Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Captain Beefheat & His Magic Band 'Grow Fins Rarities 1965-1982'

Like most discriminating music fans, I really dig Captain Beefheart. In high school, before the internet made information so readily available to the current crop of coming of age music fans, I had read enough about Beefheart to warrant a purchase, but not enough was available to figure out a good place to start. So I stood in the music store, holding 'Safe As Milk' in one hand, and 'Trout Mask Replica' in the other. Even though the later had a far better cover, I chose the former because it was far cheaper.

I'm glad I did. Trout Mask is certainly deserving of the multitude of accolades that have been piled on it over the years, but I still have a hard time listening to it. As Zoot Horn Rollo's autobiography, and Mike Barnes indispensable bio can attest, the sheer musical skill involved in such a one of a kind, unprecedented enterprise are enough for the record to deserve classic status. But try as I might, to listen to it is just too tough. I'd much rather go to the more, I'm sorry to say, accessible records, like 'Clear Spot' and the aforementioned 'Safe as Milk' (although I have a soft spot for 'Doc at the Radar Station').

Anyway, flash forward a couple years and I've just started what was to be the most miserable experience of my entire life, college, and I'm eating in a diner somewhere perusing the new issue of Ugly Things. Johan Kugelberg gives the new 'Grow Fins' Beefheart rarities box a superlative, glowing review. This is before I figured out through Kugelbergs impenetrable lists, based on sad record collector bullshit rather then merit, pretty much excluded him from me ever taking him opinions seriously. To digress a little more, this was also before Ugly Things would devote, huge, impeccably researched articles about bands that are deserving of little more than the footnote that they eventually became. Irregardless, I the purchased the set anyway. Beefheart box? Sign me up.

Perhaps I risk bearing the stigma of BORING MOTHERFUCKER, but the first disc, full of demos of material that would end up as the A&M singles, and the first full length, is the best. Great songs, even though it was before Viet's full creative bloom that caught up with him a few records later. The demos have the magical quality of sounding rough and raggedy but not weak. The second disc, all live, is some fine listening as well. Then, we get to the 'Trout Mask' sessions, and it starts to become a chore. It's 'Trout Mask' with additional outtakes between the tracks. Interesting? Well, I'm sure for some people, it gives valued insight into a unique record, for others it is nowhere near compelling enough to listen to. I've got shit to do. The fourth disc has some grainy, tiny video footage of a TV appearance that I have never felt the need to watch twice, in addition to some more (wisely) unused 'Trout Mask' material. Then we get a final disc, compiling various rarities of from 1969-1982. Some of it is great. Much of it is something you can listen to once, and never have to listen to it again.

So, was it worth it? Yes. The packaging is fantastic, even if the music is ranges from great to, well, not so great ("[untitled 18]" can't hold a candle to 'Kandy Korn'). An artist (and if any figure in rock deserves to be called an 'artist', it's Beefheart) of the Captain's stature deserves the full Bear Family Treatment, and this is probably the closest thing we're going to get for a few decades, minus the released tracks (exempting 'Trout Mask'). I like having box sets of with every last tidbit, no matter how minor, reproduced for posterity. This isn't it, much of it is just leftover flotsam without the anchor of the remainder of the songs that were deemed fit to be released. Is it the be all end all, must have box set, ever? No. Is Johan Kugelberg full of shit? You bet your ass.

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