captain beefheart electricity



THIS is BAND #4 live - go to the main page

friday 23 january 2004 LONDON england ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
attendance: 2900 (sold out)

first performance: THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE BLUES (OR THE BIG DIG) lick my decals off, baby 1970
first performance: MIRROR MAN mirror man 1968
first performance: DIDDY WAH DIDDY (no van vliet composition) the legendary a&m sessions 1966

misha - - 260104:
note: edited version

It had been some 24 years since I had personally seen a Magic Band play, so I was looking forward to this gig. I've heard recordings from All Tomorrow's Parties [UK 2003] festival at Camber Sands and was reasonably impressed and was hoping not to be disappointed at Royal Festival Hall. I would guess that others may produce a set list, I had no desire to do anything - such as note taking - which would distract me from subjectively enjoying the experience.

First fellow concert-goers I spoke to were a guy from Brussels and his chick from Scandinavia. I sat in the bar while the 'support act', The Fall, played. Again, not wishing for anything to dull my subjective 'palette'. Getting drunk would have been difficult, as the bar was an under-staffed scrimmage. God knows what a tourist would think of London. Third world? Few of the bar staff were of Anglo-Saxon extraction.....

Interesting looking people were all around, a diminutive, wizened, old lady with tears tattooed down each cheek, for example. Ah, a long-term Beefheart freak comes to the Great Wen[dy house] for the occasion, I thought. But, no. Judging by her subsequent singing, I guess she was just a run-of-the-mill wino.

At last, the Magic Band! They have presence - and a lot of hats. John French wore a white trilby and white 'bush man's' raincoat and (off-white?) slacks, with those gadget pockets on the side of the knee. Gary Lucas was to the left on the stage, also wearing a hat. I'm hopeless with names. The bass player was in the back of the centre and played authoritatively in keeping with his stature. Many pieces seemed to begin with bass riffs and were instantly recognizable. 'Feeler's Rebo' was on the right, looking cool and competent. I believe he played a double-necked guitar somewhere in the proceedings.

During the first few numbers, John French (once known as drumbo) sang (growled?) and played harp. Some other guy (michael traylor) did drum duties. Later, John took over the drums and removed his hat, just wearing a head-scarf. I recall that the bass drum was particularly loudly amplified, but I wanted everything to be even louder, to immerse me.

None of the numbers disappointed me, so I guess they came from the early and middle periods. I believe the opening number was 'Diddy Wah Diddy'. 'Electricity' was played with a guitar taking the theremin role. I think I shifted in and out of consciousness a couple of times, due to tiredness, but it felt like part of a 'blending with the music' thing.

No encore was played, but pretty much a standing ovation was given. At some point French stated that they were not out to imitate Don van Vliet, but to pay tribute.

graham sanders - - 260104:

(reacting) Hmmmmm - that anonymous bass player was Rockette Morton aka Mark Boston, a name not to be forgotten. There was actually quite a lot of Denny Walley ('feeler's rebo' - t.t.) on twin-neck guitar. John French astonished with his Don van Vliet impersonation, with pretty much every inflection in place if, in the final analysis, he was a bit thin on the bottom end - nonetheless hard to imagine anyone doing better.

Drumbo (john french) explained that they weren't going to do an encore in order to save time traipsing on and off stage (they were playing against a strict Royal Festival Hall deadline).

Highlights? For me in the third row, it were 'The Floppy Boot Stomp', a wonderful 'Mirror Man', and the wonderful playing of Gary Lucas throughout.

Wish I could have got to Edinburgh as well. The boys done good. Very good, actually.

edited selection from the fall website:

paul - 240104:

I'd already started booking the tickets for the Magic Band before I knew my all-time favourite band would be the support act! Full house, lots of whom were there to see the Magic Band of course. All seater, with lots of people coming in and out during the Fall's set.

[....] The Magic Band were great though! It was worth the entrance fee just for John French's coat. Drumbo is a good Captain substitute, and it was great when he got behind the kit for the middle section of the show.

Seeing the Magic Band play a great show without their mentor / leader, and seeing The Fall do a lack-lustre show with theirs makes you wonder about the credibility of the whole granny / bongos theory. What would a collection of ex Fall members sound like doing some sort of showcase...?

the sime - 240104:

Attended the Fall and the Magic Band gig last night. [....]

The Magic Band were fronted for a few songs by a cap-alike in a white suit and matching fedora (some ex-drummer?) who stayed in character for between song raspy banter. Didn't take away from the excellent music, just seemed like some ('man wearing unnecessary hat' category) saddo enjoying an ego trip in his own parallel universe who happened to be there as well. A very easy character to identify with. A sealed unit. A thoroughly enjoyable gig, 'Mirror Man' being the highlight, truly awesome. A duffle coat was ripped up in joy.

Result : a 1-1 draw. Fall a good performance, winning no new fans but leaving self-respect of existing fans intact [...]. And the Magic Band - musically excellent, well preserved and presented. Looking forward to their return in 2014.

dave - [later]:

I did get to see the Fall and the Magic Band at the Royal Festival Hall. [...] However, the Magic Band was superb. It was difficult without the vocals to recognize some of the tracks but Drumbo did a decent interpretation of the good captain's vocal on stuff like 'Diddy Wah Diddy', 'Abba Zaba', 'Electricity', 'Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man', 'Mirror Man' and, of course, 'Big Eyed Beans from Venus'.

