Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: The Lost Broadcasts
Captain Beefheart's European tour of 1972 was a strange time for the band. On one hand the group were at the top of their game, musically. As Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) told Alain Dister: "The relations between the members of the band are more telepathic now. They are able to play without someone having to tell them how it has to be."
That was, however, only half the story. There were stirrings of discontent amongst the band. In part grumblings over what was seen as Beefheart's dictatorial control over and direction of the band. But what really grated was a question of semantics. The album 'Lick My Decals Off, Baby' had been billed as Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band. But now it was Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. Older members of the group, like Zoot Horn Rollo (aka Bill Harkleroad) and Rockette Morton (aka Mark Boston) weren't too happy about being, effectively, demoted to what they perceived as being a mere backing band.
Still the simmering tensions in the band were offset by the popularity and success of the group, especially in England. The band managed to sell out most venues and had to add on extra dates to meet demand. The tour culminated in a sold-out gig at London's Royal Albert Hall. In the audience were some former members of the Beatles.
Then it was over to mainland Europe and a TV recording session in Bremen on 12 April for the show 'Beat Club' to air on German TV, where these long-lost recordings were made.
Initially things don't really get off to a flying start with Mark Boston (aka Orejon) undertaking a bass solo entitled 'Mascara Snake', named after the former Magic Band member Victor Hayden. With Captain Beefheart interjecting the odd pun on the title. It's hardly essential viewing or listening. Up next is a storming version of the blues-influenced 'Click Clack' from the group's album 'The Spotlight Kid' followed by a much shorter, less impressive take.
Up next is 'Golden Birdies' which would eventually see the light of day some eighteen months later as the closing track on 'The Clear Spot'. Although interesting, the song is far from Beefheart's best. It's effectively a cut and paste song with Beefheart reciting a bizarre poem over the top. The song kicks off with the bass line from the closing section of 'Mirror Man' with the remaining guitar and marimba parts are cut-ups taken from 'The Clouds Are Full of Wine (Not Whiskey or Rye)'. Beefheart's poetic ramblings involve 'Obeah Men', merry-go-round horses and a pantaloon duck that quacks "Webcor, Webcor".
After a brief introduction of the band by Beefheart the band then launch into a particularly licentious version of 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby'. The song originated as a group studio jam, full of lust and sexual desire. The title coming from a pun on the American slang 'burglarise' and the band falling into a seductive groove.
Unfortunately the appearance of an unwitting technician causes Beefheart to throw something of a diva fit and is visibly annoyed causing him to storm off and curtail the song. He only reappears at the last moment when his cue for the next take of the song comes up.
'Steal Softly Thru The Snow', from 'Trout Mask Replica', perhaps though steals the show. It is propelled by a staccato guitar, and airs some of Beefheart's ecological concerns as he watches geese fly off for the winter and he's left to witness highways being constructed, destroying fields of grain.
Rounding off proceedings is a final run through of yet another version of 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby'.
Ultimately it's great to see some good quality film of the band. There isn't that much about and what there is often just poor, grainy images. Here we have the band under studio conditions running through their paces. Even if three versions of one song is perhaps pushing what the viewer can endure.
Visually, it's interesting too. And not only for the rather dated and 'freaky' band outfits and questions abound. Ed Marimba (aka Art Tripp) sports what is possibly the same pair of panties he wore at the Royal Albert Hall gig, with his hair sprouting through the leg holes and sets the look off with a monocle.
Plus it's clear that Beefheart has put on a substantial amount of weight, but as he told Creem's Andrew Weiner at a later date: "I got extremely fat. But I got fat as an experiment to find out what people think at that weight. I mean, you have to know before you can say anything about it." And he's rather conventionally attired in a black suit and stripey shirt. The band might be very well on form but he looks out of shape.
Ultimately only one take of 'I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby' would actually see the light of day on German TV with the remaining material never airing. So full marks to whoever managed to track down and release this footage.
As with the previously released footage of the Byrds from the same series it's great that some long-forgotten footage finally manages to see the light of day and will, no doubt, delight hardened fans. It's not really going to convince the novice though and as for that opening bass solo... Well, it was 1972.