Published Jul 11, 2013
It's about time someone finally decided to milk Zappa's catalogue a wee bit more and made this 1974 TV special, which had never really been broadcasted this side of the ocean, officially available on DVD after years of low quality bootlegs. Recorded live in front of a funeral-home-quiet audience just moribund enough to make every splutter of contempt rocketed out of Zappa's mouth reach its target, A Token of His Extreme captures the soul-patched boss of the bizarre and his acolytes at the compositional peak of their jazz-rock adventure, journeying into territories that have now long since been molested by countless guitar shop aficionados the world over. Every single number on this hour-and-a-half KCET special concert, put together with Zappa's "own money and time," showcases the quirky aptitudes of the man who so did not want to be associated with the "phony hippies" who made him a millionaire. Although Robert Christgau had reviewed Zappa's 1973 Over-Nite Sensation the year before saying, "Oh, I get it — the marimbas are there to mock/trivialize the serious stuff. But where's the serious stuff?" it's hard not to be taken aback by how well-rehearsed and cohesive this incarnation of the Mothers were, especially the interplay between percussionist Ruth Underwood and keyboard mogul George Duke. With bracing dabs of funk and hard rock on both ends of Zappa's cerebral solos, this epileptic feature showcases above all the unpaired showmanship of saxophonist, flutist and vocalist Napoleon Murphy Brock, which is particularly remarkable during his delirious dialogue with Zappa on "Room Service." Having finally been remastered by Bob Ludwig in 2009, A Token of His Extreme will appeal to anyone remotely interested in Zappa's career, especially those who wanted more out of the 1982 direct-to-video The Dub Room Special, which featured some of the KCET footage. Make sure you give it a full watch, at least past opening numbers "The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat," before reaching out to your Mahavishnu Orchestra die-hard friends. Bruce Bickford's stunning animation, peppered throughout the performance, is worth going the extra mile and bearing with Zappa's seizure-inducing editing.