Captain Beefheart – Live At The Paradiso, Amsterdam (Rattlesnake RS 059)

Live At The Paradiso, Amsterdam (Rattlesnake RS 059)

Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands – November 1st, 1980 

Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man / Abba Zaba / Hot Head / Ashtray Heart / Dirty Blue Gene / Best Batch Yet / Safe As Milk / Flavor Bud Living / Her Eyes Are A Million Blue Miles / One Red Rose That I Mean / One Man Sentence / Doctor Dark / Bat Chain Puller / My Human Gets Me Blues / Sugar ‘n Spikes / Veteran’s Day Poppy / Dropout Boogie / Sheriff Of Hong Kong / Kandy Korn / Suction Prints ( AKA Save The Mulez ) / Big Eyed Beanz From Venus. [ 79 : 03 ] 

Tom Waits once said about the late Don Van Vilet as “Once you’ve heard Beefheart, it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.” While Simpsons creator Matt Groening has said about the album ‘Trout Mask Replica’ : “that it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. Then I listened to it a couple more times, because I couldn’t believe Frank Zappa could do this to me – and because a double album cost a lot of money.

About the third time, I realised they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard” Brilliantly single minded about his music and musically obtuse to the point that his most talked about album “Trout Mask Replica” continues to usurp & mangle peoples brains over 40 years after it’s release.

There are a few tapes that feature Beefheart on stage but only a clutch of good ones such as the Godfathers production of the Lampinski tape featuring the 1975 collaboration tour between Beefheart & Frank Zappa “The Muffin Man Goes To Collage” [ GR 577/578 ], “The Captain Live In Liverpool” on a No-Label CD from Recorded live at Rotter’s Club, Liverpool on 29th October, 1980 & Don’s Birthday Party on the Tuff Bites label from Showbox, Seattle, January 15th, 1981.

This particular tape from Amsterdam’s Paradiso club, November the 1st, 1980 is from an FM stereo soundboard & sounds amazing. It’s a greatest hits set – of sorts – Maybe rather a near misses set taking in the Magic Band through the ages. It is by no means the full artifact as some of the between chatter from the stage is clipped – either due to limitations of space or because it’s the way that Rattlesnake received it. 

On stage Beefheart was backed up by a fierily proficient band who had strived to closely reproduce the work that had gone in to the original studio albums. Consisting of Jeff Morris Tepper, Richard Snyder, Robert Arthur Williams & Eric Drew Feldman ( Although Gary Lucas is mentioned more than a few times as part of the band ) then the effort was equal to precisely chopping out shards of ice to form exactly the form that you had achieved previously or, if you were asked to improvise, then that improvisation had to fit around the altogether structure to form a seamless whole – No mean feat when you were having your share of the fame stripped from you by your boss. Beefheart, while a master of his arts, was like a hurricane & could flip his mood within the blink of an eye.

John ‘Drumbo’ French retold a story in his 2010 biography with regards to taking the captain to his house, while visiting in his own family believing that Don would back up the work that John had been doing only for Don to switch & berate him for around an hour right in front of his familial collective.  

The tape begins with “Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man” from ‘Clear Spot’ – A track that much like James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” or John & Yoko’s “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” has the incentive to shock  or to enrage until it’s revealed by the lyrics that it has more of a feminist bent & stands up for the fairer sex as opposed to belittling them.

It begins with a funky, choppy drum beat which is overlaid with a rootsy harp & then joined with a building electric guitar riff that raises, falls towards a freak out then stands back to it’s riff once again. It’s stop & start figuration hops back & forth between itself so fluidly that “Abba Zaba” from the same album begins without notice & brings with it a tribal clatter while Beefheart’s vocals continue at the same pace only to expand in to primal screams of the tracks title & the guitar ups the tone to become a discordant, propolsive feed to pull the track towards. 

After this there is time for a quick breather & time to communicate with the audience not that Don is expecting any answers or any response as once he apologises for the delay, there is a bit of excited noise from the audience to which he replies “Delay doesn’t mean talk!”

“Hot Head” – A claustrophobic, dangerous endeavor thuds along slowly coming apart at the seams at will while the relentless thud continues apace through the whole before finally & cleverly fading out – This isn’t due to any discrepancies on the tape but more for the fact that the band are playing it this way. 

