I was 17. I’d been a fan for 2 years and had all the albums, but this was to be my first (and best) concert. I travelled the 25 miles to Brighton on the back of my mates Yamaha 100 motorbike. The first thing I remember is all the weird and wonderful characters in the audience: people with plastic ray guns, someone had an inflatable robot, and one guy was dressed up like the Trout Mask sleeve, complete with shuttlecock. The support band came and went. I can’t remember anything about them. There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the hall that was very strong. The lights dimmed and some strange classical music drifted out of the speakers. A female ballet dancer comes on and dances about. She goes off, the music changes, and a belly dancer comes on and shakes about.
Next thing I remember is Beefheart swooping on stage in that embroidered cape with the clouds. He waits for the ecstatic welcome to die down, then says, “Meditation soothes the mind and body” and walks off. Then we got Rockette Morton dancing like a cross between Groucho Marx and an epileptic ballet dancer, playing an amazing free form bass solo. He really claws at the strings, producing chords and runs of unbelievable dexterity. Suddenly he stops and makes a big show of lighting a cigar. Then he leaps in the air, and resumes playing, faster and harder than ever, still puffing on the cigar. After this there were some more shenanigans with a wooden fish being scraped and called the mascara fake, mascara for god’s sake by various band members. Suddenly they’re all there on stage: Winged Eel Fingerling, black clothes, black hair and beard, black shades, I think he even had a black guitar, looking mean and brooding; Rockette Morton dancing wildly as he did all through the gig; Ed Marimba, long arms and legs and a monocle, Zoot Horn Rollo, very tall in a patchwork coat.
They started playing and it was like hearing a band from another planet, while at the same time it occurs to you that this is how music SHOULD sound, if it is done in a spirit of truth and beauty. These are the tracks I remember them playing: Abba Zabba, Human Gets Me, Hobo Chang Ba When It Blows, Woe Is A Me Bop, Peon, Alice, Old Black Snake, Boogalrise Ya, Spitball. They may have played Click Clack , Grow fins and others. Beefheart was on fine form; assured, confident and playful. There were many little games with the audience and band. I remember him telling us about Rockette Mortons’ waxed moustache, and taking a phial of liquid from his sax case to give a sniff of it to Ed Marimba to revive him after some strenuous drumming. The phial was then thrown into the crowd. I wonder what it contained.
I saw Beefheart 5 more times after that, each time (except maybe Drury Lane) he was utterly brilliant. But that first concert at the Dome must be my favourite. I’ve just remembered the encore, a few bars of the 50s song “More” whistled by the Capt.