Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Evening With Frank Zappa During Which…The Torture Never Stops

Written by Miembro Amargo

Frank Zappa was an iconoclastic artist for over 30 years and he created a seemingly endless string of studio and live records. Zappa's music has been as much of a tribute to the styles he explored as well as a complete deconstruction of those idioms. Whether it was doo-wop, rock, orchestra compositions, jazz, blues, electronic, surf music, sound collages, or country, he always put his own humorous twist to the music and is one of the great avant-garde composers of the 20th century. Unfortunately, Zappa died of prostate cancer at the age of 52 in 1993. Fortunately, he recorded or filmed just about everything he did and his family has continued his legacy by sharing the gems from the wealth of this material.

An Evening With Frank Zappa During Which…The Torture Never Stops is the latest DVD release by the Zappa Family Trust via Eagle Rock Entertainment. It presents live concert footage from the NYC Palladium on Halloween night, edited and produced in its entirety by Frank Zappa for airing on MTV back in 1981.

Over the years Zappa’s band lineup changed often but always consisted of top-notch musicians and this is no exception. With Ray White (vocal, guitar), Steve Vai (guitar, vocal), Bobby Martin (keyboard, sax, vocal), Tommy Mars (keyboard, vocal), Ed Mann (percussion, vocal), Scott Thunes (bass, vocal), and Chad Wackerman (drums), this band delivers.

The concert was filmed around the same time as the release of You Are What You Is and many of the songs on the DVD come from that album. True to Zappa form, “Harder Then Your Husband” lampoons a country song about an extramarital affair coming apart. “Beauty Knows No Pain” utilizes syncopated and off-kilter rock riffs and is about the price of vanity and the commodity of beauty. “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” lambastes religion and evangelism. Of course with a running time of 120 minutes Zappa was able to put in many of his classic songs like “Montana,” “Easy Meat,” “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes,” and “The Torture Never Stops” assuring a diverse, eclectic, and, with Zappa, always eccentric set.

This DVD gives you everything you would want from one of Zappa’s rock bands. From face-melting leads, improvisations, comedy, social satirical lyrics, rock riffs, melody, composition, rock deconstruction, stunt musicianship, and endless innovation, this show packs in a lot of music. The band never takes a break going from one song into the next without even a pause for the audience to show its appreciation. Zappa shifts throughout the show from playing guitar, singing, and grabbing his baton to lead the band thru more complex and orchestrated parts of the show.

Fans of Zappa’s lead playing will enjoy the dueling guitar leads between Zappa and Vai at the end of the song “Stevie’s Spanking.” Zappa is known for his stage antics, and I assumed since the show fell on Halloween it would consist of some sort of mischief. But on this night he was all about the music and the band didn’t even wear costumes unless Vai’s skintight leopard-print shirt counts. Over all, the sound is great, the band is tight, and the show is endlessly entertaining.

The disc also contains some bonus features, which consist of two additional performances from the concert, one short film, and a photo gallery. Why the performances were separated from the rest of the concert is anybody's guess. “Teenage Prostitute” is relentlessly rocking, and since its inception, “City of Tiny Lights” has always been a Zappa concert staple. The short film is a music video for the song “You Are What You Is”. The video was banned from MTV because it showed a Ronald Reagan look-alike strapped into an electric chair.

An Evening With... is but yet another great example of Frank Zappa’s endless creativity and individuality as a composer and performer. It is a must for any Zappa fan and a good place to start for those who wish to become more familiar with him and his music. Arf.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Frank Zappa - An Evening With Frank Zappa During Which...The Torture Never Stops on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Iggy Pop & James Williamson - Kill City

Written By Dos Cervezas

The largely untold story of Kill City makes it the most fascinating album Iggy Pop ever recorded. It is also one of his best. Thanks to an effective campaign, not a lot of people really know what Kill City actually is. To set the record straight, it is the “lost” fourth album from The Stooges.

James Williamson had taken over Stooges’ guitar on Raw Power, and his style fit the music perfectly. When he and Pop sat down to write the next one, the songs came quickly. But not quickly enough, because CBS had already dropped them. In the summer of 1975 they began recording demo versions of the songs, to help find a new label with. On weekends Iggy was riding a bus to the studio to lay down his vocals. The rest of his time was spent in a mental hospital, kicking heroin.

The sad truth was that no other labels were interested either. Not long after this, Iggy famously joined David Bowie in Berlin, where his “comeback” would be engineered. Presumably, Williamson had paid for the Kill City studio time, and owned the tapes. Not that ownership seemed to matter much, as the project had been abandoned.

But with Iggy’s star ascendent thanks to Bowie, pioneering indie label Bomp Records became interested in the demos. Williamson was given an advance to get the songs into releasable condition. They were mixed, and various overdubs were added. In November 1977, Kill City was released on Bomp, on vivid green vinyl. The critical reception ranged from complete silence to outright hostility. And that has pretty much been the “official” line ever since. Iggy himself was very likely the main foe, he probably saw Kill City as unwanted competition to Bowie-produced albums The Idiot and Lust For Life.

I am absolutely certain that if Kill City had been properly recorded, it would now be considered a classic. In fact, all of the hosannas that greeted Raw Power’s reissue would have been recycled for Kill City‘s: “Ahead of their time,” “A band at the peak of their powers,” “Godfathers of Punk,” and so on.

Even with the cards stacked against it in so many ways, Kill City is still pretty amazing. Disregarding the three instrumental tracks, there are eight solid Pop/Williamson songs, and every one of them stands with Iggy’s best.

The CD leads off with “Kill City,” picking up right where “Search And Destroy” left off. You could not ask for a better way to begin the follow-up to Raw Power. As “Sell Your Love” shows though, Iggy had more on his mind than just repeating previous triumphs. This is a vicious ballad with lines like, “With any luck I’m sure that you will rise from slut to prostitute.” The thing is, the song seems like Iggy talking to himself more than anyone else.

“Beyond The Law” returns to the explosive style they are so known for, with some great outlaw imagery. “I Got Nothin’” is another step forward, the tune uses wild dynamics and changes tempos at will. Williamson gets off a nice solo midway through it too.

The brilliant “Johanna” is next, and it is simply one of the best songs Iggy Pop has ever recorded. Fellow Detroit madman Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” gets a nod. But it is the addition of some Albert Ayler-inspired sax, ala Funhouse — that pushes this track over the top. Iggy is at an artistic peak, there is no question about it. This song alone makes the album better than pretty much anything that came after 1980, and that includes a lot of records.

On the LP, side one closed, and side two opened with a short instrumental piece called “Night Theme.” Then comes another good-time rocker “Consolation Prize” followed by the mid-tempo “No Sense Of Crime.“ Both seem autobiographical, like “Sell Your Love,” but only Iggy would know for sure, and it doesn‘t seem like he is talking.

“Lucky Monkey” is Iggy’s ode to L. A. starfuckers, and it’s a pretty funny one at that. Finally, there is an instrumental titled “Master Charge.”

Kill City is the most underrated album of Iggy’s career. Conventional wisdom has always held that the album is fatally flawed. Don’t believe it for a second. Any fan of Raw Power-era Stooges is going to find a lot to like on Kill City. It is definitely a reissue worth checking out.