New Victoria Theatre, London review

Written by Chas De Whalley, taken from the New Musical Express from either November or December 1975. Many thanks to Chas for giving his approval to the Radar Station for featuring this article.

DON’T BELIEVE what your mother tells you kids, there really is a Legion of Super Heroes.

Quiet, mild mannered, and sensitive he may be, but Don Van Vliet is also the Spotlight Kid and with Drumbo and Winged Eel Fingerling he beamed down to London to save us.

He also saved his sagging reputation.

Forget the self pity that’s haunted the Captain for the last couple of years, he’s once again the gargantuan figure that gave us “Trout Mask Replica” and “Clear ‘Spot”, and if his new material is anything to go by (from the up and coming album with Frank Zappa “Bongo Fury”) he is set to cast an even greater shadow than before over the lives of the good citizens of Rockopolis.

Clad in white, confident to the point of arrogance, the Captain stalked, growled and purred across the stage in his finest voice, laying down that old time, Vermont Moonlit religion like we haven’t heard it in years – waving, gesticulating and haranguing the crowd, foot up on the monitor speakers, eyes gleaming like an astral politician’s.

The audience of a couple of thousand mere earthlings were transfixed, mesmerised by the envoys from a distant galaxy, with Beefheart in complete and absolute control.

With a real magic band behind him Beefheart put paid to the ugly rumours that he’d gone soft and sentimental, as Winged Eel Fingerling and slide guitar man Denny Wally put real iron back into the Beefheart stage show. Goodbye to the anaemic touring outfit of 1974, and farewell to the hotchpotch band of gypsies we saw at Knebworth in the summer. This one was tight, well rehearsed and, above all, determined to make the songs their own. No more experimentation with Zoot Horn soundalikes for the good Captain. At last he is again interpreting his material according to the capabilities and the styles of each individual in the Magic Band and the music was simply astounding. “Moonlight On Vermont”, “My Human Gets Me Blues”, “Orange Claw Hammer”, “Beatle Bones and Smokin’ Stones”, “Electricity”, and “Abba Zaba” – the pearls of wisdom dropped from the Captain’s lips in an eerie cavalcade of colour, rhythm and that Beefheart ‘tincan’ sound. “Alice In Blunderland”, with Bruce ‘Fossil’ Fowler’s pumping air-bass, was dark and emotional, a fine foil to a country flavoured song from the new album which seemed to be all about a peanut well somewhere in Texas.

And then Denny Wally played that long leading note and let it float, the New Victoria Theatre beamed together, and we were sucked closer and closer to the stage, helpless like moths around an electric light. A crazy little thing, all of sixteen years, climbed up there and embraced him . . . and then the Spotlight Kid was gone.

We clapped, and the houselights came up. We clapped and the curtain came down. We clapped some more and the safety curtain came down… but the Captain did not reappear.

We missed the last bus home and had to walk.


  1. Yes, what a show it was too.

    My memory is long blurred from the experience, but I do recall we were there for the 8.45 performance too, and my partner sat down at a table that had 3 people there.

    Shortly before the band were due on, two of them left and we moved into their seats (and just a little closer). The guy who remained told us that the guys at the table, who just left, were in the band.

    I asked him how did he know, he told us he was there for the 6.30 show too. When they cleared the place after the performance, he just stood his ground, and saw both shows, wished I did that. However it was one great show as described.

    Thanks for the memory Graham.

  2. I met the band as they were leaving after the show and they all signed a Clear Spot cover I had ripped off the wall. I have it framed on my wall at home to this very day.

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