Gary Lucas   reviews  

LVZ (Germany), 28 Oct. 2005

Gary Lucas
Jozef van Wissem
The Universe of Absence

A New Yorker and a Dutchman, steel guitar and lute, bottleneck and fingers, the New and the Old World. This is a program that is skewed in time, entertaining and unlike anything you’ve heard before. Free and unadulterated improvisation, delicately enhanced at times with electronic effects. Gary Lucas has an imposing past in the Rock Avantgarde – Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley – and a grand presence as a soloist squarely through the genres. Rough and gruff and very American, he builds here soundscapes upon the background of Old Europe.

Oro Molido (Portugal), Issue 15

Review of Fast 'N Bulbous at Jazz Em Agosto, 8/13/05, Lisbon, Portugal

The festival ended with a concert by the septet Fast 'N' Bulbous, a North American band that pays tribute to the creative genius of Captain Beefheart, one of the most talented composes of North American rock of all times. Directed by the guitarist Gary Lucas who was a member of the Magic Band of master Beefheart during its last years, and by the saxophonist and composer Phillip Johnston, the band played music from various albums of the great Don Van Vliet, (from the first, Safe as Milk, to the last, Ice Cream for Crow, including Trout Mask Replica) refreshed with new arrangements. The absence of voice responds to a brass section of enormous versatility. It is not a question of doing covers over the original repertoire, but rather, starting from the coordinates that Beefheart left, of expanding borders and elaborating new contents. And they are well endowed to do that. Both Gary Lucas and Phillip Johnston, as well as the rest of the band (Rob Henke, Dave Sewelson, Jesse Krakow, Richard Dworkin and Joe Fiedler) are very experienced musicians in the languages of rock and jazz, able to improvise within and outside of the pre-defined limits. The end of the concert was a great feast of rock and r&b for permanent satisfaction. After one hour and a half, one still wanted more. We will see you next year, Jazz in August, an annual show of a handlful of new proposals that for its richness, plurality and aesthetic diversity, represent paths that are singularly different from contemporary jazz. Excellent counterpoint to the homogenizing tendency of musical globalization.

—Eduardo Chagas

The Village Voice, October 2005

Gods and Monsters

Bowery Poetry Club

308 Bowery
btwn Bleecker & Houston
New York, NY 10012
Lower East Side
Phone: (212) 614-0505

Arts, Rock/Pop/Etc., Jazz, By Day, Where to Hear

A band almost as much about history as music, G&M consists of guitarist muy eclectico Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart), drummer Billy Ficca (Television), and bassist Ernie Brooks (the Modern Lovers). The music’s always a squonky tad off-register whilst rocking, jazzing, popping, and othering with the best of ’em.


Fri, Oct 14, 10:00 pm

The New Yorker magazine, October 17, 2005

308 Bowery, at Bleecker St. (212-614-0505)—Oct. 14: Gods and Monsters is the rock outlet for the maverick ex-Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas. While the ever-shifting ensemble has featured such names as Matthew Sweet and the late Jeff Buckley (Lucas co-wrote his hit “Grace”), the current incarnation includes the former Television drummer, Billy Ficca, and the onetime Modern Lovers bassist, Ernie Brooks, making the band an underground-rock fan’s dream team.

New Haven Advocate, July 7, 2005

King Strong
The ecstatic wisdom of ace guitarist Gary Lucas
by Tom Gogola

Gary Lucas, who's coming to New Haven this week, experienced one of his "eureka" moments right here in town, over 30 years ago. It was the early 1970s and the guitarist was studying at Yale, where he'd graduate in 1974. The legendary blues-jazz-freakrock icon Captain Beefheart (nom de musique of Don van Vliet, now retired from the music scene) had already captured Lucas' attention after having been featured on the cover of Rolling Stone , in 1969. "There was a Beefheart concert in New York, and some friends of mine and I said, 'We've got to go and see that.' We got in somebody's car and drove down to this little club in the West 70s called Ungano's."

Beefheart was touring on his Lick My Decals Baby album, which Lucas describes as a "more pinpoint, refined version of Trout Mask Replica," and the show literally was a life-changing event for the young guitarist.

"It just tore me up," recalls Lucas. "It all came together - the music, the words, the band."

Lucas would eventually join Beefheart's band for a couple of late-career Beefheart albums. But despite the key role the irascible and prickly Beefheart played in fomenting Lucas' career, it would be grossly unfair to characterize him simply, as many do, as the "former Captain Beefheart guitarist."

A quick detailing of his recording history would include due mention of his longtime outfit Gods and Monsters, stints with the late Jeff Buckley, and collaborations with Nick Cave, Leonard Bernstein, David Johansen and DJ Spooky. It would include idiomatic shape-shifting that has embraced everything from honky-skronk to slash-and-burn blues to Chinese mid-century pop to Flatt and Scruggsy fingerpicking of a mind-boggingly precise nature.

