Old Music

A Squid Eating Dough – Captain Beefheart

The Beefheart odyssey continues.. I’ve given all the post-Tragic Band albums a good going over and there’s some monumental stuff. The Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) period, and the live album that documents it has much to recommend, not least the squalling ‘Owed T’Alex’ and the ‘Bat Chain Puller’ mantra itself (rumoured to be the cause of more than one relationship breakup.. just play it a couple of hundred times in a row).

And it’s got me thinking, and worried. I’m not one of those retrologists, I don’t think modern music is automatically inferior to classic recordings from the golden age of rock and roll.. I DO listen to lots of it. But..

Which modern bands or artists with an established catalogue display the breadth and scope of work of Beefheart or, say.. The Beatles? No groaning out there, there’s a serious point here, at least as serious as I ever get on TRC..  they made their transition from bar band to rock giants to spent disillusioned musicians in just seven (count em) years, releasing thirteen albums. From ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ to ‘Get Back’.. yer modern rocker would be lucky to put out two records in that time, and chances are those two would sound identical. So I’m having a crisis, and that, in part, is why I’m listening to the Captain so much. It’s challenging me. I’ll be challenged by Trout Mask Replica next week: stay tuned.

Here’s some more Beefheart, the John Lee Hooker-styled choogling title track of his final album. On its release, this video was ‘too weird’ for MTV. Go figure.

Old Music

Five Hamburgers – Captain Beefheart

It’s Don Van Vliet week here at Riverboat Towers – another Captain: Captain Beefheart, of course. A serious listening session, no doubt, so I’m easing myself in gently with the Booglarizer’s most accessible album, and a classic to boot. Perversely (for an artist where perversity is a regular occurrence) it didn’t chart in the UK, whereas more experimental ‘difficult’ albums did. I’ll get round to those later in the week, topping it all off with ‘Trout Mask Replica’, but if there’s a Beefheart album I’d recommend, ‘Clear Spot‘ is the one. Buy it right now, you’ll get ‘The Spotlight Kid’ on the same CD.

And to get right down to it, there’s something about ‘Trout Mask Replica’ that eludes me. I understand that he taught the band how to play that way, and that, as free-form as it sounds, it’s all been mapped out, a strange and arcane map for sure, but a map just the same. But I haven’t, up to now, ever ‘got it’. There’s also the nagging feeling that advocates of the record are just so far up their own arse and using it as a tool to berate the intelligence of those baffled by TMR and assert their own evident superiority. We’ll see how I get along listening to it this time around.

But for now, here’s the Captain with the late period Magic Band (Richard Snyder and Moris Tepper on guitars) on a French TV show in 1980. Listen to it rumble. Love those glass and steel fingers. ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’.


Ballads Of A Thin Man – Bob Dylan Live

I’d never seen Bob Dylan in concert, but that changed last weekend. He had been here a few weeks previously to play our enormo-dome, but since every report I’d read about the place includes some mention of the execrable sound quality (yes, Vector Arena management, I’m talking about your hall), we didn’t want to lose our Bob virginity, so to speak, at a terrible venue.

Joy was unconfined when the hardest working man in show business (now that James has gone) booked two additional dates at our fine 2000-seat Civic Theatre.. on Sunday, twenty rows back, nestled in to one side of the mixing desk, we settled in to enjoy the show.

I’d read about how there’s not much communication going on on stage and how Bob plays the songs the way he wants to, not the way you want him to. Let me take a pot shot those two particular points of view right here..

One: Bob’s current band knows what it is doing, and so does Bob. He might throw an extra bar into a blues now and again but, hey, it’s the blues. I’m reminded at this juncture of a story of Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins, delivering a withering stare at the bunch of white boys backing him who dared to suggest a twelve bar blues should be exactly that, and reminding them, fearsomely, that “Lightnin’ change when Lightnin’ want to”. Bob does that too. And the band changed with him.

Two: They’re Bob’s songs. He’s 66. He knows them inside out and he can play them however he likes. If you want some kind of Greatest Hits show, go watch the Chili Peppers or the Stones or someone. Or better still, stay at home out of our way and put a CD on for that perfect ‘pipe and slippers’ evening you so obviously crave.. half the fun of seeing a great artist like Bob is the surprise of a reworked song.

A couple of jaw-dropping moments on Sunday had me grinning like an village idiot: ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ played with a ‘Cindy Incidentally’ styled swagger, and the sheer surprise value of “Is this.. no.. he can’t possibly play it like this?” moments on favourites like ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Of course, ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ is the blues and always will be.. and that’s the territory Bob marks out in concert and on CD these days. A generous helping of songs from his two most recent waxings slotted right in alongside the classics, but the bar band feel persisted throughout. And a great band it is, especially the rhythm section.. fantastic drumming from George Recile, I have to say. I could be picky and wish for one of Bob’s old cohorts to be filling the lead guitar spot, but that would be doing Denny Freeman a disservice. Bob spends most of his time behind the keys and wheezes some harp every now and again, which adds to the overall sound just fine.

So what else did they play? Well, the Bob-heads out there had the set list up almost before the show finished. Here it is. ‘Summer Days’ swung like a madman.. Tony Garnier on the bull fiddle really getting into it. An honest and affecting ‘Workingman’s Blues #2’, a dramatic ‘Thin Man’ was definitely a highlight .. great great music.

Thanks, Bob.


Open Up And Bleed

I’ve been spending a happy hour or two with Paul Trynka‘s new biography of Iggy Pop – a rattling good read it is too. It fit my bill – long enough to keep me going for a while (I read fast), unpretentious, the balance between pure info and story just right. The Guardian reckoned it didn’t “capitalise on the raw drama that is intrinsic to [Iggy’s story]..” – phoo, like Anthony Keidis’ book, you mean?

Mister, if that means I have to trawl through endless tales of prodigious quantities of drugs and sex to get to the real heart of the matter, then I’ll decline the offer, thanks. Very nicely done, Paul: I hope Iggy is pleased with the end result.

There is nothing more to be said on the fall and rise (and fall and rise, encore) of Iggy pre, during and post-Stooges than lies between the pages of this book.. especially interesting are the ‘Iggy and Dave’ passages, which saw me put Mr. Osterberg’s ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’ plus Mr. Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ on heavy rotation on the ship’s stereo as I navigated the book.

Plenty of reviews out there, you don’t have to take my word for it.. plus some interesting stuff on the Trynka web site.

Check it out at Amazon (or Amazon UK)

Stooges bonus: Longtime Iggy roadie Jos Grain spent a little time writing a rider for the great man.. very funny, not to be missed, read it here.

Gratuitous YouTube post: The Stooges at their peak, Cincinnati, 1970.