aka: the long-awaited, oft-mooted Magic Band gig review!
Facebook is a funny old thing, filled with the ghosts of groups and fanclubs long-dead and abandoned. Some created with good intentions, others just made with humour in mind. Like the Campaign to get Rafa Nadal a Decent-Fitting Set of Undercrackers, for example. Rachel made the Drumbo Club, on the other hand, as a sort of undirected effort to get the unsung hero behind Captain Beefheart’s music some sort of recognition after having seen the resurrected Magic Band in concert at the Leadmill back in the noughties.
Having created it, she promptly forgot all about it. Until, a few years later, we realised that the group actually had around 100 members. One of which was John “Drumbo” French himself.
And though the Drumbo Club might have little to do with it in the grand scheme of things, we’ve actually managed to go see the Magic Band four times in the last 15 months, at three very different venues in three different towns: the Irish Club in Leeds, November 2011, The Duchess in York last March and this March, and in Holmfirth October 2012. Now me, I wasn’t so much of a Beefheart fan, though obviously I’ve heard all of the albums. Safe as Milk is my personal favourite, containing as it does some of the songs most likely to be described as singalong hits (though even at this debut album stage Beefheart’s strain of the blues had veered wildly aside from the rest of popular culture). Some of the more, um, extreme material from other albums really leaves me cold – at least, it does as originally recorded.
I thought your head was going to fall off! – Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley
John French has done an excellent job in keeping the music alive though – and not just him; the rest of the modern-era Magic Band are absolutely spot-on. Bassist Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton) and guitarist Denny “Feelers Rebo” Walley are old hands at this, while Eric Klerks and Craig Bunch are fresh-faced babbies by comparison – but the enthusiasm and sheer skill each and every one of them displays onstage is beyond debate. As Rachel has been saying: if only they could get a slot on Later – they’d blow everybody else off the stage hands down. Lumpers like the Vaccines, or whichever vitamin C-deficient gonks are allegedly cool this month, wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.
For me the sort-of epiphany came at York, first time around, halfway through When It Blows Its Stacks: suddenly Eric took the song into overdrive, and even Denny – a veteran not only of the Magic Band but the Mothers of Invention too – grinned like a loon and applauded at the end. At that point, it all made sense.
Y’know, I was doin’ a lot of funny stuff in the 60s. Matter of fact, I still do! But not so’s you’d notice… – Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston
There’s a danger of sorts that the music that these chaps made, back in the ’60s and ’70s, is being forgotten. Beefheart was never high on the popularity radar, nor on the coolometer that so many fashion-dilettantes live by, and the musicians that sweated out Trout Mask Replica never really got any thanks for it. So to see the reconstituted Magic Band applauded at last, selling out venues across Europe, with John, Mark and Denny clearly enjoying each and every moment, is something of an event in the same way that seeing PIL was last year.
And, as of this year, to judge by the latest tour through the UK and Europe, the Magic Band are very happy and very comfortable with themselves. This year they’ve introduced a fresh selection of material (which, yes, you can say is The Best Batch Yet) – dropping classics like Electricity might be risky, but when you replace it with the likes of Doctor Dark, My Human Gets Me Blues and Hair Pie Bake 1, all of which got aired in York, and thus cause the entire audience to roar in appreciation, you can say it’s a damn good move.
Here’s some links if you want to see what we were seeing.