Magic Band, The Fire Engines, Liquid Room ***
THE Liquid Room is crowded and dripping with anticipation at a remarkably early hour - partly because devotees of Captain Beefheart are taking up position to see his near-legendary backing band - and partly because there’s a horde of Fire Engines fans present.
The short-lived but acclaimed Edinburgh band reformed for one night only, lured by the prospect of supporting their spiritual forebears in the Magic Band. The Fire Engines receive a genuinely warm welcome and promptly launch into songs that haven’t been played live for more than 20 years. Frontman Davey Henderson is an engaging presence.
The songs still seem remarkably sprightly, none the worse for two decades’ wear.
Their brand of angular funk-punk may not have had much time to develop in the group’s 18-month lifespan from 79 to 81, but the likes of Candyskin still sound like minor classics.
They only play for 25 minutes - but, as Henderson says, it’s a lot longer than they ever used to perform for. The reputation that survives from those brief, brilliant gigs of long ago is done no disservice this night.
The Magic Band waste no time winning the crowd over. "It’s f***in’ barry to be in Auld Reekie!" proclaims John French, aka Drumbo, a veteran of many of Captain Beefheart’s best recordings and leader of the Magics.
The Captain himself, of course, long since retired from music, plays no part in these proceedings, but French fills the shoes of Don van Vliet surprisingly well.
The Captain is absent in the physical sense, but his lunatic genius still informs and infuses every note this rather exceptional band play.
French is an amazing maestro behind the drum kit, but the greatest moments of the set come when he leaves the percussion to his able deputy, Michael Traylor, and prowls the stage howling the words of Beefheart as only one of his closest disciples could.
Bassist Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton), and guitarists Denny Walley (aka Feelers Reebo) and Gary Lucas (aka Mantis) crackle with chemistry and tremendous technique, and their selections from Beefheart’s vast catalogue are judicious.
From the taut strut of Circumstances to the toil and trouble of Moonlight on Vermont via eerie instrumentals like the Evening Bell, the full range of Beefheart’s vision is brought to bear.
When they wind up with a deliriously powerful version of Big-Eyed Beans from Venus, the cheer that goes up is deafening. Magic in every sense of the word.