captain beefheart electricity


wed 31 may 1972 usa SANTA MONICA ca CIVIC AUDITORIUM celebration

TOUR: THE SPOTLIGHT KID north-america #3 - support acts: daddy cool / little feat

part 1 - go to part 2


a special report from america
dr. demento - australia 14 june 1972 PLANET vol. 2 #22

'daddy cool' was an australian band, so no wonder the review was published down under


the santa monica civic auditorium, a passable mixture of civic utilitarianism and sparkling modernity seating several thousand, stands two blocks from the pacific ocean in the los angeles suburb for which it is named. it's about ten miles west of hollywood, whose academy awards were once an annual highlight of the civic's schedule. the 'oscars' have moved elsewhere now, but the civic continues to play host to sales conventions and antique shows, in between which it serves occasionally as one of southern californian's more attractive rock venues.

it was there that warner bros / reprise records, perhaps america's most progressive and imaginative record company, staged a 'celebration' on may 31. the tickets, offered free of charge through the leading local stereo rock station, kmet-fm, were snapped up in a flash as soon as the news broke.

the ulterior motive of warner / reprise: to thank californian's record buyers for their hearty acceptance of two of the company's most progressive groups, little feat and captain beefheart and his magic band, and to spread further the word about these groups plus another name a bit less familiar to the locals: daddy cool.

[follows a report on the performances by daddy cool and the second act, little feat...]

and then it was time for the man who has been a cult hero, and a sinister legend since the very dawning of 'west coast rock'. it's been six long years now since captain beefheart first brought his magic band over the mountains from the high desert into the los angeles smog; six years since we first beheld the wonder of the man who takes the gut-level country blues and twists and turns it into a good-natured gargoyle, then uses it as a setting for his original lyrics which dance entrancingly on the edge of absurdity.

beefheart was not much appreciated in the 1960's. his stage act was pretty awful, but then he didn't have much chance to practice it! he used to read his lyrics from a notebook, turning the pages over so the audience could look at the beefheart paintings and drawings on the backs. meanwhile he made three albums for as many different labels.

maybe he wasn't quite together yet, but it was much more a case of the audiences not being ready for him. by the time he made the double elpee 'trout mask replica', there was a certain aura of inevitability developing around the husky captain and his band. yes, zoot horn rollo (bill harkleroad), ed marimba (art tripp) and rockette morton (mark boston) stuck with him through thick and thin. and how that shows today!

they have quite possibly the tightest act in rock. however disorganized beefheart's music might seem to the first-time listener, with its cross-rhythms and unpredictable changes of every sort, it is absolutely disciplined. like zappa's mothers of invention, these guys never miss a cue. i imagine comparisons with zappa are inevitable; indeed, zappa also spent a lot of time in the high desert country, and for a time the two men were closely associated ('trout mask replica' was made for straight records, a zappa enterprise).

but beefheart is much the purer artist of the two. whereas zappa has recently had a disturbing tendency to play on the cultural prejudice of his audience for cheap laughs (actually the tendency was always there, but generally justified by his total audacity), beefheart rises above such things to create what is probably the most timeless music being made today.

yes, beefheart is a tough nut to crack, but so rewarding once you get inside. the packed house was ready to be spellbound, and spellbound it was. no longer did people walk out, like they used to in droves. the set began with an unaccompanied bass solo by rockette morton, whose roaring cadences were a perfect set up for the coming of the captain.

captain beefheart - billboard sold out concert santa monica, usa, civic auditorium 31 may 1972 - picture by peter andrew
picture by peter andrew

beefheart's entrance was positively regal, his chinese cape swirling in the breeze as he strode to the mike. and through 'click clack', 'i'm gonna booglarize you baby' and the old favorite 'abba zaba' he continued to stride back and forth across the stage, with a majestically slow, slightly twisting step that made the chinese cape keep swirling higher.

guitarist zoot horn rollo (who had printed 'love' in huge letters on one of his broomstick legs, and 'hate' on the other) and bassist / guitarist rockette morton (with his enormous hat and evil-looking point moustache) each have their own versions of this same slow, swirling stride, with rockette's being accented by much hip-swinging and aggressive guitar-pointing. through the whole set the three of them danced a mad minuet from one side of the big stage to the other, but never coming close to a collision (any more than any of them would miss a cue or a chord change).

and to the rear, the less mobile but equally musical figures of the two newest members of the band, winged eel fingerling (nee elliot ingber) and oréjon (roy estrada) - both ex-mothers of invention by the way, just like ed marimba, who made his entrance holding a pair of three-foot drumsticks, and provided a show of his own behind the drums.

at one point all the musicians left the stage, leaving 'the spotlight kid' alone in the spotlight for an a capella 'black snake' (a john lee hooker original - t.t.). using traditional lyrics for the only time in the show, beefheart gave us the perfect 1972 translation of the 'field hollers' that used to be sung by black farm workers in the south, and recorded on aluminium discs by travelling folksong researchers.

with the p.a. system helping out with 1000 watts or so, the captain's roars echoed through the hall, and the children of the city responded like a mississippi congregation with their whoops and screams. the p.a. failed the captain a bit on one of the other numbers, a half-spoken story with interludes by his own soprano sax and other members of the band; the words were all but indistinguishable.

but beefheart confirmed to me afterwards that the final words were indeed 'webcor, webcor!' (the brand-name of a once-popular portable phonograph). this confirmation came as the captain - who by then had doffed his chinese cape in favour of a velvet coat adorned with badminton birdies tied to strings - held court on stage after the concert, holding friendly conversations with all sorts of well-wishers who crowded around him for close to an hour before he was able to make his exit (upon which he was applauded by a crowd waiting outside for that moment).

it was a show that had just about everything, and augured very well indeed for the future of rock in the united states of america and the rest of the world. long live king beefheart!


editorial note about the writer:
dr. demento is better known as barry hansen, an fm radio deejay with station kmet in los angeles. his radio program is a brilliant co-ordination of insanities, his favourite song is 'pub with no beer'.


many thanks to ken hutchison for providing this!

click clack to PART TWO: memories and pictures !

facts provided by theo tieman ©1995-2002

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captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo