This DVD was announced earlier this year and touted as a “documentary,” but even at the announcement stage there was little cause for optimism.
Let’s start with the fact that the person pictured on the cover of the package is not even Don Van Vliet, but rather some anonymous mustachioed fellow captured in mid-yowlp – clearly an indication of the level of care and attention likely to be put into the package. Given how many plainly sub-standard CDs and LPs have been issued by the likes of the execrable Ozit records, there was little hope that this would be anything more than yet another sleazy, poorly-conceived and shabbily-executed cash grab.
The disc has finally made it to the marketplace and as suspected, this scattershot hour-long program of TV appearances spanning the years 1968-1974 is a documentary only in the sense that the clips included are all documents of live performances. If executed properly, a DVD of all the known Beefheart TV appearances, presented in best available quality, would be an absolute treasure. This is not that program. Sadly, the bulk of this disc is given over to the determinedly middle-of-the-road “Tragic Band” years, for many fans the least compelling period of Don Van Vliet’s musical career.
Given the content, the quality is in some respects better than one might expect, though the presentation is still determinedly on the half-assed side. Some fans will notice that the track listing advertised earlier in the year bears no relation to what songs actually appear on this disc. That original lineup was:
The songs actually included are:
This complete shake-up is a good indication of the carelessness evident in this disc’s creation, not to mention clues as to the likely legal grey area that this release occupies. Considering for instance that “Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’?” and “Diddy Wah Diddy” must have been the 1966 “Where the Action Is” footage that is owned by Dick Clark Productions, and “When Big Joan Sets Up,” “Woe‑is‑uh‑Me‑Bop,” “Bellerin’ Plain,” and “Instrumental For Feet & Fingers” was certainly the 1970 Detroit Tubeworks footage currently administered by Reelin’ In The Years Productions, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that in both cases the owners of said footage caught wind of this release and blocked the clips’ inclusion.
It’s worth noting at this juncture that for many fans, the disappointment in this DVD will begin as soon as they simply try to play the disc itself. My Sony DVD player refused to recognize the disc at all, signs of a sloppy and careless manufacturing job. It did play fine on my cheap Asian machine, but buyers should note that there’s a distinct possibility that the disc will not play for them at all.
Regarding the actual video content, the quality ranges from surprisingly decent to mediocre. The source materials expectedly betray their age and sometimes low-budget origins, and I have no issue with that; it’s simply a fact with materials of this vintage. Unfortunately, in each clip it is evident to me as a video professional that the source materials used were not taken directly from the master tapes but rather from what are clearly sub-masters, and prepared for DVD at a resolution that sometimes betrays glaring compression artifacts, especially if viewed on a larger monitor (I viewed this disc on a 60″ 1080i screen, and eventually chose to view at half size as that was easier on the eyes). With a few exceptions however, less demanding viewers might find the quality perfectly acceptable, especially if viewed on say, a computer monitor.
The clip-by-clip breakdown:
Cannes Beach, 1968 MIDEM Pop Festival. Quality is very good, but the “Bouton Rouge” title card at the beginning has been removed.
Beat Club, 1972. The first couple notes of Bill Harkelroad’s guitar intro have been inexplicably cut off, otherwise the quality is decent, though a shade less sharp than has been seen on other official releases.
The “Tragic Band” live at HEC, Jouy-en-Josas, Paris, France May 24, 1974. I’ve listed the titles as they appear on the sleeve, but Beefheart fans familiar with this performance know that penultimate track is mislabeled and is actually a cover of Howlin Wolf’s “Who Will Be Next?” The date “1974″ is superimposed over the upper-right hand corner of the frame for the duration of these clips. Quality is OK but there are some very noticeable compression artifacts, and there are huge glitches during “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond,” some of which are compression errors. There is actually an on-screen apology during this segment that apologizes for the quality of the clip, though that might have been more appropriately placed on the outside of the package.
Old Grey Whistle Test, 1974. I have no idea what “Special Edition” means in this usage, as these are well-known clips that already circulate widely. The first few notes of the intro to “Upon the My-O-My” are cut off, and a few moments of “This Is The Day” are of noticeably poorer quality and seem sourced from a VHS tape; otherwise the quality is the same caliber as the “Booglarize” clip.
Dutch “Pink Pop” Festival, 1974. Again one has no idea what “Special Edition” means in this context, unless it refers to the fact that the clip as it appears here is exactly as seen on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9UKANkpPLI), but with ninety seconds clipped from the opening, and a minute lopped off the tail. Inexplicable and inexcusable.
Bataclan, Paris, 1972. The worst quality on the set, looks like it was taken directly from a copy encoded at low resolution at half the normal frame rate. The opening title card has been snipped off, so consequently the first few seconds of the song are missing as well.
There you have it. In some ways slightly better than anticipated, in others not only worse than expected, but worse than it has any reason or excuse to be. It probably goes without saying that this package is in no way reflective of the respect that Don and his bandmates deserve, contains few of the known film or video highlights of Beefheart’s oeuvre, and nothing here is either “rare” or “unseen” — in short, there’s nothing here you couldn’t find in equal or better quality on YouTube.