FART AT PLAY !
sat 24 february 1973 usa NEW YORK ny the town hall
TICKET - REVIEW
& INTERVIEW - BOOTLEG
REVIEW & INTERVIEW
LOW YO YO-ING IT IN BLUNDERLAND
gary lucas - magazine zoo world #32 - may 10, 1973
i don't want to kill my china pig
no i don't
a man's gotta live
a man's gotta eat
a man's gotta have shoes
to walk out on the street
'china pig' from 'trout mask replica'
judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience at new york's plush town hall february 24th, 1973, don van vliet, aka captain beefheart, may not have to kill his 'china pig' after all. after seven years of producing complex, soulful (in the truest sense of the word) music largely inaccessible to the casual listener and consequently ignored by the mainstream audience with the exception of a handful of true believers, captain beefheart has decided, in his own words, to 'get closer to that white line in the middle of the road, do you know what i mean? a man's gotta eat'.
normally, a seemingly cynical comment like this issuing from the lips of an artist of lesser stature would automatically be greeted with suspicious cries of 'sell-out!' from the acutely critical. in the case of beefheart, critical condemnation should be suspended until one actually lístens to the 'new' beefheart, as opposed to the 'old' beefheart, which misinformed listeners have in the past hesitantly branded as 'weird'.
the man truly defies any limited categorization: you can't even bag him, as (the magazine) 'time' once did, as 'the foremost practitioner of dada-rock', whatever that is. 'that's so silly, man, like i never shaved half my beard off or anything.' lick my decals off, baby.
astonishingly, the 'new' beefheart sounds like nothing so much as the 'old' beefheart. the fiery blues raunch of 'diddy wah diddy' and 'frying pan', his earliest, neglected singles for a&m, and the sinuous schizophrenic bottleneck work of 'safe as milk' and the later albums can be heard to great effect on his last album for warner-reprise, 'clear spot'.
that same marriage of what has been called 'space/delta' and beefheart's multi-octaved vocal posturing is clearly present on every cut. for that matter, it has álways been there, even in the so-called avant-garde period. beefheart's deep feeling for the essence of the blues transcends any question of 'can blue men sing the whites (a reference to a song by the british weirdos 'bonzo dog doo-dah band' - t.t.)' - check out 'mirror man', 'pachuco cadaver', 'i love you you big dummy' to see what i mean. for that matter, check out any recorded beefheart.
'clear spot', besides containing the cleanest production to date for a beefheart album, is wildly accessible to the mainstream (it gets my vote for party album of the year, right up there with 'exile on main street' (by the rolling stones - t.t.) and 'eat a peach') and is still indelibly stamped beefheart. rhythms still 'go every which way, once it starts' ('sun zoom park') while sticking to that irresistible dance groove - you can't help but get up and dance.
there is a taste of the raucous experimentalism of 'trout mask replica' and 'lick my decals off, baby' in every track, particularly in the show-stopping 'big eyed beans from venus' and the infamous 'golden birdies'. just to show you he can still boogie with the best of them. to paraphrase lord buckley: 'when he laid it down, it stayed down'.
the magic band is playing a warm-up instrumental known as 'pompadour swamp'. in the middle of it the captain, beaming out-of-sight in the wings, unable to hold back his natural exuberance any longer, his irrepressible urge to get out there with the boys, races out onto the stage to shrieks and cheers.
he is bád tonight - four months before, same time, same place, he was 'king leonardo', lion's mane haircut and a floor length powder blue velvet cope (281072 - t.t). tonight he's in leather and shades, sporting a 'wolfman jack' type 'do'. he is a tease, the audience loves it, he hugs rockette morton (mark boston) and then splits back into the wings.
the magic band winds up 'pompadour swamp' and receives a standing ovation for their work (play). don leaps cuts off 'clear spot', with clockwork precision, infernal-machine stuff. beefheart grabs a mike and sings, his incredibly powerful voice finally unleashed, rumbling throughout cloistered town hall and scandalizing middle-aged professional ushers in tuxes and formal evening dress. the magic band plays white magic, it's a bánd, no backup band, right with him, no showoff solo stuff, lów yó yó stúff, jack.
there's some problem with the sound mix, the band hadn't had time to do a sound check ('we were up till four in the morning last night, writing and playing' - you believe him). 'the stars are matter, we are matter, but it doesn't matter (device on 'the spotlight kid' album - t.t.).' the music is here, all around you, and that's all that matters.
the magic band runs through twelve songs, one big beefheart retrospective, in the space of any eye-blink. there's something for everyone, from the ever popular 'abba zaba' ('the first thing i ever wrote') to the exultant 'sugar and spikes' performed as an instrumental, from 'alice in blunderland' to 'peon'.
