Here’s a confession; I’ve never really gotten into the music of Captain Beefheart. I think perhaps I gave him and his Magic Band a go too early in life, introduced by my friend Tony to his music in secondary school; it was likely just a bit too weird for me. Oddly, despite my music taste over the years getting a bit weirder I’ve never really revisited his music, which seems like a shame but, after hearing other people’s comments on the Magic Band’s live set, perhaps it has it’s advantages. More on that later.
The Magic Band is fairly short on the ground when it comes to original members. With Mark Morton unable to make the tour due to illness the only original member here tonight is drummer John French, who’s actually out front handling vocals, alto-sax and harmonica. He’s playing alongside eight string guitarist Eric Klerks, guitarist Max Kutner, a keyboard player and drummer Andrew Niven, who I will concede may be the best drummer I’ve seen perform in recent years – his complex patterns and fills are nothing short of spectacular, performed with unreal precision.
Technically, the band are superb – their performance is tight as they wind their way through the monstrously complicated songs, seemingly with ease. The vocals are excellent, although the hand actions are at times a little comical. The guitarists are, of course, absolutely nuts in places, although they really shine during the bluesy segments, their guitar solos matched by some of the most overkill guitar faces I’ve ever seen. The drums are magnificent, complex arrangements and jazz drumming combine creating organised chaos. After a short break to meet the audience, the band return to the stage, this time John ‘Drumbo’ French reclaiming his original position behind the kit, opening the set with a lengthy drum solo. Now, I’m the first to admit I can’t usually stand drum solos (or guitar solos, for that matter) but this truly was a technical feat, an incredible spectacle.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Magic Band, other than odd music, but I was impressed – they sounded tight, the songs were insane and overall their performance was a great spectacle, if a little self indulgent. I’d previously heard that they’re just not as good without Beefheart and maybe that’s the case – as an outsider to his work, however, they were jaw-droppingly good.