Gary Lucas   reviews  

NRC-HANDELSBLAD, Netherlands, October 9, 1995
Guitarist Gary Lucas is a Technician and a Musician Rolled Into One

Concert: Gary Lucas, Solo Guitar
Attended: BimHuis, Amsterdam 5/10 (5th Oct.)
Performances: Paradox (Tilburg) 9/10
De Kikker (Utrecht) 10/10
042 (Nijmegen) 11/10
Winston Hotel (Amsterdam) 14/10

By Viktor Frolke

It must be a dream, for beginning electric guitar players. To freak on your favourite guitar before a paying audience on your own, as Gary Lucas did at the BimHuis. It is probably just as well that it will remain a dream, anyway. Lucas demonstrates himself to be one of the few who have enough technique, humour and ideas in store to enable him to hold people's attention to his instrument for a longer period of time. Not only does he succeed in doing this by using whining extrapolations and vibrations, but also and especially by means of simple, sensitive folk songs.

As for technique, Lucas experiments with just about all the effects that can be realized on the guitar with the aid of electric distortors. A small table with peripheral devices next to him on the stage looks like a gutted television set. Roughly 15 pedals are immediately at his feet and there are two huge amplifiers behind him. A plaything particularly dear to him is the digital delay, by means of which he creates loops (repeating sound patterns). he first enters a few chords, then he presses a few keys and he starts playing a solo in a frenetic manner. If this should sound too decent to him, he depresses a few pedals and jerks at the strings fanatically, whilst peeking out into the venue with a demonic grin on his face.

Fortunately, he is additionally equipped with an old acoustic Gibson and a very old steel guitar that he uses for songs. These songs can be heard on his first solo CD, "Skeleton at the Feast" (recorded largely during a concert in Amsterdam in 1990). Each one consists of a dream-like yet powerful melody. Sometimes he sings along on them, but he had better not. Played in this fashion, without antics, they linger in the mind, purring on pleasantly.

Last year saw the release of "Bad Boys of the Arctic" (Enemy Records EMY 146-2), a CD by Gods and Monsters, Lucas' regular band. Gods and Monsters play this very type of straight-forward pieces exclusively, yet strangely enough, they come out much better in the solo act. Especially "Police Dog Blues" (dedicated to Police Investigator Mark Furhman from Los Angeles, as the guitarist announced witfully during the performance) and "The Nightmare of History" are both marvelous in terms of their sobriety.

In the encore, Lucas decides to go for his table of devices once more and yes indeed, the things he manages to conjure up from them are astonishing. Guitar addicts wishing to know the ins and outs may consult the musician in New York by e-mail. His mail address is

The New York Music Festival Webpage, July 1995

Hudson Valley Free Time/MusicMachine, July 1995

"Meet Ze Monsta"

by Judith Kaufman

"I tracked down ex-Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas (he played on "Doc at the Radar Station" and "Ice Cream for Crow"), the guy I've been telling you about for so long. He was one of the many highlights on Jeff Buckley's album "Grace," co-writing two songs. He also appears on Joan Osborne's earthy new gem "Relish." He has performed with Leonard Bernstein, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, The Mekons, John Zorn and Nick Cave, just to name a few. Almost inhuman, isn't it, how Lucas seems to be everywhere?! His latest release is "Bad Boys of the Arctic" (Enemy) with his posse Gods and Monsters and it's brilliant. Every time I play it (on WVKR 91.3), I get calls. Lucas, as Osborne explained to me, has "his grounding in the blues tradition, but he always does something that takes it into his own territory, and really expands on it while still being very soulful and bluesy." That's a good start. The songs are also: beautiful, ethereal, indie-pop ("Jericho"), Kate Bush-voiced art-rock ("Exit, Pursued By a Bear"), Zappa influenced punnery (Poison I.V. League), Fahey/Kottke neo-trad guitar ("Children's March—Over the Hills and Far Away," "The Nightmare of History"), wistful folkiness ("Out From Under," "I Want to Play Your Guitar") goth-metal cartoon soundtrack ("They Can't Believe He's Risen Again") and glam/punk ("Vampire Circus"). In short, cheese-free (read: no Vai/Satriani diddling) guitar virtuosity. Speaking with Lucas recently, I learned he's just back from an Italian tour, and has been busy with tracks for a Graham Parker tribute and Fred (B-52s) Schneider's solo project with Richard (Bongos) Barone. (Gods and Monsters has at times included Barone as well as Jeff Buckley and Matthew Sweet.) Lucas has recorded a track for a tribute to Harry Nilsson, "For The Love of Harry" (RCA). Lucas has also been a featured soloist at the Bottom Line's Zappa tributes. See him at the Mercury Lounge, The Cooler and all the finer NYC dives. And just go get the album, okay?"

