Jan 26, 2004
FORTNUM without Mason? Posh without Becks? The Magic Band without Captain Beefheart? Surely, it just wouldn’t be right. But on Friday the Magic Band, or a reconstituted version of it, turned back the clock and revisited the avant-garde, blues-rock repertoire that earned their erstwhile leader his status as a godhead of the 1960s counter-culture.
The drummer John “Drumbo” French, bass player Mark “Rockette Morton”
Boston, guitarists Gary “Mantis” Lucas and Denny “Feelers Reebo” Walley
never actually played in the original Magic Band together at the same time.
But all four made their contributions over the group’s 18-year, on-off
existence as Beefheart’s backing band, and seemed as credible a combination
as any that might have been assembled from those still available.
With one or two expanded waistlines on show, and their heads concealed by flamboyant headgear, they were now more anciens than enfants terribles. But the sound had an authentically lumpy swing as they rolled into Diddy Wah Diddy, the Bo Diddley cover that, in 1964, was the first record Beefheart released. It fell to French to play the role of Beefheart, who retired from music in 1982, and now suffers from multiple sclerosis. French, who is a capable singer and harmonica player, left the drumming to an understudy for much of the show, and commandeered the front of the stage where he marshalled a mild approximation of Beefheart’s bull-like roar and hucksterish mannerisms.
“It’s a very large pair of shoes to fill,” he admitted, halfway through the set. “I’m paying tribute to him. There’s no replacement.” And that was the truth of it. With no new material on offer, the Magic Band have been resurrected as a Beefheart tribute band.
They performed brilliantly, especially on Steal Softly Thru Snow and The Smithsonian Institute Blues, where they did that trick of apparently all playing different songs at the same time which somehow folded together like a collapsing deckchair. But there was something about the very idea of the gig that didn’t quite ring true. It wasn’t just Beefheart’s towering presence that was missing. A key element of danger in these once-radical songs had disappeared too.
The same could not be said of the performance by special guests The
Fall earlier in the evening, during which a seemingly tired Mark E. Smith
strutted the stage, delivering his lines in a slurred monotone, while pausing
every so often to disrupt the equipment of the four other members of the
band. But the rest of the group turned in a heroic performance while a
gathering crowd partied at the foot of the stage as though it was 1999.
© Copyright 2004, The Times