Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Magic Band @ Thekla, Bristol. Sunday 4th December

When rock visionary Captain Beefheart passed away in December 2010, he hadn’t performed live in almost thirty years. Tonight his desert-wracked boots are filled by long suffering sticksman and arranger John ‘Drumbo’ French, whose imitation of his famously cruel master’s strangulated holler may well be a form of exorcism. The affable French is joined by Magic Band veterans Rockette Morton (bass) and Feelers Reebo (slide guitar), as well as prosaically named newbies Eric Klerks (guitar) and Craig Bunch (drums).

The first half is dominated by frazzled good-times boogie, as the band warm up with a selection of the Captain’s most accessible work, although the duelling slide licks on ‘When It Blows Its Stacks’ hint at the mind altering intensity to come. French switches to drums midway through ‘Kandy Korn’ - leading into a series of tricky instrumentals that show off the musicians’ enviable chops.

It’s a turning point. When French returns to the mic the band are in full flight, and frenzied crossroads hoedown ‘The Floppy Boot Stomp’ kicks off a string of classics - ‘Moonlight on Vermont’, ‘Electricity’, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ – that are among the greatest in rock’s canon. Sounding like a titanic tag team battle in which Elmore James and Howling Wolf wrestle Igor Stravinsky and Ornette Coleman for control of the universe, The Magic Band take us to rhythmic and melodic places that few others have dared to dream of.

This review originally appeared in Venue magazine.