Album review: CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND – Live From Paris 1977

Captain Beefheart - Live From Paris 1977

Gonzo [Release date 28.10.14]

‘Live From Paris 1977’ replicates the format of the Gonzo label’s previous ‘Live in Detroit’ release, with similar art work and a trebley bootleg quality audio that is just about good enough to draw you into an exuberant Beefheart performance.

1977 was a curious period for the fans, if not for Beefheart himself, who set about exploring some of his old back catalogue with a completely new Magic Band, in lieu of a critically panned brace of commercial albums.

The meeting of old and new just about works, though at times Beefheart does sound little bit as if he’s going through the motions. That said, when he hits his stride on several word plays and guttural growls, he does evoke his former self.

The stop-start rhythms of ‘Suction Prints’ set the standard for a tight band, while the following ‘Low Yo Yo Stuff’ is a highlight, matched by ‘Electricity’ and the concluding ‘Big Eye Beans From Venus’.

The Magic Band features Denny Walley and Jeff Morris Tepper on guitars, both of whom cut ‘Shiny Beast’, the title track of which is given a celebratory Van Vliet vocal treatment here.

Beefheart probably knew he was on to a good thing when the cacophonous ‘I Wanna Find A Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go’, is given a warm reception. He also rises to the occasion on ‘Abba Zabba’, before disowning the impenetrable ‘Dali’s Car’. He struggles on the opening poetry of ‘The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back’, but is positively exuberant on the similarly spoken-word ‘Golden Birdies’ which closes disc 1.

Disc 2 moves from the enveloping ‘Electricity’, to the bluesy ‘China Pig’ and the angular funk of ‘Sun Zoom Spark’, on which his vocal is partially drowned some vibrant percussion.

‘Live From Paris’ is a judicious dip into his back catalogue. The Captain aims to strike career equilibrium and please long time fans. The fractured newer material like ‘Floppy Boot Stomp’ is neatly juxtaposed by a thrashed out version of ‘Moonlight On Vermont’, full of Robert Arthur Williams’s cymbal crashes and Jeff Morris Tepper’s trebley guitar.

It all just about hangs together as well as any Beefheart gig is ever likely to do. The grizzly audio quality does begin to wear thin by the time of the syncopated ‘Pachuco Cadaver’, but Beefheart does sound as if he’s having a good time, even if the French crowd occasionally seem a trifle bemused.

They readily warm to a ‘personage’ who thinks nothing of indulging in a primal performance of ‘The Blimp’. This earns him what sounds like either a hesitant encore or some dead-time. And he wraps things up with a rasping ‘Big Eyed Beans from Venus’, which earns him a huge reception.

Needless to say, the double ‘Live From Paris 1977’ is for compleatists only, but if nothing else, it finds a frequently troubled performer at one with himself and his circumstances. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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