Dysfunctional family’s visit to German TV caught in preparation and in action: rough, ready and rocking to the hilt.
This 1968 footage of Frank’s coterie’s musical frolics for “Beat Club” isn’t so much of a rarity – collectors got hold of it long ago – yet for all the live spontaneity on display, there’s always been a feeling of something missing in action, and now what was broadcast back in the day has been extended with a preparation for the on-screen event. More than as long in a new cut, it may be a bit boring for occasional viewer, so thankfully, the menu allows one to skip rehearsal, although that would be missing the whole point of the “in the moment” spectacle which happens in front of cameras, as the players exchange wary glances in search for a cue – drummer Jimmy Carl Black the only embodiment of cool – before gradually hitting their stride. Reverted to black-and-white for maximal contrast and time and again turning to negative, here’s an overall “ordered chaos” effect to perfectly reflect the tunes’ gist.
Still, it’s not only melodies and delivery the focus of this DVD, as Motorhead Sherwood and Don Preston unfold a comic routine with incidental music delivered on cue from the giggling Zappa. Preston wouldn’t get to play his sax during the aired part of the show but he’s often a visual center of the gig, sitting and reading a mag while having his hair groomed as his compadres get ready to strike and Frank seems to be somewhere else. Zappa’s conducting, but his not overtly commandeering, presence is not revealed until the end of the opening improv, and he’s rarely seen throughout the concert that’s zeroed in on the ensemble communication such as a cappella harmonies unleashed elegantly after bassist Roy Estrada has whipped up a gas mask to serenade to it.
The leader’s guitar twang can’t be ignored, neither aurally not visually, when the group get down to an instrumental rendition of “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black” – the only clear melody for non-fans to recognize – or go into a run-through of “King Kong” which is devoid of grandiosity, and thus superficial, if playful, as are other sketches that would land the following year on the “Uncle Meat” album. Just like food brought in for catering becomes part of stage props and performance itself before the watcher’s eyes, these sketches transcend their original entertaining intent and make it to the level of art. And to see it in transition is a hypnotic sight.