Captain Beefheart and his Magic Bands
Magnetic Hands: Live in the UK 72-80
The Viper Label
For a fellow who hasn’t performed music since 1982, the last few years has certainly seen a gush of “new” Beefheart material. From the mammoth Grow Fins collection on Revenant (which everyone should own) to reissues of Mirror Man and Safe As Milk, Don Van Vliet and the Magic Bands are popping up everywhere. Now a label in the U.K has gathered 18 live performances and packaged them together as Magnetic Hands. While the quality isn’t the greatest (these are bootlegs after all) they do show why in its prime, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band was considered by many to be the greatest live act around.
First off, skip tracks one through eight. Made up of cuts from the Bickershaw Festival in 1972, Manchester in ’72, and Leicester University in 1973, these cuts border on the unlistenable. You can barely hear the band, and the good Captain comes off as more a screaming street person than the only 21st century blues man alive. Now, once you get past those, things start getting interesting with “Orange Claw Hammer” from Knebworth in 1975, as well as “Dali’s Car” from the same show. Good stuff, although it would have been nice to hear the entire show.
But when you get to “Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man” from Liverpool in 1980, you finally get to hear what all the fuss was about. The remaining six cuts, featuring the final version of the Magic Band (featuring the great Gary Lucas on guitar) are perfect foils to Beefheart’s pinballing brilliance. They make the abnormal sound natural, the surreal sublime. “Abba Zaba,” “Drop Out Boogie,” and “Hothead” twist, spin and shout as well as it can be done. When they were “on,” no one short of Sun Ra could top them. This set is lovingly designed, with an informative booklet. It’s too bad better versions couldn’t have been found for some of the cuts, but you take what you get.
The Viper Label: http://www.the-viper-label.com.uk