The spoken word introduction to “Ash Tray Heart” is clipped but none of the main song is missing. This song from “Doc At The Radar Station” & one of the more covered variations from is catalogue is one of the most challenging & unfocused of the night – Don’s wildly dadaist lyrics set to an unforgiving beat & warped guitar line that collapses in to a deeply unsettling mellotron break that turns back to the thumping, jungle beat.

As much as the track is well rehearsed Beefheart throws around the lyrics like confetti – liberally throwing choruses & phrases around when they spring to mind so no matter how well the audience think they knows what’s coming next then they’re not allowed to relax & ponder for too long. Once the track finishes someone from the audience starts ranting in best Beefheartian style – So much so it sounds like Don is ranting off mic. It becomes obvious when he’s knocked back by Don who shouts – “Go the the Van Gough Museum, man .. You’ve had too much to think”. The band then pummel the atmosphere in to submission with a skittering “Dirty Blue Gene” – Obviously intended to fall around the place like a drunken newt – The beat reminisce of Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’ while the rest is pure anarchy & fluid mutation.

The lunatic in the crowd is still shouting himself hoarse which is starting to get to Beefheart – “You’d make a great composer .. See if you can get it together & get out of here. Thing guy wants Rock & Roll, somebody try to help this guy find Rock & Roll .. SHUT HIM UP! If you don’t shut him up .. I’ll help.” 

The demonic “Best Batch Yet” follows. Another track from the latest album & yet another that jumps between commercial realisation & warped benevolence. Eery, rampant guitar lines set against a steadfast & energetic drum track. 

“Safe As Milk” – The title track from Beefheart’s debut album – is brought up to the future but still retains the jagged, funky riff that pinned it originally. The stuttering, catching drum lines bounce like hail from a tin roof.  

Back to the fray once more & the audience are feeling the mood of the evening & getting a little more vocal – ‘especially our heckler friend who nows appears to be chanting from the excitement – “Enough of your hokum! I know you paid a lot of money to get in here to hear this I try to play it for you, but Man! You got to have your own police – I mean isn’t it awful that we have to have police in 1980?”

“Flavor Bud Living” is an Egyptian style chopped improvisation piece of sorts lasting only mere seconds sounding like someone trying to tune the guitar up between tracks. Gary Lucas himself said of the track: “This is the solo piece that put me on the musical map. I suffered bloody fingers and sore muscles for months to master it, off a tape of John French playing it from the the as yet unreleased Bat Chain Puller album. I went out to the Mojave Desert to audition it for Don, who told me French had played it “too religiously” and instead had me use his “exploding note theory” to navigate my way through it from that point on. Then I had to come out and play the damn thing, cold, in the middle of the Beefheart set throughout our last tour of 1980-81. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” 

“Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles” is a very commercial ( for Beefheart ) study from ‘Clear spot’ – The two main guitar parts playing very individual chimes throughout while the ponderous bass lines bring a reggae styled mood to the song 

“One Man Sentence” is introduced simply by Beefheart by saying “Now I have a poem that Mr. Lucas would like to read” – Although it would seem that, like many of the things that come up then Don resents the fact a little that he’s not actually taking center stage & is charitably but reluctantly passing over the baton to one of his band. The poem is a straight off the bat, almost breathless recital of this poem – Possibly penned by Lucas or Beefheart ( Although Lucas does say that it is “a composition by Van Vilet (?) – or at least it sounds like Vilet)  it sounds mostly like an Allen Ginsberg screed 

Our friend the heckler remains & continues to voice his every opinion openly – The Captain is still P.O’d – “Why would you do that to a lot of people that payed a lot of money to get in? Get your own group together & get out!”. 

With that we’re wordlessly introduced to “Doctor Dark” – an equally trying piece that is an equivalent to Ornette Coleman’s “Free jazz” ( Of which the young Don had lapped up when he was younger with his endless searching out of more & more eclectic sounds ) with each player seemingly playing what he feels like over & over before they play slower & slower, faster & then quieter & quieter while Beefheart continues to wail & spit out the lyrics in any kind of order before he thinks the song is finished. 