They had some sound problems, stopping one track just after starting it, although I couldn't hear anything wrong. Gary Lucas did seem to be twiddling with his guitar tuning all the time and I think some of the dual guitar parts were missing. Amazingly both the Fall bassist and Rockette Morton managed to unplug their basses by stepping on the cord, Rockette during his solo, embarrassingly! Where Drumbo wasn't singing he played some amazing drum patterns and most things came out pretty well.

craig - [later]:

In fairness I was impressed by the main act although I had a vague idea what to expect cause my big brother is a Beefy fan. In fact he may even have been there. Yeah. Anyway, the bass player in particular grabbed my attention when he launched into a solo that must have been heard outside, or at least it would have been until he yanked out the lead to his amp, the jack plug was obviously loose. Bleeding crew filth. He soon recovered, and before the band got into some proper tunes they all had a little solo stint. I wanted to hear a lot more of Lucas (on Fender, I think) but I had to go for a bus, really I had to go.

edited selection from the fall message board:

repetition - 250104:

[....] Further putting lie to the 'shared bill' premise was the sound of the Magic Band. They were múch louder and still crisp and clear - and it wasn't just a case of the volume being raised. Noooo..., above the stage was a Zappa-esque PA#2, suspended from the rafters. Quite obviously, this was only utilized by the second band on the bill.

I was dreading John French doing a Beefheart impersonation, but he díd do it and, to his credit, did it pretty well. Thing is though: while he's a good Beefheart impersonator, he is a shit-hot drummer - as evidenced by those five or six instrumentals where he took to his kit. I was hoping he was going to do that again once he returned to the vocal mic, but he didn't.

The entire set then was about 70% vocal (with 'guest drummer') and 30% instrumental (Drumbo drumming). Personally, I think I'd prefer it to be the other way around, especially since some of those songs would work perfectly well as instrumentals - and there are some excellent instrumentals that weren't included in the set, 'Suction Prints' for example.

They did suffer some equipment problems. Gary Lucas had b-i-g trouble trying to keep one of his Fenders in tune while Denny Walley lost sound, then developed a 'buzz' while trying to set up his effect for 'Electricity' - the one song they fucked up a little, seemingly under-rehearsing the part where the verse changes to chorus. It overlaps on the recorded version, any live rendition requires a longer verse. Apparently, they weren't quite sure how much longer that bit should be - the resulting change sounding a bit messy.

(EDIT) The part where the time signature changes in 'Click Clack' wasn't performed too well either, again suggesting a few more hours of rehearsal time would have been beneficial.

In conclusion: Shared bill it wasn't. The Fall limited to half a set, played through half a PA. The Magic Band was excellent, and while they shóuld acknowledge Beefheart, their own contributions to those old albums are enough that they don't have to pay as much tribute to their former leader as they did. There's still a place for instrumental music under rock's umbrella and the Magic Band are more than capable of providing it. If, for whatever reason, 70% vocal is the route they want to take I think they should get a guest vocalist so that Drumbo can do what he does best.

daren - 250104:

(reacting to above) I went down to see the Magic Band at Shepherd's Bush last April and it was a completely different kettle of fish. First half of the set was all instrumental, and although John French did sing for the last half, at least they had Robert Williams (from the 'Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)' and 'Doc At The Radar Station' albums) drumming in his place. Awesome gig! I thought Friday was one step up from a tribute band - a wonderfully unfathomable tribute band nonetheless, but it didn't have the joy of the first gig. I thought the guest drummer just didn't have the 'wallop' that the Magic Band requires, and I do question John French's current motivation.

I couldn't decide whether he was trying to rewrite history and put a final stamp on the largely-accepted claim that he was the practical interpreter of Don's abstract ideas, or whether he's fulfilling a lifelong desire to bé Captain Beefheart?! I'm probably way off the mark on both instances, but it did seem increasingly like the John French show, and that, for me, was backed up by repetition's observation about what a difference it made when he got back behind his drum kit - that instrumental section was unbelievable.

When the other drummer came back on, it just highlighted his inferiority. He was a good drummer, don't get me wrong, but watching him follow Drumbo was as awkward as watching somebody like Dave Grohl take Art Blakey on in a drum battle! Different class. So the Magic Band then... still gave me a tingle, but [now was] sadly disappointing.

r. totale - 260104:

In a nutshell The Fall may have been working with half a PA, but they blew The Magic Band off the stage, which i genuinely didn't expect.

The Magic Band had some awesome moments - 'Big Eyed Beans From Venus', 'The Smithsonian Institute Blues' in particular. But they seriously missed their band leader. The set structure was a mess, and there was a drum solo for fuck's sake, which Beefheart would never have countenanced (what makes you so sure of that? - teejo). Drumbo's Beefheart impression was seriously misjudged too, it only served to remind you of his gaping absence, and dragged some of the more bluesy material into ZZ Top land.

But I wept with emotion throughout 'Big Eyed Beans from Venus'....

fallfandave - 270104:

i always thought beefheart was taking the piss out of session musicians..., and the band was the session musicians with like no creative talent at all.

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[updated 190705]

click clack back to the magic band or return to the power station

captain beefheart electricity
as felt by teejo