What better way to spend Halloween than with (as it’s lovingly referred to in the liner notes) this thing?
“The Torture Never Stops” — a 24-song, two-hour blast of almost indescribably brilliant/crazy rock from an Oct. 31, 1981 concert by the equally brilliant/crazy Frank Zappa — affords us a unique opportunity to experience one of popular music’s most original guitarists, composers and personalities. Just as fitting, the mood is absolutely right for a late October night: Zappa and Co. are literally immersed in a creepy, crimson light.
The lengthy set, originally edited by Zappa for broadcast on MTV but released for the first time on DVD a few years ago, is punctuated by a cutting wit that we haven’t seen the likes of since Zappa passed 15 years ago. “Broken Hearts,” he says, defiantly, “Are For Assholes.” Also, “The Meek Shall Inherit … Nothing.” He joined by Chad Wackerman, perfectly named, at the drums. Ray White and Tommy Mars add important shadings on vocals and synth, respectively. Bobby Martin, Ed Mann and Scott Thunes (who wrote some memorably stream-of-consciousness-style liner notes for the new DVD) round out the band. But, it’s a Zappa showcase, of course — and he was, decades into this Hall of Fame career, still expertly puncturing the narcissism so closely associated with religion, politics, teenagers and the media — and doing so while fusing rock, jazz, electronica and elements of classical composition.
His was a composite genius, this kitchen-sink amalgamation that never ceases to amaze. It is, even today, a new kind of music — Zappa’s own swirling concoction of social commentary, angular song structure, inventive word play and wackadoo improvisational technique.
That’s why it’s difficult to imagine a world where, even on cable, such a collection of gonzo moments would actually air on TV. In fact, Zappa may have single-handedly made sure that it wouldn’t again. (See “Heavenly Bank Account,” in which Zappa sings: “There’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.”) Viewing it once more, then, serves as its own Great Pumpkin-grade gift.
This Halloween set, issued to DVD by Eagle Rock Entertainment, crescendos with a dizzying set of licks traded between Zappa (in a flanging frenzy by then) and a young Steve Vai on the aptly titled “Stevie’s Spanking.” Bonus concert footage on “The Torture Never Stops” includes Zappa’s “Teen-Age Prostitute” and “City of Tiny Lights”; there’s also a priceless 1980s-era music video for “You Are What You Is.”