Hits, April 3, 1995

Lucas With The Lid On
Time for a Chorus of "Boola Boola" With Gary Lucas

By Janet Trakin

If eyes are the windows of the soul, then those of ace guitarist/singer/songwriter Gary "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down" Lucas display the otherworldliness that permeates the eclectic collection of songs on his third record "Bad Boys of the Arctic" (Enemy). There is a veil to his look behind which he speaks ebulliently of spreading joy and happiness to much acquaintance by bringing out their potential. Indeed, this inspiring and inspired musician has not only continued his virtuoso latticework guitar, but has honed his songwriting skills as well. On "Exit, Pursued by a Bear," he gleans from the plays of Shakespeare while "Vampire Circus," a humorously macabre song with a rap beat, is a metaphor for this dog-eat-dog world. Of course, Gary's fascination with horror continues on "They Can't Believe He's Risen Again," which could well serve as the soundtrack to a sci-fi flick.

Lucas started playing guitar in the fourth grade when his father suggested he take lessons. He stopped shortly after because of his calloused hands. He picked it up again to play frat parties in his native Syracuse. His first musical experience was performing electric guitar at the 1973 European premiere of Leonard Bernstein's _Mass_, though he is best known for his participation in the latter-day version of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, recording the early '80's masterworks "Ice Cream for Crow" and "Doc at the Radar Station." He also has his own band Gods and Monsters, guided by the concept of a collective group of collaborators. He worked with Jeff Buckley on two songs for the latter's debut album, including the title cut, and has worked with Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Matthew Sweet, to name a few. He is currently writing with ex-Bongos singer/songwriter and Hoboken legend Richard Barone and working with singers Dina Emerson and Emily .

On a rainy N.Y.C. day amid piles of books, records, CD's and tapes with O.J. flickering on the tube, HITS' Big Apple correspondent Janet "Runaway" Trakin received some spiritual guidance from the Yale guru...after he borrowed a sawbuck from her, that is.

    J.T.: Was Captain Beefheart your biggest influence?

    G.L.: If not the biggest, he looms the largest in the formative stages of my career. I've been influenced by all sorts of music - Led Zeppelin as well as Captain Beefheart. But it was Beefheart who gave me the training to both appreciate and make my own music. It was kind of like I went to Beefheart University. I think that other members of the Magic Band felt the same way. We definitely were the willing disciples and he was the mad professor. On the other hand, if you listen to my music, there are not that many resemblances to Beefheart. I'm not as interested in being an iconoclast and breaking rules. My real roots are Top 40 radio of the early '60's.

    J.T: You managed to actually hook up with both of your childhood idols by working with Captain Beefheart and Rod Serling. How did you manage that?

    G.L.: Through sheer dogged persistence. I would get a mad passion and become obsessed listening to the words of these people. Then I'd really try to pursue opportunities to work with them. In the case of Beefheart, I was already a tremendous fan. I first became aware of him through Richard Perry's brother Fred Perry, whom I met up at Syracuse when he was a college student there. He had a guitar with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band written on it, and I said, "What's that?" And he said, "My brother Richard has just produced this group." I then became aware of the music. Later on in the '70's, I became the musical director at Yale's radio station, when Beefheart came and made his debut in a little club. I hijacked a car with my friends and saw him. I was astounded, and I remember vowing to myself that if I did anything in music, it would be to play with this guy. I was assigned to interview him at Yale, would go to his shows and schmooze with him backstage. It wasn't until I met up with him while he was on the road with Frank Zappa that I approached him and said I would kill to play in his band. I then auditioned in his hotel room after a gig he did in Boston.

    I hooked up with Rod Serling when I had a gig in my senior year of high school working for the Upstate Medical Center, documentary film division. They did a movie, "Aquatic Ecology," and Rod Serling was the narrator. He was from the central New York State area, and he was known around Syracuse. I never met him; I just did the music on a film he was narrating.

    J.T.: What was working with Jeff Buckley like?

