Frank Zappa - Roxy - The Movie (recorded December 1973, released December 2015)

Something Terrible Has Happened...   1:19
Cosmik Debris   9:54
Penguin in Bondage   8:22
T'Mershi Duween   1:56
Dog Meat (Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat)   4:14
RDNZL   4:51
Echidna's Arf (Of You)   3:54
Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?   7:02
Cheepnis - Percussion   4:08
Cheepnis   5:40
Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen's Church)   17:32
 
Total Time:    68 minutes, 52 seconds

Note: the above track listing is for the CD that is included with the movie (which was a pleasant surprise when I opened the blu-ray case for the first time - I didn't even know that it featured both the movie and a soundtrack disc). The actual movie has all of the above plus the slower, jazzy version of Inca Roads (following RDNZL) and I'm the Slime and Big Swifty (after Cheepnis). This version of Inca Roads was included on the Roxy By Proxy CD, so it kind of makes sense that that one was dropped. I guess the others were cut to make it fit on a single CD.

But enough about the CD, how's the movie? Well, this is the video that hard-core Zappa fans have been clamoring for for decades, so you'd be tempted to think that it couldn't possibly live up to expectations. You'd be wrong. This thing is amazing.

Why did it take so long to be released? Frank himself explains it in the first track - he mentions that "something terrible" has happened to the equipment that syncs the audio recording up with the video, and that technical glitch was what caused the delay until the technology (and money) existed to fix it. Interesting that Zappa knew about it before the show was even performed. Fortunately they did a bang-up job with syncing the two back together again, because I didn't once notice any synchronization problems.

The footage looks a bit grainy and is even out of focus in places, but it's about as good as can be expected for 40+ year old archival footage shot on the fly. The video quality wasn't really an issue - I quickly forgot about it as I stared in awe at what that band was able to accomplish on stage. The audio track sounds great and there's even a 5.1 surround option that makes it seem like you're sitting right in the audience.

On first viewing, I had to go back and re-watch the stretch from T'Mershi Duween through RDNZL a second time to try to catch everything that was going on. In addition to Ralph Humphrey on drums (and tuned cowbells) and Chester Thompson also on drums and Ruth Underwood on all manner of tuned percussion instruments, at one point Frank puts down his guitar and squeezes in to play a small drum kit behind Ruth, making for a total of four percussionists all playing this intricate, rhythmically difficult stuff in perfect lock step. Wow.

Bruce Fowler is impressive on trombone, but looking at him it's hard to believe he went on to a career of orchestrating major Hollywood blockbusters. Bassist Tom Fowler is only occasionally seen at the back of the stage, but whenever the camera finds him he's got a big cigar in his mouth. Couldn’t have been easy to play this music (pretty much flawlessly) with both hands while smoking a cigar.

And then there's Ruth, Napoleon Murphy Brock and George Duke. Duke's keyboards aren't shown as much as I'd like, but it was still a pleasure getting to see a master at work when he was on screen. Napoleon is the band's front man (whenever the spotlight isn't on Frank), so we get to see a lot of his sax, vocals and dancing, and even a bit of (nearly inaudible) flute. And there's lots of footage of Ruth - one of the stationary cameras is looking practically over her shoulder, and because she moves around a lot she often became a focus for the other cameras. And finally, after all these years, when Frank says "Ladies and Gentlemen...watch Ruth!", we actually get to watch Ruth!

Of course, there's plenty of Zappa himself in the movie. We get a good view of a couple of his guitar solos and of him singing some of the songs. At one point he gets the entire audience to stand up and go crazy for four bars, then all sit down in unison. Or at least he tries - after a couple attempts it becomes obvious that about half the audience can't figure out when to sit down, so they move on to the next song.

Interestingly, we get to see some stuff that maybe wasn't intended to go into the movie. For instance, there's a guy occasionally roaming around the stage wiping sweat off the musicians and touching up their makeup. And another guy comes out at one point to hand out drinks to everyone. The roaming cameraman ends up on camera a lot himself during the show.

After hearing the shenanigans of Be-Bop Tango many times over the years, it was nice finally being able to see what was going on. How 'bout that first guy that Frank invites up onto the stage to dance to George's "funny little notes"? He looks like if he were around today, he'd totally be a hipster. And then there's the woman that Frank describes as a "professional harlot" - I always figured he was joking about that, but she quickly strips down to her bra and panties and cavorts lewdly about the stage.

The blu-ray case also lists the songs Don't Eat the Yellow Snow and Father O'Blivion as being end credit music, but if I remember right it's just some brief footage of Frank and band in a studio rehearsing a couple small clips (which Zappa keeps screwing up by forgetting the lyrics). There's also a bonus menu with a couple other live songs from the Roxy stage, but the audio sounds a lot rougher on those, which is probably why they couldn't include them in the main movie.

The first time I finished watching the movie, I couldn't get the big, stupid grin off my face. Watching it was like a dream finally coming true. Unlike most concert videos, I have a feeling I'll be watching this one again and again.

The soundtrack CD that is included almost seems like an afterthought compared to the movie. I'm not sure how much of it overlaps with the original Roxy and Elsewhere album and the recently released Roxy by Proxy CD. I'm thinking that at least the Cheepnis Percussion track is the same one that's on "Proxy". And Zappa's intro to Cheepnis is word-for-word the same one that's on "Elsewhere". As for the other tracks that appear multiple times - maybe they're from different performances, who knows. I'm sure some obsessive fan is working on figuring it out, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth by quibbling over duplicate tracks.

As some people have pointed out though, there are other songs known to have been performed at the Roxy (and some video footage of those songs was even leaked as a teaser for the Movie), but they didn't show up in the final film. Not even as bonus tracks. Maybe there'll be a "Roxy the Movie 2" coming out in a few years, but I'm thinking the Zappa Family has milked the Roxy performances about as much as possible now.

Album Cover

Image of the Roxy Movie cover