Back in 1974, Frank Zappa had an idea to put together a concert featuring himself and his band (George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Ruth Underwood, Chester Thompson, and Tom Fowler) that was to be filmed in front of a live studio audience and broadcast over network television. So, he booked the KCET studio in Hollywood, California, hired a film crew (all this with his own money of course) and shot a 90 minute set of blistering material. Afterwards, Zappa worked with claymation specialist Bruce Bickford to add in some wild animation to be spliced into the film, and presented the finished package to the networks here in the US, only to be turned down by every one of them, despite the fact that France and Switzerland aired the special on primetime to great ratings. Now, thanks to the Zappa family and the folks at Eagle Vision, this classic performance is finally available to the general public.
Filmed around the time of the One Size Fits All/Roxy & Elsewhere era of the band, you can of course imagine that the musicianship is of the highest caliber, as many see this line-up as one of the strongest that Zappa has ever had. Amazing versions of "Florentine Pogen", "Pygmy Twylyte", "Montana", and "More Trouble Every Day" are included here, and just wait till you get a load of "Inca Roads", complete with a gorgeous Zappa guitar solo and some jaw-dropping keyboard work from Duke, who is perhaps one of the most underrated players of the '70s. Napoleon Murphy Brock is a charismatic front man, engaging in some hilarious banter with Zappa and Duke on the humorous "Room Service", and injecting some jazzy sax & flute in spots throughout the set. Many of these songs perfectly fuse rock, jazz, prog, and pop, with the arrangements highly complex allowing Duke, Underwood, and Zappa to engage in plenty of furious exchanges while Fowler and Thomson lay down the intricate rhythms.
The camera work is quite good, though at times there are a lot of quick cuts, effects, and animation flying about (it was the '70s after all), but Bickford's claymation is a wonder to behold and really does kind of fit in. Be sure to check out the special features for Zappa's appearance on the Mike Douglas show in 1976 (with Jimmy Walker & Kenny Rogers also in attendance), where they talk about his failed attempt to get the concert special aired here in the US. There is also a fabulous performance of "Black Napkins", with Frank's guitar work simply off the charts. Audio and video quality all across the board is pretty good on this DVD, but above all the performances are some of the best ever. If you are a Frank Zappa fan, you'll need this one pronto.
1) The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat
3) Earl of Duke
4) Florentine Pogen
6) Pygmy Twylyte
7) Room Service
8) Inca Roads
9) Oh No/Son of Orange County
10) More Trouble Every Day
11) A Token of My Extreme