Tributee: Captain Beefheart.
Personnel: John French (vocals, drums); Denny Walley, Gary Lucas (guitar); Michael Taylor (drums).
Recording information: Zodiac, Oxford, UK (06/06/2005).
This is the Magic Band that was assembled at the request of Matt Groening for the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in 2003 (with Michael Traylor replacing Robert Williams on drums while Drumbo sings). In addition to that show, they played a couple short tours in 2004 and 2005. This is one of those shows. In the liner notes, John "Drumbo" French remarks on how comfortable the band was with a couple shows under their belts, and that really comes through on this recording. This clearly isn't the set as it was played: the songs fade in and out, sometimes during the stage announcements, which makes for a slightly disjointed listen. But that minor quibble aside, the band smokes. Gary Lucas and Denny Walley's guitars are raw and slashing, Mark Boston is bedrock on bass, and John French effectively channels both the Captain's vocals and harmonica. His vocals are so good, it's almost eerie, and his harmonica playing is equally impressive. Things start in swamp blues territory with "Gimme Dat Harp Boy" and move through a handful of early Buddha-label tracks, but they end up doing tunes from every era. Beefheart's music is generally complex and pretty well scripted, but Walley and Lucas get a chance to shine as they trade solos on "When It Blows Its Stacks," one of the album highlights. Drumbo gets behind the drum kit for the instrumentals when they get into some of the trickiest material like "Hair Pie" and "Abba Zaba." "Alice in Blunderland" is another highlight, with Gary Lucas turning in a guitar solo nearly as deranged as the Winged-Eel Fingerling (Eliot Ingber) original. French really gets into a great version of "Electricity," then it's time for Lucas' solo spot: "Evening Bell," which has been a staple of his live shows for decades. The home stretch is great, concluding with an excellent "Mirror Man" replete with weird, treated vocals as on the original. It's great how this version of the Magic Band really covers all facets of Captain Beefheart's music and how they can dig into it and still make it sound fresh. Fans will love this. ~ Sean Westergaard