The Beacon, New York review

Written by Robert Palmer, from the 30th November 1980 New York Times

Don Van Vliet, who is better known as Captain Beefheart, writes some of the knottiest, most extravagantly off-center music ever played on amplified instruments. One can remember earlier Beefheart concerts and be familiar with his recordings and still be unprepared for the sheer physical impact of two or three electric guitars, bass and drums hammering out rhythms that seem to trip over themselves in perfect unison, and of Mr. Van Vliet declaiming helter-skelter in a voice that veers edgily from a falsetto hiccup to a buzz-saw rasp.

Captain Beefheart has been writing this knotty music, and teaching it to various editions of his Magic Band, since the late 60’s, with varying degrees of recognition. A number of new-wave rock performers are beginning to absorb some of his ideas, and to cite him as an influence, and that’s made him temporarily au courant, but like Carl Ruggles, Henry Brant and other American maverick composers, Mr. Van Vliet listens to his own antic muse and never seems to concern himself with how ”hip” he may happen to be.

At the Beacon Theater on Friday night, Mr. Van Vliet’s latest Magic Band, which has been playing his music for several years now, gave a performance that was tight, committed and often devastating. The Captain’s sensibility – his personifications of inanimate objects, his genial misanthropy and rather disturbing tendency toward misogyny – will never be everyone’s cup of tea, but one doesn’t have to identify with the man to appreciate his genius. Through some remarkable personal alchemy, he has used elements from rock’s roots -blues riffs, various syncopations, slide-guitar licks, the eternal backbeat – to kick the music headlong into the future.


  1. “Rather troubling tendency towards misogyny”?!? I don’t see it….

  2. Author

    Hmm.. I’m not sure what the writer was referring to either. The only thing that springs to mind is perhaps the meanest line he wrote: “send your mother home your navel” from Astray Heart, released around the time this piece was written and possibly played at this show (I should probably check that). That line always seemed vicious and cruel; misanthropic but not necessarily misogynistic. Curious.

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