    G.L.: It was really an amazing collaboration. Jeff is one of the most talented people I've ever worked with. I met him working at a tribute to his father's music at St. Ann's Church in the summer of 1991. [Producer] Hal Willner assembled a cast of so-called downtown musicians. Richard Hell , Syd Straw and Robert Quine were there. Hal had mentioned that Tim Buckley had a son Jeff , and he invited him to participate. He then asked me if I would be interested in hooking up and collaborating with him on his father's numbers. We were introduced and I remember being really taken by his energy and enthusiasm. We got along so well; it was a dream. He had one of the most amazing voices I'd ever heard. We did a couple of songs for the show, and they were really great. I did demos of the two songs that appeared on his record last summer.

    J.T.: You have many avant-garde qualities, yet claim to want to be part of the mainstream.

    G.L.: I'm moving towards the center as an artist. When you're writing lyrics and they're personal to you, you know right away that not everyone might understand the sentiment. When you're writing for other people, you can more or less try to make them more universal. It depends on the situation. I'm really trying to write something that's universally apprehended by any man, woman or grandma. That's what I'm going for.

    J.T.: You did the soundtrack for a German expressionist film "The Golem."

    G.L.: I had read about this film for years. I'm a science fiction and horror aficionado. It's the forerunner of the Frankenstein myth. It centers around the legend of an actual historical Rabbi. Rabbi Judah Lowe lived in 16th century Prague and, according to legend, created a man out of clay through cabalistic rituals to become a servant to the Jewish communities and to save the Jews from the Pogroms. As an American Jew, I'm always interested in cultural expressions and Jewish myth.

Audio - April 1995

Review of "Bad Boys of the Arctic"

by Michael Wright

On "Bad Boys of the Arctic," guitarist Gary Lucas has toned down the improvised Sharock-ian psychedelia that marked his previous recordings, opting instead for a shot at accessibility with songs, hooks, lyrics (however opaque), and contributions from guest musicians. Several tracks are further sweetened by strings. But few listeners could confuse "Bad Boys" with the mainstream. Under its beguiling vocals is Lucas' nervous guitar, percolating with a rhythm that supports a bevy of influences and styles, from folksy fingerpicking (reminiscent of someone like Jorma Kaukonen) to pure, caterwauling electric-guitar mayhem akin to wailing banshees. Lucas' balance of listenable art with instrumental audacity pushes the envelope without descending onto cacophony.

Hits - March 6, 1995

Review of "Bad Boys of the Arctic" - Pomo Pick


This I.V. League guitar virtuoso counts Rod Serling and Captain Beefheart among his childhood idols, and his music similarly occupies a Twilight Zone. He encompasses bluegrass (the elegiac "Jericho"), revved-up funk-metal ("They Can't Believe He's Risen Again"), gnarled delta blues (his cover of Arthur Russell's "Let's Go Swimming") and surreal N.Y. punk ("Exit, Pursued By a Bear"), sometimes all in one melting potpourri. An early collaborator with Jeff Buckley in his own seminal Gods & Monsters, Lucas is a PoMo Jimmy Page who is equally at home downtown, uptown or in the country.

Alternative Press - February 1995

Review of "Bad Boys of the Arctic"

by Stephen M. H. Braitman

Gary Lucas is a smarty-arty guy with a flair for showy, theatrical productions. His third album, "Bad Boys of the Arctic," is a wizard's brew of songs that have no rhyme or reason except for their sheer musical pleasure and inventiveness. Like Adrian Belew or the underrated Balancing Act, Gary Lucas can be brazenly eclectic yet unpretentious. His ideas work.

Using four different vocalists, a roster of guest musicians, and recording in the studio, the living room, even live, Lucas ties it all together with a pixie's charm. There's neurotic, nervous pop when Dina Emerson sings "Exit, Pursued By a Bear," and sheer crystalline prettiness with the double-tracking of Sonya Cohen on "Out From Under." When he himself sings, Lucas goes in for comic horror narratives, like the Tim Burton-meets-Yngwie Malmsteen nightmare of "They Can't Believe He's Risen Again." His own tasty guitar gets a few solo spots, notably on the John Fahey-esque fantasia, "Children's March—Over the Hills and Far Away" (originally written by British composer Percy Grainger, a.k.a. Robert Plant).

"Let's Go Swimming," however, shows off a real band in concert, rather than a mere magical studio creation. Jean Chaine stands out on this track with a throttling bass line.

Real heavy.