Frank Zappa
The Dub Room Special!
(Eagle Vision)

A cold and rainy night, a bad cold: What better occasion to finally unwrap the cellophane off a DVD-V that I bought a long time ago (here's the receipt - it says: 03/11/O5!) and that I had never had the time to watch? The Dub Room Special! had already been released on VHS in the early 80s. It shows Frank Zappa on stage in two different (some would say: "equally brilliant") occasions. It's not the Roxy & Elsewhere video that Zappa fans everywhere have been eagerly waiting for for some time already, but it's quite good all the same (also from a technical point of view: an excellent recorded sound, excellent video quality); it can also work like a charm for the uninitiated. And so, thinking those nice thoughts, I went to bed.

Rude awakening: Here is Robert Christgau on The Village Voice, writing quite favourably about... Shakira! (I immediately take a mental note about checking what Christgau has written about Zappa in his Consumer's Guide.) Well, it's been some time since I first began noticing that time had started going backwards - sometimes it happens that a younger friend of mine, after listening to some "difficult music" like the one recorded by Frank Zappa, asks me if it's really true that "once upon a time" Zappa played stadiums. Which could be also true - here you just have to change the name of the country and the size of the stadium (and please, take also into account the "radio access" factor) - for quite a nice part of the music from those times.

Frank Zappa was sometimes considered "too difficult and off-putting" on one side, too ready to accept the limitations of the (lack of) taste of the masses on the other. I remember reading an interview where a member of Henry Cow defined Zappa's recorded output after Uncle Meat as being "commercial and uninteresting" (I wonder how former members of Henry Cow consider today their output after Western Culture). Well, there was once a place on the face of the earth where every new magazine eager to present itself as being "serious and uncommercial" had to put a picture of Frank Zappa on the cover of their issue #1. Who could be that (wo)man, today? (It's obviously a mistake on my part, but the token Robert Wyatt article I see every once in a while looks to me like it's intended for those who have lost all contact with what's new and are desperately looking for a rubber ring in a stormy sea.)

After the Flo & Eddie period came to an end, after releasing two albums (perennial classics) such as Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, Frank Zappa went back on the road with the line-up from the Over-Nite Sensation album. And even if that line-up (do you remember their names? Jean-Luc Ponty! Ian Underwood! Ruth Underwood! George Duke! Bruce Fowler! Tom Fowler! Ralph Humphry!) was a hard one to beat, the more compact version (a sextet) that went on tour in 1974 was in its own way just as good (check Vol. II of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series, called The Helsinki Concert).

A good part of The Dub Room Special! is dedicated to the TV Special recorded in August, 1974 in the studios of LA TV station called KCET TV. (Owners of the nice album titled One Size Fits All will recognize the versions of Inca Roads and Florentine Pogen appearing on the DVD-V.) Chester Thompson's drums are solid and versatile, Ruth Underwood's percussion instruments are fast and precise, Tom Fowler's bass works as an anchor, there are some beautiful keyboards by George Duke, fantastic vocals (and sax, and flute, and stage presence) by Napoleon Murphy Brock. There's a lot of blues (Cosmik Debris, Stink Foot) and r'n'b, an "unplayable" composition (Approximate), some instrumentals of an earlier vintage (Uncle Meat/Dog Breath), a very good musical rapport and a lot of pleasure derived from playing.

The other concert material comes from a live Halloween night in 1981. Musicians here are mostly quite young, their personalities not yet as strong as those from the 1974 line-up. What we have here is a prodigious polymetric machine that can play anything and that can offer a reliable background to their leader. We have a very good Chad Wackerman on drums, and nice percussion colours by Ed Mann (who also sings those vocal parts on Flakes that had originally been sung by Adrian Belew). There's metal by Steve Vai and blues by Ray While, who's also a good singer, as per his usual (on Easy Meat and elsewhere). There are also orchestral keyboards by Tommy Mars (check the Easy Meat interlude) and those with a more supportive role by Bobby Martin, whose "iron tonsils" fire up Stevie's Spanking. Then we have Zappa, with his nice facial mimic (Cocaine Decisions) and fine solos.

We also have a documentary special about the surprise success of the single Valley Girl, the nightmares from the clay animation by Bruce Bickford and some other stuff (there's also a brief excerpt from the historical "Palermo Riot" from 1982 - an event that yours truly had the pleasure to experience first-hand!).

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Jan. 15, 2006