I didn’t like this place. The bouncers searched us roughly on the way in; then, after finding a table to sit at, we were constantly harassed by cocktail waitresses, hassling us to buy overpriced drinks. All this just lowered my opinion of Richard Branson and Virgin, who owned the place, even further.
It was a bit of a shock to see Beefheart when he came on. He’d aged a lot in 5 years, and had a kind of world-weary resigned air about him. Instead of the grand entrances of old, he just ambled quietly on stage. The first thing he said to us was “I don’t like Thatcher. And I don’t like her dancing partner either,” (meaning Reagan).
The set was a mixture of stuff from all his albums except Unconditionally and Bluejeans. There were a couple of low points: a mediocre take on Dropout Boogie which just didn’t work; and Old Fart At Play, which the band played absolutely note perfect, but Beefheart started the vocals too late. When the band finished playing, Beefheart was only about halfway through the words so they all had to stand absolutely frozen while Beefheart wearily recited the rest of the lyrics. There were very many high points: really blistering versions of Safe As Milk and Kandy Korn; an awesome Veterans Day Poppy, (on the record, when the fast rhythmic section fades out and the slower end section fades in, I’d assumed these were recorded seperately, and edited together in the studio. But this band reproduced the effect exactly, live. I’ve since heard tapes of them playing it at other gigs and I still can’t work out how they did it).
These guys were really talented. The way they could reproduce some of Beefhearts most complex music from albums they didn’t appear on was uncanny.
Sheriff of Hong Kong was another highlight. I hadn’t really got into it on record, thinking it overlong and rambling, but live it all made sense. They ATTACKED the song, and built it up to a thundering climax, with Beefheart beating the shit out of his chinese gongs.