The Magic Band @ Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 6 Nov
The songs of Captain Beefheart are given an entertaining and faithful rendition by John 'Drumbo' French and his band
Squint just hard enough at The Magic Band from the back of the Voodoo Rooms tonight and you could be convinced you were in the presence of the late Captain Beefheart himself. Though seemingly inimitable, veteran John 'Drumbo' French actually does a fine job of channeling the gutsy glory and mangled howl of the band's long-lost leader; one of contemporary music's truly unique voices and one of its defining weirdos.
Over the course of nearly three hours – with, to be fair, a generous intermission – the current and final form of The Magic Band take us on an extensive guided tour through the melting mind of Don Van Vliet from Safe as Milk to the (relatively) recently unearthed hidden treasure, Bat Chain Puller. While the band – French and an accomplished group of seasoned players half his age – are a practically note-perfect operation, carrying each other and this hallowed back catalogue with comfortable confidence and even occasional flashes of humour, it's hard not to feel like this is essentially just a fancy tribute band.
After all, the only remaining artefact of the band billed tonight is French, and although he makes no bones about this being a celebration of Beefheart's music as opposed to trying to convince us of authenticity or even sell us something new, it would be easy to question just how essential or special this performance really is. That being said, French's chops are impressive enough in their own right, whether leading the charge front and centre, wailing on the sax, hammering the harmonica, or bringing it home on the drums.
In fact, it almost would've made more sense to see this band as their own entity, making something new and maybe only occasionally tipping a tall hat to the past rather than dedicating three hours to someone else's music. Still, all cynicism aside, it's an entertaining show that surprisingly stays well within its welcome, even by the end of a long night.