Melvin de Snoids recounts his live exposure to Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band in 1970.

The first time I saw Captain Beefheart was in 1970 [1971 – Graham] at the Paramount Theatre in Portland, Oregon, shortly after the Lick My Decals, Baby album came out. My band-mates and I were sitting front-row, centre, along with our friend Matt Groening, who had introduced us to Beefheart via the Trout Mask Replica LP.

First, Ed Marimba came out to a lone microphone that was center-stage, in front of the closed curtains. He was wearing the full-blown evening-suit with tails that he wore on the Decals front-cover. He had a monocle in one eye and was carrying an orchestral slapstick. Without saying a word he faced the audience, standing rigidly erect. Suddenly, he sounded the slapstick., somehow popping his monocle straight out from his eye, simultaneously with the pop of the slapstick. Still without saying a word, he reached into his breast-pocket and withdrew a toy plastic raygun. He held it out at arms-length and moved it from side to side in front of the microphone while pumping the trigger, causing sparks to fly while the raspy sound of the raygun swept spatially across the theatre. He then spoke: “This is my raygun – my REAGAN – got me?”

The curtains opened, revealing a full set of orchestral percussion equipment, along with the Magic Band’s gear. He walked back behind a huge marimba and launched into a avant-garde percussion solo that lasted several minutes.

During the solo, Drumbo came out on stage in blackface make-up and cavorted around like a caveman for a few moments before settling-in behind his drum kit. He then joined Ed Marimba in a furious percussion duet while the rest of the Magic Band walked on-stage and took up their instruments. They launched directly into “When Big Joan Sets Up” as Captain Beefheart strolled to centre-stage, playing a soprano saxophone. Beefheart started singing and I blissed out…

It was, without a doubt, the best rock concert that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend.

Afterwards, we milled around in front of the stage until Captain Beefheart and the band came back for their instruments. There were security guards posted by the stage who wouldn’t let us go up, so I yelled “Hey, Captain – can we come up?”

He looked up and said, “Sure – come on up!”, so we pushed past the security. Beefheart caught a dirty look from one of the guards & said, “Oops – maybe I shouldn’t have said that…” but by then it was too late – we were face-to-face with our idols.

Beefheart & the Magic Band members were totally cool – they let us hang out with them and ask a million questions, even though we were only teenagers. Beefheart even introduced us to his wife, Jan. They said that they were living in the mountains above Santa Cruz & invited us to visit them sometime.

The next spring, we loaded up a VW bus and headed down to California. We never did find them, but that’s another story…

Melvin N. deSnoids, March 2002

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