Captain Beefheart – Under
Picture: C Sound: B Extras: B
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band are an all but
forgotten part of pop music history. People may know the name but few can
name any songs. Beefheart never had a hit single and their most famous
album, Trout Mask Replica, is for most a nearly unlistenable album full
of experimental noise. Upon hearing it very few venture further to hear
Captain Beefheart – Under Review, attempts to trace their
development and history. Unlike VH1’s
Behind the Music series, which focused on the interpersonal relationships (and
usually the downfall), of the bands covered, Under Review is more of an
appreciation and critique of the music presented in an historical context. Through interviews with many members of the
Magic Band (the cast changed dramatically over the course of their twenty year
history), as well as record producers and others the ups and downs of their
career and, more importantly, a discussion of the actual music are presented.
The band was born in the early 60’s, the brainchild of Don Van Vliet,
an artist/sculptor who would become known as Captain Beefheart. Like many musicians of the time the Blues
fascinated Beefheart. Their first single was a searing version of Bo
Diddley’s Diddy Wah Diddy. While it was
a pretty straightforward cover some elements of the song established what would
become the Beefheart sound. Van Vliet’s voice, a loud gravelly growl,
overtly inspired by Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, gave the song a gravity and sense of
menace not heard in the original.
Through a friendship with Frank Zappa Beefheart eventually was able to
make the contacts needed to record a full-length album. Safe As Milk
(seen in High Fidelity as the album Jack Black wouldn’t sell to an
undeserving customer) was released in 1967. Though it is in many ways a
straight-ahead Blues/Rock album, hints of the bands later experimentation
That experimentation reached its height with Trout Mask Replica
in 1969. Though it regularly appears on “top album of all time” lists
this is a difficult album to listen to.
It is unflinching in its refusal to give the listener anything readily
identifiable to hang on to. It works as a testament to creativity,
artistic vision and an uncompromising approach to one’s art. It doesn’t
work so well as an album you just want to put on and listen to very often.
Beefheart continued to release albums until 1982 when the band
retired. Van Vliet still paints and sculpts but has retired from the
music business entirely. Other members of the Magic Band have appeared in
various other musical endeavors.
The DVD contains several extras, including a profile of Van Vliet and
a fairly comprehensive trivia quiz.
- Wayne Wise
Wise is a fan of Captain Beefheart but really didn’t know very much about the
band’s history. He recommends the DVD as informative, entertaining, and
well put-together, a must for fans and a great introduction for the curious.
He still has a tough time listening to Trout Mask Replica.