Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scratch one more "reunion tour" off the list

There aren't that many musical acts that I'd go to see if there weren't seats, though Pavement last summer was one. Ray Davies the other week didn't present this challenge as his (canceled) show was at the Beacon Theater, but if he toured with the Kinks (or even just his brother plus a younger bassist and drummer) I'd consider it.

The list of performers whom I would have stood for three hours to see dropped by one yesterday with the death of Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, though since he'd retired from music more than 20 years ago the chances were remote, even without regard to his health.

Growing up back in the day, if the Beatles were your yin you needed a yang (even though they had their own internal yin and yang). The Rolling Stones, for all their undoubted merit at the time, were judged in my household as simply not original or interesting enough to play this full role (and for much of the late 60s they were pretty much the Beatles' lapdogs anyway - consider Satanic Majesties or the All You Need Is Love broadcast). The Velvet Underground we didn't know about yet. So Captain Beefheart became, I suppose, our yang.

Listening again to my two favorite albums of his (leaving aside "Decals," which I have to try again), Safe as Milk is a startlingly good though still fairly conventional blues album, and I'd say the best blues album recorded in the 1960s by a white rock artist.

Then there's Trout Mask Replica, his most famous (as well as infamous) album, which I gather he may have considered too jokey, reflecting Zappa's influence as the producer. But definitely, for me, belonging on a short best-of list for the decade. Many moments of great beauty alongside the dissonance, weird humor, and the frequently remarkable spoken-word passages.

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