Spanning 15 years of Captain Beefheart’s creativity in concert with his various Magic Bands, Magneticism II looks at the appeal of Don Van Vliet in the live arena. Released on single CD and single vinyl, this compilation captures some truly memorable live takes on some of the enigmatic legend’s best work.
Vinyl LP £18.49 VIPERLP135
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CD £9.49 VIPERCD135
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I used to like Captain Beefheart. I still do, but I used to, too. This new live compilation charting the various Magic Bands and their live performances from 1966-81 is a story of progression. You can hear the peaks and troughs, the oscillation between conscious conventionality and instinctive avant-garde, and the virtuouso performances of each member of the live band.
The compilation begins with a three song sucker-punch of classic blues from a pre-'Safe As Milk' era. There's the mean strut of the blues standard 'Evil (Is Going On)' and the harmonica-led shuffle of 'Old Folks Boogie'. There's no concrete indication of the Beefheart that was to appear on 'Trout Mask Replica' and 'Lick My Decals Off, Baby' but there's perhaps a trace of the scorched Delta sound that was to be refigured and kicked into shape a few years later.
It's interesting to hear the descent into dissonance and darkness. 'Dali's Car' is a cacophonous, joyous interlude that must have caused the same reaction in the audience as the 'Carson City Poem' read out afterwards. You can hear Beefheart's voice grow gruffer and more angry as the crowd starts to get restless but he carries on reading. One thing that's obvious is the scary precision of the live band that develops from '66 to '81. Beefheart had a dictatorial style of band management and would make the members practice for over 14 hours a day.
I don't think Beefheart is given enough credit for his capability as a vocalist. This compilation gives a good account of his five octave (yeah, five) vocal range, from that deep bluesman growl, to a sardonic nasal burr, to the surreal snarl that sounds like he's squeezing his vocal cords into submission. It's all so identifiable as Don Van Vliet. On 'China Pig' he grunts and snuffles like a pig. He can even whistle like a champ as evidenced by 'Harry Irene'. Whereas David Bowie and Prince are often seen as the great chameleons of music, I would argue Don was more of a shape-shifter. Beefheart inhabited so many different personas, voices, eras. It was never demonstrated through aid of a costume but through lyric and sound.
Beefheart can make you feel scared and uneasy. He sounds like I imagine the devil sounds. 'Magneticism II' is a reliquary of Beefheart's most evil music.
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