For Judge Victor Valdivia, the torture never stops, if by torture you mean "his hellish everyday existence."
Frank Zappa: The Torture Never Stops isn't quite the definitive Frank Zappa live document; Baby Snakes paints a more comprehensive picture of how eclectic and unique Zappa's performances could be. Still, if you're at all interested in Zappa's music, The Torture Never Stops is a must-have. Though excerpts from it were seen in the Frank Zappa: The Dub Room Special DVD, this is the full concert as it originally aired on MTV in 1982. This isn't quite the knockout DVD release it might have been, but it's still a very good piece of Zappa live in his prime.
The Torture Never Stops was filmed at the Palladium in New York City on Halloween night, 1981. 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"
The set list is drawn primarily from the two albums Zappa released that year, Tinseltown Rebellion and You Are What You Is, and since those are two of the lesser entries in Zappa's catalog, the concert isn't quite as representative of the full breadth of Zappa's music as it could be. Also, it's disappointing that Zappa's intricate music doesn't get a 5.1 remix for this DVD. Though the full-screen transfer looks nice and crisp, the only audio option is for a Dolby stereo track. It sounds satisfactory, with good separation, but it would have been amazing to hear this band with full surrounds, especially during the more elaborate songs like "Strictly Genteel."
Nonetheless, this is still worth seeing for Zappa fans. Zappa never gave less than his all onstage, and this show is no exception. From his fiery guitar solos during "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and "Jumbo Go Away" to his equally fiery misanthropic 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 gets here, particularly during his jokey groupie number "Stevie's Spanking." Indeed, 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. They make even the weaker songs, like the sophomoric "Jumbo Go Away," more entertaining that they could have been. Even of some of the material isn't Zappa's strongest, the quality of the musicianship and the energy of the performers and audience makes this an enjoyable concert nonetheless.
As for extras, 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). These are just as good as any of the songs in the main program but were presumably cut for time. Also included is the music video for "You Are What You Is" (4:23). It's mildly amusing, though it's doubtful you'll watch it more than once. The disc is rounded out with a photo gallery and some text extras, including a discography, DVDography, and reminiscences by Thunes.
The Torture Never Stops, then, is another worthy entry in Zappa's DVD catalog. Although it's missing some crucial concert staples (such as "Baby Snakes" and "I Am the Slime"), it's still a must for Zappa's fans. Newcomers might want to start with Baby Snakes or the volume of the Classic Albums series dedicated to Zappa's mid-'70s works, but once they do they should have no problem adding this one to their collections, particularly if they're curious about what Zappa's '80s band with Vai and Thunes sounded like. Recommended.
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