CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: I'M GOING TO DO WHAT I WANNA DO: LIVE AT MY FATHER'S PLACE (1978; 2000)
1) Tropical Hot Dog Night; 2) Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man; 3) Owed T'Alex; 4) Dropout Boogie; 5) Harry Irene; 6) Abba Zaba; 7) Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles; 8) Old Fart At Play; 9) Well; 10) Ice Rose; 11) Moonlight On Vermont; 12) The Floppy Boot Stomp; 13) You Know You're A Man; 14) Bat Chain Puller; 15) Apes-Ma; 16) When I See Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy; 17) Veteran's Day Poppy; 18) Safe As Milk; 19) Suction Prints.
Well, I guess it's a free world after all, one in which, if a man says he wants to live at his father's place, nobody should have the right to prevent him from doing what he wants to do, regardless of currently established social conventions and free from psychologically traumatic social pressure. Besides, Captain Beefheart does look like somebody who wouldn't mind living at his father's place, right? In fact, in a certain figurative sense, this is precisely what he'd be doing from 1982 and right up to his own death in 2010 — retired to his father's place to plant cabbages, fish for trout (let alone the mask replicae), and live in his own world, impenetrable to outsiders, so...
...oh, hang on. This is not «[lɪv] at my father's place», this is «[lʌɪv] at ʽMy Father's Placeʼ», a music venue in Roslyn, New York, where The Magic Band performed a full set on November 18, 1978 — with the entire show, for once, professionally recorded and mixed on a two-track tape, making this, at the moment, probably the only representative live Beefheart album that you can hear in more-than-decent sound quality; kudos to all the kind people at Rhino Records who took good care of the tapes and released the show as a nicely packaged 2-CD edition in 2000 (the second CD just has the two brief encores, but it was better than truncating the tapes).
Upon release, the album was universally acclaimed by all those 10-15 people who actually got around to listen to it, and I am happy to join this group — because, make no mistake about it, this is truly as good as live Beefheart can get, and should by all means be considered an essential part of the catalog now, rather than just an add-on for hardcore fans. For one thing, the recording captures The Magic Band at its latter-day peak: Shiny Beast had only been released one month ago, and both the Captain and his sidemen were clearly happy about this. Although the backing band lacks Ed Marimba, who had formally been a «guest» on Shiny Beast, that does not prevent the rest of the players from tearing as professionally and with as much feeling into those grooves as they'd just done in the studio, or to loyally devote themselves to recreating the madness and frenzy of some of the highlights of the Captain's backlog.
Second, the setlist is quite auspicious. You know there's gonna be very heavy focus on Shiny Beast (indeed, they do 10 out of 12 of its tracks, even including a recitation of ʽApes-Maʼ), but that's fine, what with the songs being so great and all. Meanwhile, the other half of the show gives you a brief overview of the Captain's (almost) entire career, starting off with the early days (kick-ass, totally convincing renditions of ʽAbba Zabaʼ and ʽDropout Boogieʼ that show how easily Beefheart could still slip into that spirit of '67 ten years later), paying respectful tribute to TMR (ʽMoonlight On Vermontʼ, ʽVeteran's Day Poppyʼ, and even a blazin-fire' resurrection of the album's poetry bits such as ʽWellʼ and ʽOld Fart At Playʼ), and briefly grazing the «accessible» era of 1972 with a tearfully soulful rendition of ʽHer Eyes Are A Blue Million Milesʼ and a version of ʽNowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Manʼ that is every bit as boogie-happy, hilarious, and socially insightful as the original. Leaving aside the disastrous year of 1974, this is perhaps not as thoroughly representative a retrospective as it could have been, but then again, this is not about churning out «top 40 material», as Beefheart himself jokes at one point — it's about acknowledging the relevance of the past without de-emphasizing the present. On an amusing note, despite the endless flow of requests from the audience (there's one particularly annoying guy who keeps asking for ʽI'm Gonna Booglarize Youʼ as if his life depended on it), the good Don never takes even a single one — ultimately stating to the audience, in a sort of fatherly admonishing tone, that "I'm going to do what I wanna do" and thus giving the album its title.
And this brings me to my last and most serious point: this is a truly great record in terms of, like, «getting to know» the Captain. It's not like he's got a personal rapport with the audience or anything, but it clearly invigorates him to be delivering his art directly to the people, and he seems even more on fire here than he does in the studio. Every vocal part is enunciated, intoned, injected with blues, jazz, and absurdist feeling as if he were fighting for top prize; even when he is simply reciting his poetic lines, he seems truly possessed — at the end of ʽOld Fart At Playʼ, when one of the band's members finishes it off with TMR's original "oh man, that's so heavy", you can all but feel the amazement in the guy's voice. On ʽAbba Zabaʼ, he extends and wolfishly howls the lyrics ("Indian dre-e-e-e-am!, tiger m-o-o-o-o-n!") like a werewolf caught in the middle of the transfiguration procedure — far less restrained than in the 1967 studio, but still totally in control of the situation. And in between the songs, or, sometimes, in the middle of them, he sometimes drops hilarious one-liners that help both instruct the audience and keep it at a distance (like "cut it out, man, this is not in 4/4 time! some things are sacred!").
Normally, I would probably call a live album like this expendable, because Beefheart's discipline principles involved sticking as close to the originals as possible — the show has virtually nothing by way of improvisation, respecting the «composer's wishes» attitude, and it is cool how the new Magic Band is ready to oblige the man, loyally studying all the nuances of the old songs. But the weirdness of the material is so strong that simply hearing it come back to life again in an environment like this is inspiring — and the environment does matter greatly, with the small audience infected by the band's enthusiasm and getting into the game (much as I miss the sound of empty beer bottles crashing on the stage: that would have been the perfect finishing touch). Perhaps if we had a smattering of live recordings like that, if we had to be subjected to «Beefheads» endlessly recording their own piles of Vliet's Picks or something, that would have quickly turned into unbearable overkill. But just for this once, a representative recording, in admirable sound quality, of the Captain once again at the top of his game is a real joy, and in a way, it makes me appreciate the man much deeper than his studio output, so, unquestionably, a thumbs up and a major recommendation for everybody here, not just for the top hardcore fans. Let the Captain woo you over with his over-the-top enthusiasm, if nothing else.