Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Captain Beefheart's "The Lost Broadcasts"

Van Vliet's hardly been well represented on DVD: There's the chatty Under Review doco and Anton Corbijn's impressionistic portrait of the artist as an ailing recluse Some Yo-Yo Stuff. But if it's performance footage of the Magic Band in full flight you're wanting, you're stuck with YouTube versions of the clips that appeared on Revenant's Grow Fins box set -- "Sure Nuff and Yes I Do" and "Electricity" on the beach at Cannes, '68; a '69 Belgian festival performance where the camera focuses on Don's mug for the duration; and best of all, the Decals band tearing it up on the Detroit Tubeworks TV show in '71) -- and the French Chorus broadcast from '80 that whoever owns, should release. At least you were until now.

The performances on The Lost Broadcasts were taped for the German Beat Club show in '72, but only one of them, a version of "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby," has heretofore been widely available. (I once had a copy of it on a VHS tape, ripped from Laserdisc, that also included the MC5 doing "Kick Out the Jams" on the same program and disappeared into the recesses of my Stoogeaphilia lead singer's house around 2006.) By this time, ex-Mother Artie Tripp had supplanted John French behind the trap set, and another Zappa alumnus, bassist Roy Estrada, had joined the fold, leaving Mark Boston to join Bill Harkleroad and Elliot Ingber (a third ex-Mother!) on guitar. I'm reminded of my buddy Jay's dictum: "Pink Floyd: One guitar. The Who: One guitar. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Three guitars. I rest my case." (Vintage guitar freaks will salivate at the red Telecaster and 335 and tobacco sunburst Les Paul Jr. that the triumverate flaunt.)

This release is welcome for the opportunity to see some previously unreleased footage of the Magic Band at a performing peak, but it's not an unmitigated joy to watch. The band performs against a blue screen, over which "psychedelic" F/X would be added for broadcast, and some of the camera angle choices are perplexing. Why focus on Don, or Artie Tripp's kick drum, when the Magic Band -- Boston in particular -- were such kinetic performers? The broadcast "Booglarize" showcases them at their best, but there are other highlights as well.

Boston's back on bass for a couple of Trout Mask Replica numbers -- the opening solo (the bass part from "Hair Pie," here entitled "The Mascara Snake") and an instrumental version of "Steal Softly Through Snow" with Don on soprano rather than vocals -- and Clear Spot's "Little Golden Birdies." The bass solo is etched in my memory from countless bootleg versions I heard as a teenager, when I was just beginning to realize that Beefheart's music was through-composed rather than chaos. Boston's playing is virtuosic. I was astonished to hear Eric Feldman replicate it note-for-note when I saw Beefheart in '76. "Steal Softly" exemplifies the Trout Mask band's achievement: assembling extemporized fragments into coherent sound sculptures. Don's sax solo is no less effective for the knowledge that he really didn't know what he was doing on the horn. Sometimes art is what you say it is. "Birdies" was a clever repurposing of themes from Strictly Personal and Decals. Harkleroad, with his painted fingernails, looks curiously tense during this performance.

Two takes of "Click Clack" follow -- the most exciting song off The Spotlight Kid, the first Beefheart album I owned. While latter day accounts indicate that the band members were less than enthused about the material on the album, its swampy blues-rock was the perfect point of entry for someone like my teenage self who was versed in Hooker, Muddy, and Wolf. "Booglarize," presented here in two outtake versions, as well as the broadcast one, is one fun wallow. It's a gas seeing the way the three guitars intertwine their choppy rhythm parts without sounding cluttered, and the precisely-scripted slop with which former symphony percussionist Tripp (wearing a monocle and green panties over his head) attacks his kit. Don, wearing the Nudie jacket from the Spotlight Kid album cover, gets out of time in places, but his voice is highly distinctive and his stage presence commanding. Genius or charlatan, there won't be another like him.

Now, when are they going to release that MC5 footage?


Post a Comment

<< Home