You can just about identify a Captain Beefheart album by the titles of the songs. This is especially true with his latest posthumous live release, Live At Harpos 1988, where such tunes as “Ashtray Heart,” “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond,” “Bat Chain Puller,” “My Human Gets The Blues,” “Sugar & Spikes,” “Suction Prints,” and “Big Eyed Beans From Venus” are presented in all their concert glory.
Don Van Vliet, (1941-2010), cut a swath through the American musical landscape from 1965-1982, during which he and His Magical Band released 13 studio albums to critical acclaim if not commercial success. He always explored not only the outer edges of rock and roll but of music itself. His creative and often paranoid approach to different musical forms and styles created layers and textures that have rarely been explored since.
The newest Captain Beefheart release is a live concert recorded at Harpos Concert Theatre in Detroit on December 11, 1980. A lot of musicians passed through his magic band due to his abusive behavior. One time the whole band quit at the same time. This concert finds vocalist/saxophonist Beefheart supported by bassist Eric Drew, drummer Robert Williams, and guitarists Richard Snyder, Jeff Tapir-White, and Jeff Morris Teeper.
Beefheart’s music on stage was much simpler than in the studio. This concert features a trio of guitarists to provide the textures over the rhythm section, which allows Van Vliet to improvise on top of everything. He was nearing the end of his music career in 1980 and the concert reflects a tight band and songs that had been performed hundreds of times.
Any Beefheart album is not a relaxing affair. Sometimes the rhythms reach out and grab you and at others it is like listening to finger nails scratching on a blackboard. Whatever the approach, it is usually inventive and always interesting in an odd sort of way.
The song list provides a nice slice of his career. “Safe As Milk,” “Nowadays A Womans Gotta Hit A Man,” “Ashtray Heart,” “Kandy Korn,” and “Dr. Dark” are all trips down the rabbit hole courtesy of the Captain.
Beefheart abandoned music in 1982 and pursued a 30 year career in art, which proved to be much more commercially successful than his music. He left behind a legacy grounded in innovation. While his studio albums present his true vision, Live From Harpos 1968 is a rare glimpse of that vision on stage. A good listen for anyone with an inquisitive mind or brave heart.