Captain Beefheart: Cooking At Brewery
(It takes a lot of nerve on my part to post a review like this, I must admit, as it is woefully written and, all things considered, vastly too enthusiastic. But I post it because of its historical relevance. This was only the fifth performance of Beefheart’s so-called “Tragic Band,” and the set list alone will be of interest to the man’s many fans. What you should know: Beefheart’s new producers, the DiMartino brothers, saw a review I’d penned posted on the wall of this Michigan venue and asked the manager to point me out because of our shared last name. We got along well, and after the show, Beefheart and his wife Jan came and sat down at our table and spent about an hour chatting amiably about his career, his new band, and just about anything that crossed his mind. While we spoke, he grabbed my notebook and started sketching in it; three pages from it are reproduced above. [You’ve got to love that he got the year wrong once.] It was the third time I’d seen him perform, I was 20 years old, and at that point, it was one of the major highlights of my life. –dd)
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band brought to the Brewery Wednesday night a talent the likes of which has never been seen before. In a stunning show of improvisation and control, the good Captain kept a fully spellbound audience enthusiastically bouncing in and out of its collective seat for the duration of his performance.
First, the Magic Band came onstage, plugged in and began to play a modal delta blues riff as a warm-up introduction. To most sharp-eyed Beefheart fans, it was immediately evident that this Magic Band was not at all the one expected, but rather a new entity. There was no sign of Zoot Horn Rollo, Rockette Morton or even Ed Marimba. Instead, it was a fairly normal-looking bunch of guys playing their respective axes and waiting for the captain’s arrival.
The moment arrived.
A comparatively trim Captain Beefheart strutted onstage, bottle of drinking water in his hand, grabbed the microphone and sang a verse of “Wang Dang Doodle” to open things up, then quickly moved into a flash of “Mirror Man.” The audience, clearly containing several true Beefheart freaks, was overjoyed. Then, wetting his harmonica with a cupped hand of drinking water, Beefheart proceeded to blow his harp wildly into the microphone, causing more than a few audience members to glance about nervously. Things appeared to be cooking as the Magic Band, new as it was, came across quite well.
A relatively short set, there were several high points in the performance. “Upon The My-O-My,” “Sugar Bowl,” “This Is The Day” and “Peaches” were all welcome new additions to the Captain’s act. All are cuts from his newest album, Unconditionally Guaranteed, on Mercury Records. “Crazy Little Thing” and “Abba Zabba” were about the only standards performed by the band, the latter a real treat.
The Magic Band grew increasingly tighter through the night. It is composed of Fuzzy Fuscaldo, formerly from Curtis Mayfield’s band, on guitar; Ty Grimes, formerly of Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, on drums; Paul Uhrig, once a part of Bobbie Gentry’s back-up group, on bass; Mike Smotherland, an ex-Buckwheat, on keyboards; and Dean Smith on guitar and slide. The entire group was put together by Beefheart’s new producers, Andy and Augie DiMartino, brothers who were also responsible for Beefheart’s recent label switch from Warner Bros. to Mercury Records.
What truly was exceptional was the performance of clarinetist/saxophonist Dell Simmons, an extremely gifted middle-aged musician who surprisingly fits right in with Beefheart’s congregation. Simmons has quite a musical history, having at one time played with Charlie Parker, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. The musical interaction between Simmons and the Captain was phenomenal. Beefheart would sing or play a series of notes and Simmons would match them all perfectly. Both musicians appeared to enjoy playing together.
Simmons broke into a clarinet solo of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which made the Captain grin in total appreciation, as he told the audience, “If you can’t dig it, then toss in your shovels.” The audience dug it.
To close the show, during “Old Black Snake,” Beefheart whipped out his old soprano sax, much to the pleasure of his audience, and proceeded to trade riffs with saxophonist Simmons. Beefheart’s frenetic sax work came across superbly in the contrast of the musical styles displayed by the musicians. Finishing his part on sax, the Captain walked offstage and the Magic Band wrapped up the show.
The audience demanded an immediate encore, and in a short while, a pleased Beefheart and his crew returned to do a superb, slightly altered version of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.” Despite minor technical difficulties with the monitor, Beefheart climaxed his show by dropping the microphone and stalking offstage. Though it did not seem so at the time, he was pleased with his performance.
The entire night could really only be described with superlatives. Beefheart and his Magic Band have jelled rather nicely; it seems unbelievable that the entire assemblage has only been together three weeks. The Brewery stint was the group’s fifth gig–something that surely went unnoticed by the crowd.
(Michigan State News, 4/19/74)