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the MAGIC BAND reunion

THIS is BAND #4 live - go to the main page


friday 23 january 2004 LONDON england ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
attendance: 2900 (sold out)

continued from previous reviews !

the magic band - ad live performance 230104 royal festival hall, london, england
advertisement in a music magazine

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LIVE MUSIC REVIEW: THE MAGIC BAND - ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON, ENGLAND
steve griff - e-zine - 240104
note: edited and sometimes corrected version

Concert Date: Friday, 23rd January 2004. Review Date: Saturday, 24th January 2004.

One of the great tragedies of modern music occurred in 1982 when Don van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart put his clarinet back into his cupboard and retired from the music business. Ever since a void has been open in the musical landscape that hasn't been filled.

However, over the last few years, partly because of the increasing re-popularity of Beefheart's music, some ex-Magic Band members had ideas of reforming the band in one form or another. With the help of The Simpsons creator and Captain Beefheart / Frank Zappa fanatic Matt Groening, they did just that.

Now fast forward a bit, and after three successful shows last year, The Magic Band is on tour again for two shows. The Magic Band, a somewhat ramshackle group comprising of various members of past Magic Bands, consists of John French as vocalist and bit part drummer, Rockette Morton on bass, Gary Lucas and Denny Walley on guitars and Michael Traylor on drums.

Opening with The Fall, you figure out right away from their quirky riffs and idiosyncratic singing of leader Mark Smith that they owe a large amount of debt to Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band in terms of sound structure. [....] After The Fall finish their set, it's time for the real stars to get on stage. After a quick nip out for a drink and a quick look at the merchandise table I'm back in the auditorium ready for some unique Beefheart blues.

Opening the show from 'where it all began', as John French appropriately announces it, the band rips into 'Diddy Wah Diddy'. French roars into the familiar Beefheart growl. This may sound blasphemous, but fair play to the crooner - he sounds exactly like Don! The growl and anger in French's voice sound just like Beefheart in his prime, back in the days when Don would nearly choke up his spine singing his unique free jazz blues numbers.

You could see the band was clearly enjoying itself. Rockette Morton was slapping his bass while grooving across the stage; John French was singing with authority, using his body language in a manner that looked as if he was trying to flirt with the crowd.

The set carried on crammed pack with crowd pleasers, including 'The Smithsonian Institute Blues', 'Circumstances' and 'Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man'. The instrumental tracks that were played next were remarkably well played. 'Alice In Blunderland' and 'Hair Pie' were almost played with ease, just like an instrumental version of 'Abba Zaba'. It showed that for a group that had played so little gigs over such a long period of time they were musically very tight.

A third way through the gig and already quite a large crowd had made their way to the front of the stage to dance. The primal movement on display could only be described as an inhuman cross between The Funky Chicken, The Bus Stop and The Humpty Dance. What filled me with somewhat delight was the varied age-group dancing to Beefheart. Sixteen, thirty or even sixty, you could feel comfortable making a fool of yourself up at the front with your unique dance moves. But hey, you're among friends and fellow freaks. There was also a fair share of women dancing too - something the good Captain always wanted his music to be attracted to.

Probably the most rewarding moment of the set for one of the members of the band fell on Gary Lucas to attempt to play the fiendishly difficult 'Evening Bell' live. This instrumental, off Beefheart's last album 'Ice Cream For Crow' is a mish-mash of guitar twanging and intense fretboard freak out. I was open mouthed with amazement just from the audacity of Gary playing it. He just about pulled it off even with the chore of tuning the strings while in mid song.

It was appropriate half way through the show for John French to thank 'the guy who used to stand here'. This prompted the loudest applause of the night and capped the feeling of gratitude that the audience and band members felt towards Don. From hearing 'Electricity', I genuinely had a tear in my eye. An almost perfect rendition of one of Beefheart's most loved songs, this was the number that got most applause and people dancing around the Royal Festival Hall.

The boys looked at ease with the songs they were playing. 'The Floppy Boot Stomp' was a killer, wit Drumbo rapping and growling the lyrics while stamping his foot onto the floor with authority. Another highlight of the set for me was 'Mirror Man', an unexpected piece from a somewhat forgotten album (to me anyhow) of the same name. With French howling out 'mirror you mirror me' over and over it was a sight to behold.

Ripping into 'Sun Zoom Spark', the band was on fire 'from the bottom, to the top'! It was great to hear 'Grow Fins' too, with French screaming everyone 'to leave those land-lubbing women alone'. 'Click Clack' thunders through the hall, like the 12.25 from Santa Fe. One of the great live numbers back when the Captain was playing live, the song still retains its authority and dominance as it did long ago.

Deciding on not to do an encore on the ground that it wastes time, the show closes with two epics that are 'Moonlight On Vermont' and 'Big Eyed Beans From Venus'. When the show finished, I emerged from the Royal Festival Hall so happy that I looked as if I had been Chelsea Smiled.

