At the outset I feel duty bound to declare more than a passing interest in the astonishing work of Don Van Vliet, the artist known to the world as Captain Beefheart.
In particular, I regard Trout Mask Replica (1969) and 'Lick My Decals Off Baby' (1970) as twin pinnacles of what can be achieved in contemporary music. Both these remarkable studio albums combine raw blues, free jazz and avant-garde rock in such a unique way that they still defy easy categorisation and resist attempts at deconstruction. This is radical music designed as an irritant rather than as some cosy lifestyle backdrop.
Enough notable albums preceded and followed these sonic masterpieces to more than justify Beefheart's status as musical genius. Judging from the succinct career overview, included in this album's sleeve notes, Mike Badger shares this viewpoint. He describes the good Captain as "a monolithic tower of originality whose shadow casts long across the fields of banality".
The second volume of live tracks assembled by Liverpool's ever trustworthy Viper Label spans 15 years. It features recordings sequenced chronologically from 1966 to 1981.
The earliest of these from the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco are of particular interest since they are three rarities that have only ever appeared on live albums: Old Folks Boogie, St. James Infirmary and a cover of Howling Wolf's Evil (Is Going On).
Performance of two spoken word pieces from Trout Mask Replica are also precious. Well, was recorded in Atlanta in 1978 and, for once, Don Van Vliet's reading was not drowned out by over-excitable punters. He compliments the audience afterwards on their restraint. The band faced a rowdier crowd two years later in Detroit prompting a fierce rendition of The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back.
The other example of the great man's surreal wordplay is Carson City Poem, a poem which was subsequently set to music as 'Owed T'Alex' on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) in 1978.
Musical highlights include a storming version of Electricity from 1967's Safe As Milk, the sublime Click Clack from The Spotlight Kid (1972) and the late career high of Harry Irene from Shiny Beast.
The closing three tracks were recorded on Van Vliet's 40th birthday at the Showbox, Seattle two weeks before Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's last ever concert in L.A. on 31st January 1981. This includes for posterity the memorably titled Nowadays a Woman Gotta Hit a Man.
Throughout, the sound quality is far than perfect but you wouldn't expect high production values from a record of this type. The album is a labour of love for fans already in awe of Beefheart and more fool you if you are not yet among them.