Music DVD Review: Frank Zappa – The Torture Never Stops

Eagle Rock | 1982 | 115 mins. | NR

Having been available on Frank Zappa’s website for quite awhile, The Torture Never Stops has been licensed by Eagle Rock Entertainment and is now out and available on DVD. As any Zappa fan knows, Frank was very prolific during a career that spanned more than thirty years. He produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with the band Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Understandably, with that much of a catalog it’s awfully hard to pin down just one definitive DVD that belongs in every Zappa fans collection.

As such, I’m not even going to weigh in on whether The Torture Never Stops is the best document of Zappa performing live. Because I haven’t seen everything that’s out there, it just wouldn’t be fair. I will say this: If you’re a true Zappa fan, owning this DVD is a no-brainer. Yes, excerpts of it can be seen in the Frank Zappa: The Dub Room Special DVD, this is the full concert as it originally aired on MTV in 1982.

Filmed at the Palladium in New York City on Halloween night (which happened to be Zappa’s favorite holiday), 1981, he is in is prime here. Zappa is joined by singer/guitarists Steve Vai and Ray White, bassist Scott Thunes, drummer Chad Wackerman, percussionist Ed Mann, and singer/keyboardists Tommy Mars and Bobby Martin. Here is the set list:

• “Black Napkins”
• “Montana”
• “Easy Meat”
• “Beauty Knows No Pain”
• “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth”
• “Fine Girl”
• “Teen-Age Wind”
• “Harder Than Your Husband”
• “Bamboozled By Love”
• “We’re Turning Again”
• “Alien Orifice”
• “Flakes”
• “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes”
• “You Are What You Is”
• “Mudd Club”
• “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing”
• “Dumb All Over”
• “Heavenly Bank Account”
• “Suicide Chump”
• “Jumbo Go Away”
• “Stevie’s Spanking”
• “The Torture Never Stops”
• “Strictly Genteel”
• “The Illinois Enema Bandit”

If you’re not familiar with Frank Zappa, this concert will certainly give you a sense of the true uniqueness of his style. Much of the set list comes from two albums Frank released in 1981; Tinseltown Rebellion and You Are What You Is.  So if you find yourself appreciating what you hear, be sure to seek out more of the 87 Zappa albums currently available (The Zappa Family Trust has released an additional 25 albums bearing Frank’s name since his death in 1993).

As The Torture Never Stopsexemplifies, Frank Zappa was a showman and never gave less than 100% onstage. From his fiery guitar solos during “The Illinois Enema Bandit” and “Jumbo Go Away” to his equally fiery lyrics for “Dumb All Over” and “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” Zappa remains as uncompromising and caustic as ever. Fans of Vai, who later became a guitar god in his own right, will be pleased to see how much of a showcase he has here, particularly during his jokish groupie number “Stevie’s Spanking.” This is easily one of the best bands that Zappa ever assembled; all the musicians are top-notch and the interplay between them, especially Vai, White, Mars, and Martin, is a pleasure to watch. the quality of the musicianship is truly first rate.

Frankly, this isnt the best looking concert; The 4:3 Full Frame video looks its age. The picture shows light trails, and an overall softness. It’s great to have this 30-year-old concert available, but one wonders if it could have been restored a bit more.

There is only one audio track: English Dolby Digital Stereo. In a way I prefer this lone track as it is more true to the original soundtrack than a 5.1 mix would be. Sounds okay.

There are no subtitles.

As for special features, the disc comes with two additional songs edited out of the finished broadcast: “Teen-Age Prostitute” (2:30) and “City of Tiny Lights” (8:13). Also included is the music video for “You Are What You Is” (4:23). The disc is rounded out with a photo gallery and some text extras, including a discography, DVDography, and reminiscences by Thunes.

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