The Magic Band rehearsed for months to perfect their parts for the Trout Mask Replica album but they only once performed any of the album live together as a band. And that was on 31st March 1969 at the Aquarius Theater as part of a fund-raiser for the L.A. Free Clinic. The Mothers were also on the bill.
The band had recorded the Trout Mask album at Whitney Studios earlier in the month so were well rehearsed and ready to go.
The Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles became the Hullabaloo Club in 1965 and was given a psychedelic makeover in 1968 to became the Aquarius Theater.
Bill Harkleroad wrote about the show in his Lunar Notes book:
In fact, in the beginning I can only remember doing one gig! Being our first live gig, it scared the piss out of me. I can’t remember if it was before Trout Mask or right after, but I think it was Jethro Tull’s first gig in L.A. There were eight bands and we were second on the bill, the Mothers were headlining. I’ll never forget Art Tripp with his green moustache and a pair of woman’s underwear on his head with his ponytails poking out of the leg holes. The Mothers were almost aggressively hilarious. Most of the guys in that band seemed to be having fun and looked like they were in control, but in an outrageous sense. Of course, Frank was definitely the most controlled of all of them.
It was a big gig, but not a big crowd. I think there might have been a thousand people there. We were playing the Trout Mask tunes so it was out there. For those early gigs it was “red light”, “red light”, “red light” and then the word “and”, then we’d play. The “and” fell on the beat of 4. It was there because there was not to be any counting between numbers – none of the usual “1, 2, 3, 4”. Amazingly those things were rehearsed so much that they were pretty consistent! We all played at the same nervous level and the tempos were pretty up there.
That’s really the only gig that we played until we got invited to go to Europe in October 1969 to play the Amougies Festival in Belgium.
John French spoke about the show at his UK Drum Clinic in 1996 in reply to a question “Did you play any gigs in 1969 John?”:
We did one. I wish there had been a film. It was right after we’d done Trout Mask and it was a benefit involving a revolving stage; Buddy Miles opened, we came out and then I think Frank Zappa. We played all stuff from Trout Mask, and the Mascara Snake was there playing bass clarinet – the only time he played that on stage and it was a pretty amazing concert to watch – especially following Buddy Miles! We came out for the first ten minutes with a broom and I swept the stage. We did a few of the really tough pieces and the band was tight – amazing.
John elaborated on this in his book Through The Eyes Of Magic:
Buddy Miles was on the bill before us as I recall. This place had a revolving stage, so we were able to set up while Miles was on. We were also able to start playing before we actually appeared, so that it was a nice illusion. Rather than these dumb clubs where you have to walk out on stage in full view with no curtain and check your sound for five minutes. It’s very anti-climactic and takes all the wind out of your sails to have to do this.
However, rather than making a grand entrance, Don handed me a broom. “I want you to go sweep the stage” he said “You mean, as a theatrical thing… to catch people off-guard?” “That’s right!”
So it was that the first five minutes of our only show consisted of me sweeping the stage of the well-known Aquarius Theater.
The main flaw to the evening for me was the fact that we played the “simplest” material to accommodate Don’s (and Victor’s) non-rehearsed un-preparedness. Big Joan was our big opener – those repeating phrases with all the horn breaks. It went on for what seemed like forever. However, Hair Pie was a different story, as we just played it down and it showed how tight the group was.
Don may have spat some lyrics out on My Human Gets Me Blues. I have no idea how he did, as I was busy playing and we all just stuck to the arrangement.
There was no way to really focus on Don’s vocal with all the distraction we had to face just by playing the music and keeping the arrangement straight. the band played flawlessly.
The band played a consistent and recognizable framework in which Don allowed himself and Victor musical liberties he refused to offer anyone else. It was the consistency of the band that made the performances work and allowed the two cousins the freedom to be spontaneous.
The evening was also significant in that Art Tripp was on drums for the Mothers and this was his first exposure to the Magic Band. In John French’s book he describe’s how he felt:
I remember that exactly and that’s the first time I ever heard the Magic Band, and Beefheart, and I went and sat in the audience and I though “Jesus Christ, this is too much!” … I just couldn’t believe it. I immediately flipped for it. I remember coming backstage and met, or re-met everybody and thought, the way they were dressed and everything, “Shit, this is it!” It was absolutely amazing! After all the stuff that I had done, and then to hear something like that I thought “Fuck an ‘A’. This is something else.” That’s when i got to know everybody and I think Don had told me to come up to the house sometime.