Several compilation albums convey the breadth of the man's talents; to my ears, the most consistently enjoyable and compelling of the batch is 2003's Operators Are Standing By . Here we find Lucas cranking out a decidedly non-cheesy version of an extremely cheesy tune, the theme from Eastenders , along with the angular, crashy and Clash-y "It's Happening Again," a couple of mesmerizing solo acoustic tracks, not to mention joyfully noisy instrumentals that highlight Lucas' abilities as a technician of ecstatic release.

Of a more recent vintage is the 2005 instro-blurt blowout, Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind , recorded under the aegis of Fast 'n' Bulbous: The Captain Beefheart Project. Here, the Lucas-led septet covers a bunch of Beefheart classics, including "Abba Zaba" and "Kandy Korn." It's a great record to sing along to, especially if you can conjure that compelling Beefheart crack-croak while doing so.

"Beefheart was as crazy and genuinely artistic a figure as I've ever met," says Lucas. "He was certifiably genius and, to me, one of the greatest composers and overall artists of the past century. I love and revere him; I learned a lot from him; I give him the biggest props. Having said that, he isn't an easy character. Most people wind up on the outs with him. I didn't. But I do prefer to remember the good stuff."

One of the wonderful things about Gary Lucas is that despite being perhaps the prototypical downtown New York, Knitting Factory-approved musician, he's a big fan of Abba. Loves the soundtrack from Captain Kangaroo . "I'm either a softie or a schizophrenic," he says with a chuckle. "I'm bipolar with my love of music."

The man hasn't played New Haven since 2001, when he gigged at the old Tune Inn. "I have a lot of affection for New Haven," says Lucas, who now lives in New York City. "It was a magical period when I was going to school up there."

He'll be rolling into town Friday with his mainstay acoustic guitars, a National Steel guitar from the 1920s and a 1946 Gibson J-45. "I'm coming in a simplified format for me," he says. "In all modesty, I can really get the acoustics to sound quite orchestral because of the way I play, my fingerpickingwhich I honed with Beefheart."

Lucas has hundreds of acoustic pieces to choose from for his show, and he's envisioning a set that ranges through his recorded history, including some acoustic Beefheart stuff.

"I feel lucky at this advanced age to be making music for a living," he says. "It's a beautiful thing, but it's not easy. I'm never relaxed to the point of inertiaonce you lose that sense of amazement and wonder, it's all over."

Gary Lucas plays Firehouse 12 on July 8 at 8pm. $10. 785-0468

Downbeat Magazine, June 2005

Review of Fast 'N' Bulbous - "Port Chop Blue Around the Rind"
3 and 1/2 stars
By Glenn Astarita

Guitarist gary Lucas was once a member of Captian Beefheart's Magic Band. And with saxophonist Phillip Johnston's horn arrangements, incisively paralleling Beefheart's multioctave vocal range, this studio date signifies a celebration of an innovator who opted out of the music biz in 1984.

During this jovially orchestrated session, the Fast'N'Bulbous septet reworks a portion of Beefheart's songbook, expounding upon key elements, such as his avant approach to blues, rock and free-rock. The ensemble's flamboyant exultations are spawned by roaring horns layered atop lithely flowing rhythmic foundations. Lucas injects a bluesy component ino the grand scheme of things via his lightly amplified, electric slide guitar lines. The septet's wily interpretations of Beefheart's musical abstractions contain loosey-goosey slants on modern jazz. On " Pachuco Cadaver," the ensemble pursues odd-metered structures amid Lucas' rapid chord voicings.

Toledo City Paper, April 5, 2005

Yep, it’s strange: Fast ’n’ Bulbous — "Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind"

The world is filled with an overabundance of John Mayer’s, Green Day’s, and of course the ubiquitous Britney’s. But there is only one Captain Beefheart, and there’s hardly even one of him. Since his retirement from music in 1984 to go live in the Mojave Desert and paint, the musical world has been devoid of one of the truly eclectic and wonderful voices in music. Thank God for Gary Lucas, Beefheart’s guitar player on his last two CDs ("Ice Cream for Crow" and "Doc at the Radar Station"), who has assembled Fast ’n’ Bulbous, a tribute band that does instrumental versions of the good Cap’n’s tunes. Of course you miss Beefheart’s raspy, imperfect voice, but it’s a tribute to his songwriting talents that these songs work on a purely instrumental level. Not for the weak of brain. (

DownBeat, 4/2005

The Universe of Absence

By Greg Buium

Listening to this endearing maze of improvisations, one can't help thinking that Gary Lucas and Jozef Van Wissem talk about movies before they play. Lots of them, too: road movies, quirky comedies, Westerns and long-forgotten silent pictures. These musicians sink into the imagination with the speed and skill of a great film director.

