There were many things about a Frank Zappa
concert that were unique. I mean, in addition to Zappa himself. Watch the cutaways of the audience A Token of His Extreme
, or any Zappa concert video. In all the audience shots, virtually everyone is smiling or laughing. The same thing is true of the people on stage -- band memebrs who grin, laugh, gyrate, sing and play throughout this 1974 performance at the studios of KCET-TV in Los Angeles.
Zappa financed and produced the film with the idea that it would be picked up by one of the TV networks or by a distributor who would syndicate it. Not so much, at least here in the US. Maybe it was the claymation, not something common in concert videos. But, then, there was nothing common about Frank Zappa.
In a clip from a 1976 interview on The Mike Douglas Show
(which is a bonus feature on the DVD) Zappa said of the film, "It has been steadfastly rejected by the American television industry. It has been shown in prime time in France and Switzerland, with marvelous results." The release of the DVD marks the first official release of the concert in the US.
The element of suprise
One of the things that kept those audiences smiling at Zappa concerts was that you never knew quite what to expect. That applied to his band as well. "One never knew what to expect," said percussionist Ruth Underwood
in a 1973 BBC interview
. "Some nights you'd be pure music. Other nights "Motorhead" [multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jim Sherwood
] would talk about fixing his car. Sometimes Frank would just sit and glower at the audience. Sometimes there were more people on the stage than there were in the audience."
Not surprising was the skill and versatility of a group of musicians who were never surprised by the surprises, and who adapted masterfully. This is one of the reasons there has never been a single genre that Zappa fit into. His performances were less like improvisation, more like street theater, with musicians who were Zappa's equals as showmen (and women) in addition to being very talented musicians.
Of course, it was this very absence of a definable genre and seeming lack of structure that made A Token Of His Extreme
a hard sell to a television industry that clung to rigid programming formulas, and had no stomach for venturing outside the box. Zappa's entire career took place outside the box, and succeeded precisely because it had no formulas, and no genre restrictions.
Take it or leave it
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Zappa's personality and his music didn't leave any room for "sort of" liking or disliking what he did on stage or on his 91 (that's not a typo) albums
. You either loved him or hated him. So, if you loved him, you'll want this DVD. If you aren't familiar with him at all, and are wondering what all the fuss is about, this video will give you a really good sense of the man and his music. Then you can decide for yourself whether to love him or hate him.
"The Dog Breath Variations"/"Uncle Meat"
"Earl Of Duke (George Duke)"
"Oh No"/"Son Of Orange County"
"More Trouble Every Day"
"A Token Of My Extreme" Release date June 4, 2013, available on DVD
Disclosure: A review copy of the DVD was provided by Kayos Productions on behalf of Eagle Rock Entertainment. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy