CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: GROW FINS: TROUT MASK HOUSE SESSIONS (1969; 1999)
CD I: 1) Untitled 1; 2) Untitled 2; 3) Hair Pie: Bake 1; 4) Hair Pie: Bake 2; 5) Untitled 5; 6) Hobo Chang Ba; 7) Untitled 7; 8) Hobo Chang Ba (Take 2); 9) Dachau Blues; 10) Old Fart At Play; 11) Untitled 11; 12) Pachuco Cadaver; 13) Sugar 'N' Spikes; 14) Untitled 14; 15) Sweet Sweet Bulbs; 16) Frownland (Take 1); 17) Frownland; 18)
Untitled 18; 19) Ella Guru; 20) Untitled 20; 21) She's Too Much For My Mirror; 22) Untitled 22; 23) Steal Softly Through Snow; 24) Untitled 24; 25) My Human Gets Me Blues; 26) Untitled 26; 27) When Big Joan Sets Up; 28) Untitled 28; 29) Untitled 29; 30) China Pig.
CD II: 1) Blimp; 2) Herb; 3) Septic Tank; 4) Overdub.
I am not that much of a Beefhead to guess correctly whether this second volume of Grow Fins would have pleased the seasoned fan or offended him. Normally, an entire CD of outtakes from the Trout Mask Replica sessions would be considered a godsend — the problem, however, is that this CD offers no truly new material whatsoever. It is quite likely that there was no new material, since everything that Beefheart wrote for the sessions ended up being on TMR (indeed, I am not sure myself what exactly it would be that could separate a «good» TMR composition from a «bad» TMR composition): you create it, you hum it, you indoctrinate it in the players, you record it, you move on. Even so, a set of alternate takes could be interesting at least for historical purposes, as well as psychological ones: it might always be instructive to understand how weirdness takes shape under a set of erratically driven chisels.
Problem is, unless you are really really dedicated to sorting out the nuances, the entire CD simply sounds like an instrumental version of TMR. Yes, these are slightly different takes from the ones that ended up on the final album, but I am in no way prepared to discuss the specific ways in which they are different, having a life and all. Ultimately, once you weed out all the "Untitled" tracks (most of which just consist of barely audible conversations, bits of tuning up, random noises and, occasionally, even nature sounds), you are just getting a good glimpse at what TMR would have sounded like if Beefheart had, for some reason, decided that the record would do just as fine without his presence. I do not think that many people will find that glimpse enjoyable, but there may, of course, be some people out there who really love the twisted textures of the Magic Band, yet find the Captain's Howlin' Wolf-meets-Allen Ginsberg persona annoying and hindering proper musical enjoyment, just like some people, for instance, could claim to enjoy the Rolling Stones but hate Mick Jagger's guts. Who knows?
There's also a second CD here which is even worse — a few extra tracks of barely audible banter, including one on which you can hear parts of the telephone conversation in ʽBlimpʼ. As it turns out, the audio tracks on the second disc were a mere pretext to include some video files as well: rather poor quality, though certainly priceless, amateurish footage of some of Beefheart's live shows from 1968 to 1972, and in VCD format at that (ugh).
On the whole, I'd characterize this part of Grow Fins as a tremendous disappointment — as slim as the pickings probably were, they could have certainly done a better job with them, cutting out most of the «noodling» and concentrating on those particular takes that differed the most from the final versions (ʽPachuco Cadaverʼ, for instance, has been noted to have a different bassline here, if it really matters to you). Then again, I guess negative evidence is just as important as positive one in certain situations, and this might be one of them.