With Lucas' assembly of guitars and Van Wissem's lute, you've also entered a wild string heaven. Puffy clouds of electronics complement endless cycles of plucking, layer upon layer of postmodern counterpoint, harmonics, long-forgotten Southwestern motives or Elizabethan court songs. Lucas even sings Jackson Browne's "These Days" and Lennon and McCartney's "Tomorrow Never Knows", swinging from a sad and sweet little boy into a shadowy downtown seer. Dutchman Van Wissem acts as a kind of antiquarian chorus, making the Shakespearean allusions ("Screw Your Courage To The Sticking Place") actually seem authentic.

The title piece holds all their little secrets, a vast puzzle of ambient noise, drones and a slow three-note circle expanding and contracting over a field of fuzz.

Mojo, 3/2005

Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind

4 Stars
By Mike Barnes

NYC-based Beefheart septet has Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas on board.

Few groups do justice to the music of Captain Beefheart, not least because it's so damn difficult to play, but this is something else. Fast 'N' Bulbous is the brainchild of Gary Lucas and saxophonist arranger of its blazing four-piece brass section, Phillip Johnston. The rhythm section get right inside the structure of these tunes, Lucas synthesises two guitars' lines into one, while the brass take care of the main themes, teasing out unexpected melodies. The band rip into tracks from Trout Mask Replica with glee, transforming Pachuco Cadaver and Sugar 'N Spikes into raucous freewheeling celebrations of Beefheart's feral genius. An elongated When It Blows Its Stacks, on which the soloists take it in turns to cut loose, is dark and sonically massive. It's quite a blast, and of course, an invitation to the mother of all karaoke sessions.

Rolling Stone, 1/2005

Review of "Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind"
Fast 'N' Bulbous: The Captain Beefheart Project


By David Fricke

Don Van Vliet—the titanic voice and blues-dada composer also known as Captain Beefheart—surrendered to the cruelties of the music business after his 1982 LP Ice Cream for Crow, dissolving the last of his Magic Bands and retiring to the full-time peace of painting. Rock is a lesser thrill without him. But Fast 'N' Bulbous are no next best thing: They are the big brass band he never had. With bellowing horns arranged by saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pinpoint swordplay by ex-Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas, Fast 'N' Bulbous ignite the R&B gunpowder inside the tangled surrealism of "Suction Prints" and "Pachuco Cadaver." The group attacks Van Vliet's songs with the same idiosyncratic precision that he drilled into his own musicians. Fast 'N' Bulbous also reveal a vital truth about this music: You can dance to it.

Newsday (NYC), 1/10/2005

Jimi Hendrix Has Best 'Guitar Face'
By Associated Press

NEW YORK—Jimi Hendrix not only had the skills to become a rock legend—he apparently had the right look as well. A recent poll found that Hendrix had the best "guitar face"—the look guitarists get when trying to nail a high note or power chord.

Hendrix received 24 percent of the 3,000 votes cast online by the public and a poll by some 20 celebrity judges. B.B. King captured 18 percent of the vote, followed by Angus Young of AC/DC with 16 percent.

Gary Lucas, guitarist for Gods and Monsters, said he voted for Hendrix because he "channeled all the soulful ecstasy of the universe through his hands, and this was naturally mirrored in his face."

The poll by on-demand television service Mag Rack accompanied a contest to find the best amateur guitar face. Les Campbell of Nicholasville, Ky., was chosen the winner from more than 600 contestants.

In his photo, Campbell, a sound and recording engineer, showcases a classic headbanging, Fu Manchu mustache and Elvis Presley sneer—as well as a resemblance to Metallica frontman James Hetfield, according to several of the judges.

He said his entry was from his heavy-metal playing days in the 1980s with the band Jack-in-Irons.

"Guitar face is a spur of the moment thing, something you have no awareness or control over," Campbell said in a statement. "Guitar playing is ... all about energy, transferring your spirit to a hungry crowd through six strings and a wall of amps. You can't help sharing what you feel with a look, whether it's serious or maybe a little silly."

Besides bragging rights, Campbell won a trip to New York to pick up his prize, a Les Paul "Black Beauty" electric guitar and case.

Gonzo Magazine (Belgium), 1/2005

Review of "The Universe of Absence" (BVHaast)
Gary Lucas and Jozef Van Wissem

By Kees Polling

The collaboration between the American ex-Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas and Dutch lute player Jozef van Wissem is continued on "The Universe of Absence" after their first release "Diplopia". The result is once again stunning. Most of the pieces are improvisations based on compositions of both players, combined with covers.

Again it's surprising to hear how well their instruments, Renaissance Lute and National Steel Guitar fit together and how well the players adapt to each other's styles in a natural and obvious way. Sometimes they sound like a modern adventurous form of Bluegrass, sometimes they are wonderfully psychedelic like in the title track and at other moments one gets the feeling to be lifted to the dark medieval ages. Live Lucas and Van Wissem are grandiose, as I have witnessed myself, just like on their previous and current release.