Photography & review by Liz
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were one of the most unique acts of the 20th Century. Between 1966 and 1982 they released various albums that not only spanned and fused a plethora of genres, but helped to transcend how art, poetry and music could be used. Like an audio Picasso, or a ‘Beat’ Magritte, The Magic Band mashed the crazy free jazz of Ornette Coleman, with earthy African beats, electronic hisses, and the scorching sound of desert blues – Howlin’ Wolf in an abstract tornado.
Even after Captain Beefheart died, it was clear that his magic could not be allowed to die with him. With an extensive back catalogue of material to draw from, The Magic Band were able to keep alive the spirit of Captain Beefheart, and resuscitate even his most obscure material into instant favourites.
Fronted by original band member John “Drumbo” French, acclaimed for his involvement in making sense of Beefheart’s nonsensical genius on such albums as Trout Mask Replica, there’s not much he can do wrong, singing gritty lead vocals, playing killer soprano saxophone, harmonica and epic drum solos. With John French channelling the spirit of Beefheart throughout the performance, and directing the energy straight at you, it feels as though Vliet is back in the room, booglarzing you to the fullest.
Unfortunately, due to health reasons, the original bass player Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston wasn’t able to accompany them on their 2015 tour but as French confided with the audience. He gave them his blessing to tour anyway and were pleased to announce that he is getting better, and is steadily on the mend.
With band members Eric Klerks and Max Kutner on guitar, Brian Havey on keyboard and Andrew Niven on drums the band play a strong, tight set conducted by Drumbo, doing justice to Beefheart’s music which is still just as shocking, exciting, and inspiring for this generation as it was for the last.
Some of the highlights from the set list included the zany jazz poetics of Steal Softly Thru Snow from Trout Mask Replica, the Theremin-led, psychotropic boogie of Electricity from Safe As Milk and the floaty and sublime Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles from Clear Spot. The pagan-infused Moonlight on Vermont and the brilliantly unexpected version of the funky, jagged poetry of Bat Chain Puller were also momentous highlights, as was the tush-shaking sway of the carnivalesque Tropical Hot Dog Night.
If you are a Beefheart fan, seeing the Magic Band is an almost religious experience. It all ends too soon, like a baby being prematurely ripped away from suckling its Mother’s Milk. Even if you are not a fan, directly experiencing music played live with this much passion, variety and energy is not to be missed.