The Muffin Men
The Zanzibar Club, Liverpool
Thursday 21st March 2013
The first time can be golden! Just ask Sean Diamond who experienced The Muffin Men and Denny Wally live in Liverpool for a night of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart classics and more.
The Muffin Men are Liverpool’s most renowned Zappa/Beefheart tribute act. They have toured the world, played (and recorded) with distinguished musicians such as late, great original Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, and have managed to release one or two self penned songs somewhere along the way. Despite all this, I had never seen or indeed heard them prior to this musical event. Granted, I could have “YouTube-d” them beforehand, but I can’t help thinking that such an action may have dulled the feelings of perturbation, uncertainty, anticipation and general brouhaha which I often associate with gigs or events which I am looking forward to seeing, however quaint, old fashioned and out of touch that may sound. What’s more, legendary slide guitarist Denny Walley (or Feelers Rebo, according to The Captain), who played on some of the most memorable recordings and concerts by BOTH of the great men, has agreed to play on the Liverpool leg of the Muffin tour, having just performed in this fair city with The Magic Band. Despite my barely contained schoolboy levels of excitement, should be a very dynamite show….
All it takes is an opening segue of ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/Inca Roads’ and BANG! you’re transported into Muffin Land. Muffin Land, it turns out, is quite a pleasurable place to be; instrumentals like ‘Black Napkins’ (which features some incredible fret work from lead guitarist Jumpy) and ‘Peaches En Regalia’ (with some smokin’ trumpet ‘n’ sax from Mike and Martin Smith) ensure that a spring is put in your step on the path to Muffin Nirvana. Drummer Rhino, as well as being a bit nifty on the old sticks, is also an incredible singer; his startlingly soulful lead vocal on ‘Village Of The Sun’ is a genuine thing of beauty, and is also shown off to great effect on the cover of Greg Allman’s ‘Whipping Post’ (lifted from the wonderfully titled album ‘Just Another Band From L4’, any Liverpudlian Zappaphile will know what that means!). Mr Walley arrives midway through the first half of the set, just in time for a rollicking run through of ‘Crew Slut’, a highly decadent ditty from ‘Joe’s Garage Act 1’, and a headbanging ‘San Ber’dino’, the strangely touching ode to American trailer park life from the psyche-jazz masterpiece ‘One Size Fits All.’ Then it’s time for an interval; the second act will be,in the words bass guitarist Roddie, “The Denny Walley Show”.
And they’re back. Walley, resplendent in a glittery nightclub compere jacket, is taking over. Things get off to a frantic start with a frantic Magic Band instrumental, then female vocal quartet The Crump-ettes join the party and things get a little more upbeat. A storming take on The Captain’s ‘Too Much Time’ shows these girls’ singing abilities off no end, as do Walley’s solo tracks, which constitute much of this particular segment of the performance. We get some more great vocal theatrics from Miss Connie Lush on a chilling mid tempo blues number. It must be said I’m not at all familiar with the solo work of Denny Walley; but given the quality and dexterity of the material played tonight I’m definitely going to do some investigating.
The only real disappointment is the no-show of ‘Muffin Man’, the infamous closing track on the live Zappa/Beefheart collaboration effort ‘Bongo Fury’, which Walley played some truly fierce slide guitar on, but little matter. This was a warm, deeply human celebration of the life saving, healing qualities of music; far more than just the self indulgent jam between friends which can happen in lesser hands when the fans team up with the hero. It also acted as a one-fingered salute to the kind of pathetic music snobs who consider tribute bands “beneath” them or “unworthy of their time” (whilst raving about The Royal Ballet and Royal Shakespeare Company, both essentially tribute acts); although this wasn’t a tribute act in the traditional sense of the term. Great stuff, went home happy at having finally lost my muffin virginity. Time for you to do the same?
Words by Sean Diamond. More writing by Sean on Louder Than War can be found here.