DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – The Lost Broadcasts DVD (2012)

Rare look into 1972 studio performance by a true pioneer is compelling.

Published on August 12, 2012

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – The Lost Broadcasts DVD (2012)

Featuring Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) – harp, soprano saxophone, vocals; Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) – guitar, bass; Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) – guitar; Orejon (Roy Estrada) – bass; Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) – drums; Winged Eel Fingerling (Elliot Ingber) – guitar.
TrackList: Mascara Snake (bass solo); Click Clack 1; Click Clack 2; Golden Birdies; Band Intros; I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 1; I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 2; Steal Softly Thru The Snow; I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby 3
Studio: Gonzo Multimedia Group HST112DVD [6/18/2012]
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Language: English; All Regions
Length: 29:35
Rating: Audio: ****   Video: ****

Not all ‘60s rock bands tied into the structured musical format of this era. Influenced by jazz legends, John Coltrane and Sun Ra, as well as avant-garde composers like John Cage, certain groups emerged to push the typical boundaries of this genre. Among them was Velvet Underground, The Fugs, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. The leader of this unusual group was a poet/musician named Don Van Vliet. After recording two singles for A & M records, he was dropped from the label. The subsequent album, Safe As Milk was released on Buddha Records. Twenty-year old guitar wizard Ry Cooder was integral in the arrangement of the free form music.

Beefheart formed a tenuous alliance with Zappa, who later facilitated the release of the seminal album Trout Mask Replica, on Straight Records. Beefheart was highly regarded by mainstream artists like the Beatles, but rejected this support with mocking disregard. However, his artistic creativity influenced punk, post-punk avant-garde and experimental music for two decades. Having retired from music in the early eighties, he pursued his love of expressionistic painting.

In 1972, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band toured Europe and released two albums, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot. During the tour, they performed a live set (without an audience) at the Beat Club Studios in Bremen. To date, there had only been a single track ever broadcasted. Now forty years later, Captain Beefheart  And His Magic BandThe Lost Broadcasts is here in its entirety. The brief set (under thirty minutes) opens with a muscular bass solo (Mascara Shake) performed by Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) in a indescribable, psychedelic suit. Then the band rips into a blues number (Click Clack 1), that gets started by monocle-sporting Ed Marimba (Art Tripp). The band is tight and “The Captain” growls a blistering assortment of soulful blues. Amid the confusing, but vibrant filming, the band steams through this concise set. Guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) eases in some nimble slide guitar licks on the second take, though off camera. The camera is focused on drummer Tripp even during the introduction of the other band members.

Beefheart’s poetic rap appears on “Golden Birdies” with some interesting image superimposition. You can see how singers like Tom Waits were drawn to this style of hoarse, beatnik ranting. There are not one, not two, but three versions of “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby” from Spotlight Kid. On the first, the band establishes a raucous groove while Beefheart howls with glee. He stands with Howlin’ Wolf as one of the more mesmerizing, guttural vocalists ever. During this take, a distracted, almost upset Beefheart leaves the stage after a malfunction. But he returns to re-establish the groove on take 2. With other singers, the free-form wailing and scatting might seem ostentatious, but not with him. It simply works, especially when he softly brings the number to a close. The frantic, extemporaneous jam, “Steal Softly Thru The Snow”(from Trout Mask Replica) is a hard fusion jam that features the musical cohesion of the band. Beefheart chips in with a loose solo on soprano saxophone. There is an unmistakable Middle Eastern motif that connects this to the inventive jazz scene of the early sixties. Finally, a leaner, tighter version of the “Booglarize” trilogy is excellent. It is obvious why this track had been previously released.

Surprisingly, the quality of the footage is excellent. Against a blue screen, the colorful garb of the performers is unusually vibrant. With a two-camera set up, the filming is wildly creative, and indicative of its era. [Really? I thought it was the worst video coverage I’ve ever seen. The camermen seemed stoned...Ed.] The restored audio (DDS) is clear and relatively distortion-free. While thirty minutes is too short, a glimpse into this significant, alternative musician is terrific.

—Robbie Gerson




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