Captain Beefheart

Magnetic Hands: Live in the UK

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"You know I'm gonna do exactly what I want," Captain Beefheart cheerfully but firmly tells an audience shouting for requests at a 1980 London concert preserved in part on this disc, and I doubt anyone could sum up the good Captain's aesthetic in a sentence as well than that. As anyone familiar with Beefheart's work knows, nothing happens in his music by accident, and given the short leash on which he traditionally kept his musicians, one might wonder just what the differences were when he took his rigorously arranged aural chaos to the stage. Magnetic Hands: Live in the UK, compiled from live recordings of seven different concerts staged in the U.K. between 1972 and 1980, doesn't offer much in the way of radically different approaches to Captain Beefheart's compositions, but like most performers, Beefheart and the members of his various Magic Band lineups were obviously jazzed to appear in front of a live and appreciative audience, and the best moments on this disc all but crackle with energy and intensity, especially a hot-wired version of "Electricity" from 1973, an a cappella "Old Black Snake" from 1972, which is a riveting mutated field holler, and an exceptional stomp through "Gimme Dat Harp Boy," recorded in 1975 (while he was touring behind Unconditionally Guaranteed, no less). However, with the exception of six tunes from a 1980 Liverpool gig, Magnetic Hands: Live in the UK was culled from audience tapes whose sound quality ranges from fair to miserable, and this must be one of the most sonically flawed legitimately issued recordings I've ever heard. Admittedly, practically every Captain Beefheart release is best appreciated by his most loyal fans, but while Magnetic Hands: Live in the UK offers a fascinating perspective on his strengths on stage, the sound quality is likely to put off all but the most obsessed.

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