More than 20 years after Captain Beefheart's last musical outing, the Magic Band (sans the Captain) reconvened for the 2003 All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Actually, it's a Magic Band that never was, consisting of Drumbo (John French) on drums, vocals, and harmonica; Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) on bass; and guitarists Mantis and Feelers Reebo (Gary Lucas and Denny Walley, respectively). (For the live shows, Robert Williams -- another Magic Band alumnus -- took over the drum chair when Drumbo had to sing and play harp.) Of course, these guys knew the material, but they don't just play the tunes, they attack them, summoning up the controlled chaos that made the original Captain Beefheart recordings such singular achievements. Drumbo's vocals emulate the Captain to a great degree, but it's not so much an attempt at mimicry as it is that the songs need to be sung like that to retain their power. The guitars slash and burn their way through the set as though their lives depended on it, clawing their way through the musical maelstrom. This is not a bunch of old fogeys waltzing their way through the hits; this is a tough band playing tough music that's important for reasons both personal and historical. While this is an "official" album, it actually consists of recordings of the rehearsals the band had prior to its first live appearance. Back to the Front will never replace the original recordings of Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band. Even so, Beefheart fans will be thrilled to hear these songs come alive again. If you're a fan, you need this.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard