Sunday, November 12, 2006

Captain, my Captain

Captain Beefheart is attacking my mind. i'm sort of just now having a revelation that a lot of Beefheart fans have probably had long ago, which is that this man is a lot more versatile and profound an artist than even his considerable reputation would have you believe.

basically, having really only listened in-depth to "Trout Mask Replica," i sort of took him as a one-trick pony. don't get me wrong, the trick he advances on that album is an awesome one, but i guess it just seemed limited or hermetic to me. i had no idea that he could take that concept and update it with the times, the way you hear on "Doc at the Radar Station" and "Shiny Beast."

and his band on "Doc" is just gross, just at a totally sick level. it's like some sort of supersonic postpunk version of "Trout Mask"--whereas on "Trout" it's like these monologues over faint backing tracks, on "Doc," you can really hear everything that's going on. the instrumental interplay is just incredible; i get completely mesmerized by how independent the guitars and bass are from one another. and the drumming, by Richard Arthur Williams, is scarily proficient--so tight yet so fragmented and peculiar.

i just didn't realize how important it was to check out this guy's entire oeuvre. "Trout Mask" in no way suffices. listen to the gorgeous, stately, gemlike instrumental "A Carrot Is As Close As a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" off "Doc" and you'll see what i mean. a truly monstrous talent. the vocals and lyrics are what you notice first, but first and foremost this guy was a composer and he had whittled his concept to a deadly point by the end of his recording career. it's amazing to see how his musical voice remained so strong even with so much personnel change.

[forgot to add that i'd recommend this new DVD, "Captain Beefheart: Under Review," to any Van Vliet fan. it's got a lot of tedious windbag British critics rattling on, but the interviews w/ Magic Band members are fascinating. the coolest parts are where Drumbo (John French) guides you through the construction of some of the drum parts. amazing to find out how much influence Van Vliet had over what he played; he shows how he brought in an original part and was asked to strip away certain layers to arrive at the final structure. Beefheart himself apparently deserves a lot of credit for the inimitable Drumbo style.]

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