Review: Captain Beefheart Symposium

The latest in the successful After 8 Series of weekend events at the Rodewald Suite at the Philharmonic Hall showcased the talents of guitarist extraordinaire (no, really) and composer Gary Lucas.

The events were rather cringeingly billed as ‘Captain Beefheart Symposiums’, Lucas having played with the late great Don for five years in the 70s & 80s.

Beefheart has long had a large and loyal following in the Merseyside area and the two nights at the Phil were long ago sold out. Lucas claims on his facebook page that they could have sold out five nights and after Friday night’s enthusiastic reception I don’t doubt it.

His mission on the current European tour is to bring Beefheart’s oevre to the attention of a wider audience and while most attendees could be accurately described as followers,any newcomers would surely have been mightily impressed.

Lucas starts with 30 minute video slideshow with rare and classic Beefheart performances guiding us through the songs and players then explains how the songs materialized often in bizarre circumstances. Don Van Vliet (Beefheart’s real name) was a notoriously idiosyncratic leader encouraging and sometimes bullying his long-suffering band members into producing a unique blend of blues, free jazz and erm…weirdness, culminating in some classic albums the like of which sound as fresh today as they did 40 years ago.

Example: Lucas tells how Van Vliet would defy conventional composing techniques to produce dissonant rythmic structures that ultimately work like no other music before or since. So he throws an ashtray against a wall, records the sound of the glass smashing and then instructs his drummer to copy the rhythmic pattern note by note. Ditto similar processes for all band members, reaching an apex in what is generally regarded as his masterpiece ‘Trout Mask Replica’.

Lucas intersperses his Beefheart anecdotes and archives with studio outtakes and a handful of of his own versions of Don’s classics, encoring with one of his own compositions.

As a recent Donvert myself I came away mightily impressed with Lucas’s skills both as a musician and storyteller and hope his mission to bring Beefheart, who died last year, to a wider audience gains currency. I have an idea that this weekend’s symposia (I’m not cringeing now) will have gone some way to achieving this.

Steve Towie


Captain Beefheart Symposium,
Rodewald Suite, Philharmonic Hall

  • yelly

    I’m really gutted I missed this…long live the Captain’s music.