Live performances by two very different groups led by the late Frank Zappa are the main attraction of Dub Room Special
, a relatively rare DVD offering from one of contemporary music's most prolific and hard-to-classify figures. There were always two sides to Zappa (who died in 1993), from serious composer/musician to potty-mouthed frat boy, from innovator, iconoclast, and provocateur to juvenile shtick-meister. Both are on display here, but while there's plenty of fooling around, onstage and off, in the end it's Zappa's music that makes the more profound impression. The earlier of the two performances, recorded in 1974 and entitled "A Token of His Extreme," finds George Duke (keyboards), Chester Thompson (drums), the zany Napoleon Murphy Brock (woodwinds), and Ruth Underwood (mallet percussion) joining the guitarist for renditions of "Montana," "Florentine Pogen," "Inca Roads," and others, all showcasing both Zappa's warped sense of humor and the remarkable complexity and avant-garde flavor of his compositions; this is arguably the best band he ever assembled, and perhaps the best visual record of a Zappa gig. The second show, from Halloween 1981, is less distinguished. The musicians, though far less prominent than those from the earlier group (with the exception of hotshot guitarist Steve Vai), are excellent, but the material is weaker, and the entire proceeding is marred by "Stevie's Spanking," a moronic ode to Vai's visit with a kinky groupie. Elsewhere, Bruce Bickford's stop motion clay animation (also featured throughout Baby Snakes
, a 2003 Zappa DVD release) is clever but somewhat overused; and there's little excuse for the bits featuring Italian "journalist" Massimo Bassoli (whose main talent seems to be picking his nose) or the inclusion of the very dated "Valley Girl" documentary, featuring Zappa's daughter Moon Unit. --Sam Graham
Previously released on VHS and Beta and only available through mail order, Frank Zappas Dub Room Special is an extremely rare TV special comprising two live performances from one of Rocks great individuals. Zappas unparalleled abilities as a composer, guitarist, and absurdist/social commentator run rampant on The Dub Room Special - and it is a unique window on his willingness to push the envelope of what is possible no matter how improbable. Selections from two separate concerts, one, called A Token of His Extreme, shot in 1974 at Los Angeles public television station KCET and one in 1981 filmed at his annual New York Halloween show, are interspersed with then-cutting edge claymation/stop motion animation from Bruce Bickford and assorted comedy bits.
Since 1966, Zappa had established himself as perhaps the most fearless musician known to popular music. He incorporated modern classical music, blazing rock and blues and doo wop, guitar solos he called "air sculpture" and an extremely cynical point of view to forge a legacy that remains completely unique 12 years after his death.