Frank Zappa: The Torture Never Stops

Please don’t get me wrong. I love Frank Zappa. I think he should be in all those stupid lists of “Greatest Guitarists of All Time” that people love to compile. I sing his praises to those who “don’t get” him and have turned a number of those same folks on to his work. After all, it’s just a matter of finding the Frank Zappa for You. There are tons of Franks, and it took me three solid tries throughout my existence so far to “get” him as well. The first was a failed attempt with Them or Us when I was in my early teens. Later, I tried again with Uncle Meat and Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets and You Are What You Is to a little greater appreciation. Finally, somewhere in my 20s, Zappa congealed for me and I became a Fan.

Suffice it to say, then, that knowing how Frank was about his own work and music in general, that he would appreciate it more that a fan was honest about his take on Zappa and not just being some boot-licking savant who thinks everything should be five-star-worthy and 10 out of 10, etc. So after having viewed Eagle Rock’s new reissue of “The Torture Never Stops,” a video previously only available on Zappa’s on website and featuring a 1981 Halloween concert at the Palladium that was broadcast and rebroadcast on MTV way back when, I can only say that I am bowled over in the average three out of five star sense.

It’s not that the performance is bad or the band or set list is lousy. This is the group that featured Steve Vai on guitar, along with Ray White on vocals, the (in)famous Chad Wackerman on drums, Ed Mann on percussion, Scott Thunes on bass, and Tommy Mars and Bobby Martin on keyboards. They play with the stunning precision and humor that was part and parcel with any touring group of Frank’s. Most of the material here is drawn from the then-new You Are What You Is LP, one of Frank’s finer concepts from the ’80s, along with tracks from other albums such as “Over-Nite Sensation” and “Sheik Yerbouti” sprinkled throughout.

So what’s the problem? Well, I would suppose that as an overall visual piece of entertainment it’s just not exactly rip roaring to these eyes. Now I’m sure all the crazy “true” fans of Frank’s will scream blasphemy, and that’s fine. But everything is so well calculated here that it’s like watching an atomic clock tick away flawlessly. Personally, I feel that the exceptional “Baby Snakes” flick is a much more enjoyable view, it being interspersed with random zaniness to break up the performance bits into nice sized chunks.

Plus, I have to be honest and say that after watching a recent documentary on the original Mothers of Invention on Netflix that it’s hard not to agree with what Jimmy Carl Black said in regards to those days, that the Mothers were Frank’s greatest band and that they could have kept on going to create who knows what. Not to take away anything from all of the great stuff Zappa did after he broke up that band, but in a way he almost became Steely Dan-like in his work afterward, which is not an insult from me as I love the Dan as well, but Frank was Frank and that batch of original Mothers albums is some of the most groundbreaking work to come out of the mid-to-late ’60s. In the ’70s the work became a different beast of sorts, but one could only ponder on what it would have been like had it involved the original guys.

So yes, “The Torture Never Stops” is a well-oiled machine with not many shots of the crowd or a lot of interaction with it. Unfortunately, Frank also seemed a little intent on barreling through some of the older stuff like the great “Montana” than letting it groove and breathe. But it looks good, with nice sharp quality, and the sound is tasty as well. And this is the longest version of the document released, with bonus tracks “Teen-Age Prostitute” and “City of Tiny Lights,” as well as some early video, a discography and other tidbits thrown in.

The superfans with love it. The people who don’t get Frank may or may not after viewing this, and the other people may fall into the same category I do here. It’s good, it’s precise, and it rocks at times, but it’s also definitely a little hollow in parts. Nevertheless, Frank is still definitely missed. (Eagle Rock 2010)