Review: The Magic Band

Rockette Morton at Scala, 30th November 2011
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved
The Magic Band
(Scala, Wednesday 30 November 2011; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


The Magic Band, includes three stalwarts from Captain Beefheart's various original Magic Bands of the 60s and 70s, and impressed because of their musicianship and discipline, and the authentic, fresh sounding interpretations of the Beefheart canon. They avoided the pitfalls of being a homage or tribute band, imposing their own character on the material drawn from the breadth of Beefheart's creative output.

John 'Drumbo' French is very much the mover in forming this 5-piece, as are ATP, who have also released their CD, Back to the Front, on their own label. He joked that they'd looked for venue in a 'small town' since playing at The Garage two years ago and they then proceeded to balance the poetic - 'Steal softly through sunshine, steal softly through snow' - with the spikey, driven rhythmic engine which makes the case for Beefheart's strong affinities with Ornette Coleman.

Ornette was one of Beefheart's major influences, particularly in composition and also his approach to the various saxes that he played, and this seam has been maintained faithfully by the band - not an easy path to follow. Certainly it is not the way of least resistance, so it was gratifying to witness their commitment to the quirky, complex structures and the balancing act that it requires to succeed.

Rockette Morton excelled with a bass solo that powered along with real intent and then melded in to a phenomenal guitar and bass trio with Feelers Rebo's equally astonishing creative slide guitar and Erik Klerks' spiralling, energetic fretboard drive, leading into Blows Its Stacks. 'Drumbo' has adopted the role of singer, harmonica player, occasional drummer - he briefly took over the drum stool from the solid Craig Bunch - with respect and enough distance to avoid being a clone of the Captain. His delivery owes much to Beefheart's, but he qualifies this with both humility and unbridled enthusiasm, so comes across as a disciple, spreading the word - he defended their corner, "We are The Magic Band - we miss him, but the music lives on!"

The audience were devotees, some young and pogoing, others who would have seen the band in their original incarnations; they recognised favourites all the way through - Clear Spot, Abba Zabba, the iconic Electricity ("Eeeee-lec-triciteeee"), Bo Diddley's Diddy Wah Diddy, the chunky Nowadays a Woman Gotta Hit a Man, and a tremendous Big-Eyed Beans From Venus - weirdly otherworldly - to mention only a few. The surreal poetry and the jerky, rhythmic concoctions blended with the raw blues in an irresistible concatenation for almost two hours.

The only minor reservation was with the mix which over-amplified the bass and pedal bass drums. And thanks to the Captain Beefheart blog which has posted an autographed setlist from the night.

The Magic Band are an important link in the chain which binds together much of today's experimentation and crossover between the adventurous ends of the rock and jazz spectra - they'll be back next year and well worth seeking out.

Denny 'Feelers' Rebo: slide guitar and guitar
Mark 'Rockette' Morton Boston; electric bass
John 'Drumbo' French: vocals, harmonica, drums
Eric Klerk: guitar
Craig Bunch: drums

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