Overall, the material off 'The Spotlight Kid' and 'Clear Spot' worked best for the set. Not too difficult to pull off, and not too difficult on the mind of the audience to remember how the songs go. For me, as a self-confessed Beefheart fanatic, it was a rewarding experience that I will never forget. Last night's performance at The Royal Festival Hall reminded me why I love the music so much. It was a delight to see the music being performed by people who love the music just as much as me and the other audience members do.

If the Magic Band takes the set on the road and play more shows in June (Glastonbury beckons?), they can only do good and change the minds of people who think that without Don any Magic Band reunion is just a poor tribute band (- and maybe even convert some Captain Beefheart virgins along the way). It's about time that the songs of Captain Beefheart are brought back to life for the wider audience. With The Magic Band, we have a group of musicians who know how to do just that. These songs deserve a lot more attention than unfortunately the ignorance of the Captain has treated them since his unpredicted retirement.

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PRESS REVIEWS

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IT'S MAGIC, WITH JUST A HINT OF BEEF

EVENING STANDARD 260104 england
by pete clark
note: edited version

[the first part, a review of the support act 'the fall' has been skipped - t.t.]

Much more huggable in every way is The Magic Band, erstwhile purveyors of the soundtrack to Captain Beefheart's cockeyed blues dreams, and now in the rather peculiar position of being a tribute band to their former selves.

When they were much younger men, the Captain allegedly locked them in a small room to practise until perfect, hour after hour, day upon day, feeding them only handfuls of soya beans. Since that benevolent despot retired to the desert to paint, his former pupils have kept up with their lessons admirably, but have allowed the dietary side of life to get quite out of control. The last time I saw Mark 'Rockette Morton' Boston on stage - around 1973, admittedly - he looked nearly as sleek as his nickname. Now he looks like a jolly escapee from The Beverly Hillbillies who has eaten all the hominy grits.

The focal point of the band now is John 'Drumbo' French, the long-standing drummer who is blessed with a near facsimile of Beefheart's growl. With a stand-in drummer, The Magic Band gives us the Captain's greatest hits.

French nods to his ex-boss with the choice of fedora and trench coat, and his mouth-organ playing is suitably waspish, and if one's eyes were shut during such zingers as 'Sun Zoom Spark' or the unbearably affecting 'Grow Fins', then it was almost possible to believe in real magic.

No matter, memories don't come much better than this. From the early strains of 'Mirror Man', through the classic rumble of 'When It Blows Its Stacks', to the essential desert-island disc that is 'Big Eyed Beans From Venus', the Magic Band led us a merry dance. It's just that missing edge that niggles. I wonder how they would be with Mark E. Smith (front man of 'the fall' - t.t.) up front?

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THE INDEPENDENT 280104 england
by tim cumming
note: edited version

[the first part, a review of the support act 'the fall' has been skipped - t.t.]

The Magic Band opens the second half of the bill with the rhythm & blues nostalgia of 'Diddy Wah Diddy' before segueing into an entirely different universe with 'The Smithsonian Institute Blues' from the era of 'Lick My Decals Off, Baby'. The drummer John 'Drumbo' French is the band's wild-eyed front man, in white hat and trench coat, and thankfully his adoption of Captain Beefheart's mantle is a convincing one.

Drumbo and The Magic Band fill this music to the brim, and for the generations who have only ever heard the records - the Captain himself abandoned ship more than twenty years ago - it is a thrillingly visceral experience to hear the likes of 'Click Clack' and 'Sun Zoom Spark' in the flesh.

The Magic Band are crack players; what elevates them high above the rank of tribute band is their shared history in the making of this extraordinary music. Beefheart may have been the dominating force and composer, but it was The Magic Band that turned his directives into music that could be played. All this concert lacks is the unpredictable electricity of the Captain's presence. Like Smith (the guy from 'the fall' - t.t.), Beefheart would probably have been more interested in testing than fulfilling audience expectations.

But fulfilled they are. Drumbo's exuberant vocal performances frame the intense instrumental heart of the set, which draws on [the album] 'Trout Mask Replica' and the likes of 'Abba Zaba' and 'Alice In Blunderland'. They are more sound-sculptures than songs, their skewed dynamics reinvigorated by the physicality and zest of the musicianship. The Magic Band may once have been half-starved freaks living on mung beans, but a lifetime later they are seriously heavy dudes - less old farts at play; more a classic band playing at the top of their game.

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LATER REMARK

the 2005 ceedee 21st century mirror men, a selection of live recordings, contains two songs from this concert: 'the floppy boot stomp' and 'the smithsonian institute blues (or the big dig)'.
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captain beefheart - 'the magic band' reunion - announcement uk gigs january 2004

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