The heckler shouts out lyrics to Beefheart to the repost “You’d better be a good painter” while another female heckler emits a Yoko Ono style scream – The captain wonders if she’s trying to do an impression of a horse. 

“My Human Gets me Blues” from ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is played out near note perfect. Each guitar part closely performed to within an inch of it’s reproduction on tape spilling in to a galloping “Sugar & Spikes” ( although this would appear to be an edit on the tape. ) Each track is as wild as it’s counterpart 

“Veteran’s Day Poppy” Another masterwork from ‘Trout Mask Replica’ comes box fresh – The unhinged country style of the tremulous guitar, shaking like a caffeine addict & the rumbling ceaselessness of the drums. The quick changes in tempo are also fascinating to hear – timed to perfection they could come straight from the tapes fully formed were it not for the atmosphere of the recording. The fresh addition to this track is the Chinese horn that The Captain plays – Wildly strange but unstrangely wild sounding as it’s obvious that Beefheart would strive to use lesser used instruments on his recordings including the hip new instrument of the 60’s the Marimba on some of his earlier recordings. 

“Sheriff Of Hong Kong” takes an almost eastern influence ( as the name might suggest ) with dual – time keeping & beginning with a brutal stomping beat that propels, well, the intro along before slowing to a more practical, woozily hypnotic beat. The captain stretches out his phrases, pulling out the Oo’s in Who to grandly camp & theatrical effect. It turns out to be the longest track of the evening rolling in at over 6 minutes but never out staying it’s welcome. 

Introducing “Suction Print ( AKA Save The Mules )” is kept brief but it really can’t compare with the Daliesque images that the song commands – beginning immediately with the force of he Stooges “L.A. Blues” & the queasy saxophone part it’s result of multiples is very nearly overwhelming skipping from time change near enough every 10 seconds or so a more immature band may not have been able to withstand the pressure of the swift ticks. 

“Big Eyed Beans From Venus” ends the set slightly less wildly but is still infused with it’s own mind melting energy – cataclysmic drumming, spectral guitar playing, pulsating bass line & naturally Don’s very own twisted, hyper weird, impenetrable lyrics. 

The cover is a dark, pixelated photo of the captain lit by stage lights while various other stage shots & press photos complete the package. Complete liner notes are completed by quotes & essays by Rick Snyder, Bert Van Der Kamp, Peter Koops, Jim Van Alphen, Stan Rijven, Robert Cloos, Eddie Determeyer & Scott McFarland.   

Roughly 2 years after this show Don was persuaded that if he was to become known seriously as an artist then he would have to give up his musical career. Fully aware that his life may be monetary secure for that turn then Don turned tail & left his musical mind behind. That we’ll never see the same kind of performer again is a real loss to musical theatricality. Sure other artists imbibe the atmosphere with their own brand of musical fairy-dust & turn heads in different ways but not many of these will ever be noted as such influences so far & away in to the future. Captain Beefheart or Don Van Vilet stood as one of a kind in his field. A true original.     

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  1. Thanks Ledman,
    I’d like to think that “Trout Mask Replica” could be the most returned & resold album ever. I’ve bought it at least 3 times before wondering why & returning it. My current copy is staying put for the mean time though as I think I may have finally “Got It” – and I certainly can’t think of many others I’ve persevered with for so long.
    Zappa & Beefhearts “Bongo Fury” the half live / half studio album is also worth seeking out for fans of both artists.

  2. Thanks for posting this review and I wasn’t aware that Rattlesnake had released a Beefheart show. I will be seeking this out ASAP.

    About a month ago I upgraded my copy of “Safe As Milk” and picked up the remastered edition with bonus tracks.

    When I was 16 I bought “Trout Mask Replica” not because I knew who Captain Beefheart were, but because I liked the album cover. I admit I had to listen to the album several times before it grew on me and after that I started picking up his/their other albums including “Lick My Decals Off Baby” and my favorite “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)” in which the title tracks has some of the strangest lyrics I’ve ever heard.

    We have lost one of the oddest musicians I’ve ever heard and he leaves behind a legacy of great music. There will never be another Captain B.

    For anyone who likes Beefheart and Zappa, I strongly recommend picking up Zappa’s “Hot Rats”

    R.I.P. Mr. “Bat Chain Puller”


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