Somewhere Over Paris 1977 By Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band

March 3, 2015


For the last 25 years of his life, Don Glen Vliet, 1941-2010, was a noted expressionist painter and sculptor whose works are now highly collectable and very valuable. From 1964-1982 he was known as Captain Beefheart and was one of the more avant-garde musicians to ever grace rock music.

He formed his Magic band in 1964 and their 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. His music was almost free form in style, combining elements of rock & roll, jazz, classical, and blues. It all added up to a form of music that explored the outer edges of rock and of music itself. Today he is recognized as an innovator who influenced punk, new wave, and many types of experimental rock. His problem at the time was his music was well outside the mainstream and had little commercial viability. Due to his over bearing nature and the lack of success, his whole band quit during the mid-1970’s.

When he arrived at Le Nouvel Hippodrome at the Paris Sorbonne University, November 19, 1977, he had formed a brand new Magic Band consisting of bassist/keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, guitarist Denny Walley, guitarist Jeff Morris Tepper, and drummer Robert Williams. Beefheart provides the vocals, saxophone, and Chinese gongs.

The Captain Beefheart sound in concert is somewhat different from their studio albums. There are no layering or studio tricks. The music moves toward the mainstream and the use of two guitars provides a rock foundation.  Vliet’s vocals are always an adventure and they remain inside and outside accepted norms.

The performance is presented complete and extends over two discs. The songs are drawn from many of his studio albums are well-known, at least to Captain Beefheart fans. “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond,” “China Pig,” “Bat Chain Puller,” “The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back,” and the immortal “Big Eyed Beans From Venus” all emerge with new textures and interpretations.

The music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, whether in the studio or alive on stage, is always an adventure and is not for the unadventurous soul.

Somewhere Over Paris 1977 is a good look at the second incarnation of the Magic Band. It will not appeal to many music fans because of its eclectic nature but for followers of “The Captain,” it is a welcome addition to his musical legacy.

Live At Harpos: 1980 by Captain Beefheart and His Magical Band

July 17, 2014

81xD3Bfd63L__SL1500_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.


The Lost Broadcasts (DVD) by Captain Beefheart

October 10, 2012

It is always difficult to write about the music of Captain Beefheart as it is virtually impossible to describe in any cogent manner, which may have been what the Beefer was aiming at in the first place.

He used Frank Zappa’s early material as a jumping off place, which enabled him to explore the outer edges of not only rock and roll, but of music itself. His ultimate goal was bringing art to life, which many times made for a tenuous relationship with established musical forms. His music always had a tension between the desire to entertain and the ability to shock, a tension that many times veered out of control.

Don Van Vliet (1941-2010) is now remembered as one of the more eclectic figures in rock and roll history. I had a nighttime radio show for a couple of years while in college, and his albumsTrout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off Baby received a lot of time on the turn table in the wee hours of the morning when I was trying to stay awake.

During 1972, he and his Magic Band were touring England and Europe when they made a stop at The Beat Club Studios in Bremen, Germany to record some tracks for later broadcast on German television. His band at the time consisted of bassist Rockette Morton (Mark Boston), guitar Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad), guitarist Orejon (Roy Estrada), drummer Ed Marimba (Art Tripp), and guitarist Winged Eel Fingerling (Elliot Ingber).

They only recorded four tracks for broadcast although there were several multiple takes. Only one has been available on a regular basis, while the rest have been consigned to a dusty vault. The session has now been resurrected as a DVD titled The Lost Broadcasts.

The album begins in typical Beefheart fashion. “Mascara Snake” is a bass solo piece. Mark Boston can really play the bass as his fingers virtually fly over the strings. There are two takes of “Clich Clach,” and the longer of the two demonstrates what a tight sound The Magic Band had at the time. There is also a short track of band introductions.

There are three takes of “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby.” The third is the most professional of the set and is the track that has been readily available. The Captain had one of the more powerful voices in rock and here he struts his stuff. One of the throwaway tracks is the most interesting as the performance was interrupted by a technician, which caused Beefheart to walk off the stage. While he is gone the band really cooks until he reappears to finish the vocals.

The DVD is augmented by two filler tracks. “Steal Softly Thru Snow” dated back to Trout Mask Replica, while “Golden Birdies” looked ahead to Clear Spot.

The sound and picture quality are excellent considering the equipment of the day and the number of years that have passed.

Watching Captain Beefheart is a different experience than listening to him, as there is less room for the mind to wander. Still, The Lost Broadcasts is a nice introduction to the stage act of one of rock’s madmen. A must for any fan of The Captain or for anyone who wants to travel a musical journey rarely taken.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – The Lost Broadcasts on Blogcritics.

Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart

December 23, 2010

Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, passed away several days ago at the age of 69 from of complications from multiple sclerosis.

His passing propelled me to pull my old vinyl copy of his Trout Mask Replica from its resting place in my record room and give it a spin. I made sure that my wife was out of the house and the grandchildren were protected from harm.

Trout Mask Replica was his third release and is considered his masterpiece, for want of a better word. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it number 58 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. It is one of the few albums on the list not to chart in The United States.

It certainly pushed the limits of what was accepted as music at the time of its release and continues to do so today. It is either genius or trash depending upon your inclinations or state of mind. I know it makes Thelonious Monk seem absolutely melodic and Frank Zappa completely sane.

It is a combination of styles; from free form jazz, to blues, abstract poetry, to rhythms that come together to defy description. It all adds up to expressionist art made into sound. It can be a difficult listen, especially when you consider the fact it was originally a two disc, 28 song affair. Repeated listens close together will only confuse the matter.

In some ways he was trying to reinvent music from his own perspective as has been done with jazz on a number of occasions. Songs such as “Ella Guru,” “My Human Gets The Blues,” “China Pig,” “Moonlight In Vermont,” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” are repetitive, not danceable, or even hummable for that matter. They will stay with you, however, be it for better or worse.

Trout Mask Replica brings the sanity issue of Captain Beefheart into question, and of anyone who gives the album repeated listens. I find it fascinating, such as slowing down to view an accident on the highway.

The music of Captain Beefheart and Trout Mask Replica is what it is. One of my regrets is I never saw him live.

It all adds up to an acquired taste, which admittedly some will never acquire. Whether a person thinks the album is genius or madness is up to the individual listener. Wherever the old Captain is right now, he no doubt is doing his own thing, and probably doesn’t care what music fans think.

One last tip of the hat to the Captain Beefheart and Trout Mask Replica!

Article first published as Music Review: Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica on Blogcritics.