'where's winged eel fingerling (elliot ingber)?,' an indignant voice mutters between compositions. 'he flew away,' beefheart cooly replies to great laughter and applause. 'what happened to antennae jimmy semens (jeff cotton)?,' some other beefheart-phile calls out. 'he already came - you missed him,' is the captain's good-natured reply, furthering his reputation as adroit punster and humorist.
beefheart does slim harpo's 'king bee' in his werewolf voice, all sexual menace and ominous intonation, effectively destroying forever any former audience identification with the rolling stones: lame cover version of the same song. 'mirror man' is next - 'get up!,' barks beefheart, 'get up and get higher than you are,' he exhorts an obliging balcony.
'get up! come on, i'm older than you! get up!' this last little trope turns the trick. smiling, the hardcore coterie of beefheart fanatics, who would never have dreamed of standing, much less dáncing, at a beefheart concert in a million years, gets up, painlessly. it feels so good.
picture by ginny winn from the 'clear spot' press kit
backstage the captain waxes warmly for well-wishers: 'man, tonight was only the second gig this band has done with alex ('pyjama' st. clair - real last name snouffer - the guitarist who had returned after his previous membership from the 1964 beginning to halfway 1968) - give us a few more, man, then watch out!' [don probably meant it was the second concert outside of california: alex had rejoined them early january on a series of concerts at the troubadour in west hollywood - t.t.]. everyone protests that really, the band doesn't need the extra time, it was sensational tonight.
'you know, alex taught jimi hendrix and pete townshend a lot about blues guitar,' pointing at a morose alex who stares at the tan dressing room walls with a bottle of chartreuse in hand, 'they all came to see him five years ago (on the 1968 england tours - t.t.) because he was so good, man.' outrageous statements are beefheart's forte, yet odds are that they're true - there's an aura of integrity surrounding the man that precludes any bull or hype on his part whatsoever.
'i stayed up writing 82 songs last night - 82, man! i know it sounds ridiculous, but it's true.' you musical associates nod happily. you believe him. the stories about the thousands of poems, paintings, novels and songs that litter his eureka, california homestead are well- documented.
a conversation with the captain is a truly mind-expanding experience without benefit of drugs. he is an artist, a unique individual, an articulate spokesman, and his own man. i remember asking him last year if anyone ever complained that his lyrics were sexist, particularly something like 'pena' or 'when big joan sets up'. he was highly amused, and suggested that 'anybody offended by my lyrics should walk naked into a closet, close the door, and stick a flashlight between their legs'.
another time i asked him if he 'could get behind the idea of god'. he thought for a moment, smiled broadly, and in his best cultured country club rumble, replied: 'do you mean gold?'.
the topics of conversation that evening after the concert ranged from zappa (too acrimonious, as usual, to print, although beefheart alluded to being heavily ripped off for the content of zappa's earliest albums - and alex told me a hilarious story about an altercation between zappa, zappa's former girlfriend fyllis, and himself - to equally acrimonious raps about his present record company and their lame promotion (the company neglected even to put an advertisement promoting the concert and their artist in a local new york paper like the 'village voice', a practice rigidly adhered to with a lesser group like 'america'), his unwavering confidence in the magic band which now has something like over one hundred gigs under its belt and can take on all comers ('they're the best band in the world. they are.') to the fact that his old friend ornette coleman had been in the audience that evening digging the band ('we're both going to be on am-radio in the near future. i mean it').
during a break in our chaotic backstage conversation, the captain's gregarious personal equipment manager and seventh member of the magic band pulled me aside. he pointed toward an expensively dressed, beautifully preserved product of southern california in furs and platform heels. 'sotto voce,' he whispered, 'that's artie tripp's (the drummer's, aka ed marimba's) móther.'
beefheart and band soon split, after promising (to alex's delight) that they would include 'kandy korn' in their program on their next visit to new york. the captain strolled out town hall's side exit, his beautiful wife jan in one arm and the ubiquitous bottle of chartreuse in the other. outside, he was greeted by the vigilant faithful - large numbers of them - who cheered him as he entered the waiting limousine.
'i've got albums of the stuff ('trout mask replica', 'lick my decals off, baby' - g.l.) in my head, and when i finally whip it on them, there will be nobody left sitting down, do you know what i mean?'
'i may be hungry, but i sure ain't weird' - 'safe as milk' from 'strictly personal'.
'i don't care who you are, or what size you are: i'm gonna magnetize you!' - 'sun zoom spark' from 'clear spot'.
watch out, universe. the man's all beefheart.
a tiny bit of the performance was selected for a bootlegged collection of live tracks, the england 2003 ceedee railroadism. to be precise, it was óne cut: (i'm a) king bee, which is a quite exceptional song because it isn't a van vliet compostion but a cover of a slim harpo original.
BILL HARKLEROAD zoot horn rollo guitar, slide-guitar
ALEX SNOUFFER alex (pyjama) st. clair guitar, slide guitar
MARK BOSTON rockette morton bass guitar, guitar
ROY ESTRADA oréjon / audi hon bass guitar
ART TRIPP ed marimba drums, percussion
DON VAN VLIET captain beefheart vocals, harmonica
facts provided by
theo tieman ©1995-2003
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