Hats off! The spirit Don Van Vliet has re-entered the building. Posthumous album due in July, followed by a full US tour in August.
By Herbert Cohen, Jr.
MOJAVE, CALIF.: It’s like déjà vu all over again! The legendary Captain Beefheart, who passed away in 2010, and whose last foray into the music industry was in 1982, apparently recorded an album with his Magic Band prior to his death – totally out of the public eye, and apparently not seeing the light of day until now. And there’s to be a Magic Band reunion tour in order to belatedly bring this music to the stage.
The tour will have its official unveiling at Bonnaroo in June, and then get
in full gear starting early August and running into mid September. The opening
act is to be P.J. Harvey & John Parish and Parish will also be pulling
double-duty on guitar in the Magic Band due to Gary Lucas’ prior commitments
with his own Gods And Monsters. The other players include John
“Drumbo” French and Michael Traylor on drums, Rockette Morton on
bass, and Denny Waller on guitar, plus an as-yet-unnamed keyboard player.
One very special guest: Tom Waits, who contributes
“backing vocals” (term used loosely) on the tunes “Taiwan in
Tupperware” and “Ming the Merciless’ Chimpanzee.”
The eponymous album is described as “a mixture of folk, rock and
extemporaneous da-da boogie, along with at least one avant-garde Tex-Mex
medley, and a freewheeling cover of Robert Johnson’s country-blues classic
“Me and the Devil Blues.” Sessions were produced by Ry Cooder and featured the Magic Band augmented by some of the same players who appear on
Cooder’s acclaimed 2007 album My Name is Buddy (e.g. Jim Keltner, Mike
Elizondo, Cooder’s son Joachim and, on the aforementioned Tex-Mex number,
accordionist Flaco Jimenez). Captain Beefheart will be released by Nonesuch (also Cooder’s current label) on July 5 in the UK and July 6 in the US.
Beefheart (a/k/a Don Van Vliet), in typically left-field manner, didn’t pursue the project via the usual channels (his official MySpace page, Pitchfork.com, etc.) but via a series of private conversations at the 2009 Annual Van Vliet Family picnic, located at a state park near his home in Mojave, Calif. The estate of longtime Beefheart manager Herb Cohen this week in an official statement noted, “With Mr. Cohen’s longtime friend Don’s unreleased music now seeing release, the musical world will finally get a firsthand taste of the quality rock ‘n’ roll that it has been sorely missing for the past quarter-century.” (Note: Cohen recently passed away, sadly.)
At the time, the only clues that Beefheart was indeed ready to return to recording (and possibly touring) was at the picnic during a toast, when the notoriously curmudgeonly performer snorted, ripped what appeared to be a lyric sheet in half, and said, “‘The higher you go, the rarer the vegetation.’ Salvador Dali said that, although I don’t know where he got it. I think I’ve read it in a classic of one sort or another. Or older classic. What do you think about
that? Am I right or wrong? Although there really is no right or wrong. The truth has no patterns.”
Now we know that Beefheart subsequently filmed a video in which he discussed the record, the
tour and his artistry in general. Just this morning, it was posted in low-key fashion to YouTube –
you can view it HERE – although in typical Beefheart fashion, his comments are
maddeningly elliptical. He’s still got a bit of the prankster to him too: the
interview is interspersed with random archival clips and earlier news reports,
so you have to pay very careful attention to the entire video.
For those not in the know of truth and its patterns, Beefheart, born in 1941
in Glendale, Calif., emerged in the early ‘60s as a
protégé of Frank Zappa. His 1969 album Trout Mask Replica regularly figures on Top 100 Albums of All Time lists, and he also exerted a
huge influence among the punk and new wave bands of the late ‘70s and early
‘80s, who embraced his final trifecta of albums-1978’s Shiny Beast,
1980’s Doc at the Radar Station and 1982’s Ice Cream for Crow as benchmarks of DIY bloody-minded artistic inventiveness.
According to the Wikipedia Beefheart entry, “Since the end of his musical career around 1982, Van Vliet has made few public appearances, preferring a quiet life in his
California home where he has concentrated on a career in painting. His interest
in art dates back to a childhood talent for sculpting and his work-employing
what has been surmised as a ‘neo-primitive abstract-expressionist aesthetic,’
has received international recognition. Several of Van Vliet’s former band
members recently reformed as a group, and toured as The Magic Band from 2003 to
Fun fact: in recent years, P.J. Harvey and Beefheart somehow struck
up a correspondence and established a kind of confidante-mentor relationship.
There’s no official word from either artist’s camp whether or not this had
anything to do with the good Captain’s re-emergence, but certainly Harvey’s encouragement
and support didn’t hurt. Having her and Parish on the tour, then, is a logical
and laudable strategy. Kindred spirits, all.
Meanwhile, Precision Made, a newly-formed imprint of Handmade, which itself
is an imprint of Rhino Records, will be issuing a limited-to-5000-copies
Beefheart box set, provisionally titled Flight of the Blimp.
The five-disc archival collection will contain rarities, outtakes, and live material
culled from the artist’s Straight/Reprise/Warner Brothers years and reportedly
does not overlap with the Revenant label’s 1999 Grow Fins rarities
box. It’s set for a late July or early August release, full details tba.
Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band 2017 Tour Dates:
06-9 Manchester TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival,
08-06 George, WA – The Gorge (Sasquatch! Festival)
08-07 Vancouver, British Columbia – Orpheum
08-08 Vancouver, British Columbia – Orpheum
08-10 Portland, OR – Keller Auditorium
08-12 Berkeley, CA – Greek Theatre
08-15 Los Angeles, CA – The Greek Theatre
08-16 Los Angeles, CA – The Greek Theatre
08-17 Los Angeles, CA – The Greek Theatre
08-18 Los Angeles, CA – The Greek Theatre
08-19 Phoenix, AZ – Dodge Theatre
08-22 Denver, CO – Red Rocks
08-23 Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theater
08-24 St. Louis, MO – Fabulous Fox Theater
08-26 Minneapolis, MN – Orpheum Theater
08-27 Minneapolis, MN – Orpheum Theater
08-29 Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theater
08-30 Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theater
08-31 Chicago, IL – Auditorium Theater
09-08 Milwaukee, WI – Eagles Ballroom
09-09 Indianapolis, IN – Murat Theatre
09-10 Columbus, OH – Ohio Theatre
09-12 Cincinnati, OH – Music Hall
09-13 Louisville, KY – Palace Theatre
09-14 Cleveland, OH – Playhouse Square Center State Theatre
09-16 Toronto, Ontario – Molson Amphitheatre
09-19 Providence, RI – Performing Arts Center
09-20 Boston, MA – Opera House
09-21 Boston, MA – Opera House
09-24 New York, NY – Keyspan Park
09-27 Columbia, MO – Merriweather Post Pavilion
09-28 Atlantic City, NJ – House of Blue
[Photo Credit: A.P. Rilfül/RETNA Images]