As one of rock’s most willfully outrageous eccentrics, Frank Zappa wasn’t really “only in it for the money,” as the spoofy title of his 1968 album claimed, and the 1974 mainstream music
So he shouldn’t have been surprised that none of the three major TV networks that existed back then were clamoring to air this 90-minute special featuring Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the top of their mind-bending game.
“This was put together with my own money and my own time and it’s been offered to television networks and to syndication and it has been steadfastly rejected by the American television industry,” Zappa said in a 1976 appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. “It has been shown in prime time in France and Switzerland, with marvelous results.”
And now this rare and brilliantly zany video work has finally surfaced on DVD — with marvelous results. The superb 1974 edition of the Mothers of Invention consisted of the late, great George Duke on keyboards, finger cymbals, tambourine and vocals; the animated and antic Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax and vocals; talented percussionist Ruth Underwood; bassist Tom Fowler, drummer Chester Thompson, and of course Zappa on guitar, percussion and vocals.
The frenetic, fever-dreamy jazz-rock opener, “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat,” demonstrates the entire band’s instrumental mastery from the get-go, before Zappa dips into his bag of comedic tricks with the hilariously outlandish “Montana.”
“I may be movin’ to Montana soon,” he half-sings, half-speak, “Just to raise me up a crop of dental floss.”
The live action stage footage is interspersed with the trippy clay animation of Bruce Bickford, and on the bluesy and sidesplitting “Stink-Foot,” as Zappa rips into an incendiary guitar solo, a clay version of the bandleader is seen fingering the fretboard with long, snakelike fingers that multiply into more than a dozen digits, then transform into a fanged demon that bites the guitarist on the neck. Then words flash across the screen: “Beyond the fringe of audience comprehension.”
Maybe for some, but Zappa fans will understand. For them, this rarity is not to be missed. Extras include the Mike Douglas appearance, during which Zappa performs the explosive instrumental “Black Napkins,” from his “Zoot Allures” album.
— Gene Triplett