leads into the "lounge version" of "Inca Roads" on which all the melodic contours are in place, but the introductory section still hasn't gained the rhythmic thrust of the One Size Fits All version (the basic track for which, in case you're joining us late, was from the TV show documented in A Token of His Extreme). At one point, Frank directs an errant cameraman to focus on Bruce Fowler, not himself, during Fowler's trombone solo. There are other instances later in the program where a camera misses the most crucial musical action.

First big disappointment: While you can hear Napoleon Murphy Brock singing the last words of "Village of the Sun" at the beginning of "Echidna's Arf," the song -- one of my favorites -- is missing from the film. Perhaps the sound sync problems were too severe, or somebody dropped a camera like D.A. Pennebaker did during Hendrix's "Can You See Me" at Monterey. Notwithstanding the Bruce Botnick credit for the remix, the film soundtrack is notably inferior to Roxy and Elsewhere (I haven't listened to the "soundtrack" CD that comes with the DVD yet), and the camera inexplicably focuses on Frank when the percussion section is playing through their hairiest parts.

At the end of the piece, the percussionists play through the form of "Cheepnis" (which is the next song the full band plays), evidently for some sinister future purpose (overdubbing?). It's interesting to hear "Cheepnis" sans overdubs (what ...and Elsewhere meant, evidently) and realize that backing vocals and the whole "Here comes that poodle dog, bigger than a blimp with a rhinestone collar..." section were added later. No segue into "Son of Orange County"/"Trouble Every Day" here, either, so you still need A Token of His Extreme if you want to see versions of those. Wha-wha. Second big disappointment.

"I'm the Slime" features FZ on real wah and segues into "Big Swifty," the solos-with-conduction from which became part of "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing" on Roxy and Elsewhere. "Bebop Tango" lets you see all the audience participation action that you could only imagine while listening to the album. Behind the credits, you get to see the band in the studio, working through an early version of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow."

The extra DVD shit gives you a different version of "Pygmy Twylyte" than the one that appeared on the album. In thisun, GTO Pamela Miller, the future Mrs. Michael Des Barres, performs a "simulated Mothermania event" that mainly seems to make the musos who are the objects of her attentions uncomfortable (she stays away from George Duke entahrly). This segues into "The Idiot Bastard Son," which Nappy Brock still sang beautifully in Oak Cliff with the Grandmothers of Invention a couple of years ago. And "Dickie's Such An Asshole" is mo' blues, albeit with political subject matter. The Reagan years would inspire FZ's greatest social commentary, even if you don't include his testimony before the House of Representatives as part of the "Project/Object." From today's perspective, calling out Nixon for the bungled burglary and missing tapes sounds almost quaint...and innocent.

Still have to listen to the CD, so to be continued here...


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