The concert film Roxy:The Movie starring Frank Zappa and the Mothers, filmed in 1973 during a three-night engagement at Sunset Strip’s 500-seat Roxy Theatre, captures Zappa at a pivotal point - post-hippiedom and pre-mainstream media attention for Valley Girl and the PMRC hearings. We’ve heard bits and pieces of these concerts before, in Roxy and Elsewhere and You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, but an entire concert film escaped release due to a technical glitch at the time of recording. Forty-two years later, Roxy: The Movie has been released by Eagle Rock Entertainment, after some intense film and audio restoration. The DVD/CD set, produced by Frank's wife Gail, his son Ahmet, and Jeff Stein, features a full hour and a half Roxy concert culled from footage of all the ’73 shows. The accompanying soundtrack CD contains the audio of the concert.
“Something terrible has happened,” FZ says at the start of the DVD, referring to the aforementioned, behind-the-scenes technical glitch. The equipment used to record the sound malfunctioned, leaving most of the footage unusable. Modern technology came to the rescue in 2015, giving editors the capability to restore the footage after decades on the shelf. It took over two months to sync up the audio and film, writes editor John Albarinan in the DVD liner notes. Cutting the show provided other challenges. Although the musicians wore jeans and black T-shirts for all the shows, editing the footage into one seamless performance proved tough. The musicians’ stage movements changed from night to night even though the attire remained the same, making it hard to fit a perfect angle for each shot.
The film looks clear and sharp, and may be overprocessed in places, but it doesn’t make the concert less enjoyable or “hard to follow.” The film is 42 years old, after all, and the editors did a remarkable job considering how long he film had been in the can. The audio quality is top notch.
Zappa’s band of consummate musicians for the three-night stand included George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, flute, vocals), Ruth Underwood (percussion, vibes), Tom Fowler (bass), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Chester Thompson (drums) and Bruce Fowler (trombone).
The set starts with the funky "Cosmik Debris," featuring some stellar sax from Brock and Frank’s wailing guitar work. All the musicians are such masters of their craft, it’s hard to choose just a few musical highlights from the concert, but I really enjoyed the Cheepins percussion segment. It demonstrates the incredible symmetry between Humphrey, Thompson, and Underwood. It’s just as much fun to watch as it is to listen to - and that can be said for the whole concert. Frank and his band make the complex jazz/rock/prog/blues compositions accessible and that was part of FZ’s genius. Yes, his music was/is an acquired taste, but even an unskilled listener can find something utterly appealing in it - the quirky humor, zigzag rhythms, Frank’s tasteful but dirty guitar tone, or one of a dozen other components.
A few audience members and assorted freaks join the band for the last number "Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church)," including some whirling dervish hippie girls and “a professional harlot who just got finished stripping for a buncha guys at Edwards Air Force Base.”
We’re treated to snippets of Frank and the band recording "Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow" during the end credits, and ex-GTO/famous groupie Pamela Miller (Des Barres) cavorting with band members onstage.
A necessary purchase for any Zappa fan, Roxy:The Movie uncovers a long-hidden treasure from the maestro’s vault.
Penguin In Bondage
The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat
Echidna’s Arf (Of You)
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?
I’m The Slime
Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church)