CAPTAIN BEYOND: FAR BEYOND A DISTANT SUN (1973; 2002)
1) Intro/Distant Sun; 2) Dancing Madly Backwards (On A Sea Of Air); 3) Amworth; 4) Myopic Void; 5) Drifting In Open Space; 6) Pandora's Box; 7) Thousand Days Of Yesterdays; 8) Frozen Over; 9) Rhino Guitar Jam; 10) Mesmerization Eclipse; 11) Stone Free.
So brief and turbulent was the age of Captain Beyond that they pretty much forgot to leave behind the principal qualification proof of a genuine prog-rock / hard-rock ensemble of the 1970s, and you know what that is, don't you? For a long time, the only semi-officially endorsed product, distributed through their fan club, was Frozen Over, a bootleg recorded at the University of Texas in Arlington on October 6, 1973, when the band toured as a support act for King Crimson, no less, promoting their freshly released second album. Eventually a shortened and reshuffled version got an official CD release under the title of Far Beyond A Distant Sun (in 2002), and finally, in 2013, the complete show was released as Live In Texas on the Purple Pyramid label, specializing in cleaning out the vaults of various semi-forgotten Seventies' acts.
There is no doubt that the band could put on a good show — in fact, they play for almost as long as King Crimson themselves played on that same night, and I don't think Mr. Fripp would have allowed that if they sucked. The problem is the sound quality — the show may have been recorded by stage-placed equipment rather than from the audience, but there are no signs of mixing consoles, and although the results are technically listenable, they can only be recommended to non-audiophile fans of the band. (For the record, there is another, an even larger, 2-CD release on the same label called Live Anthology, with selections from live shows in 1971, 1972, and 1977, but I haven't got that one and cannot say if the sound quality is generally any better. Could be at least partially, because some of the recordings are from Montreux '71, some memories of which survived even in the form of decent video footage).
Anyway, (major) sound problems aside, this seems to be a representative and generally satisfactory portrait of the band at their peak. The studio recordings are not particularly improved or «muscularized» in a live setting, but the band is capable of retaining all the psychedelic colors and reproducing all the technically challenging grooves and instrumental flourishes (like Larry's cute «bumble-bee» bit on ʽDrifting In Open Spaceʼ, for instance — too bad his guitar keeps jumping in and out of the mix). Also, they don't have a keyboard player on stage, so all the keyboard parts are replaced by guitars — remember how I complained about the lack of a kick-ass guitar solo on ʽDriftingʼ in its studio incarnation? Well now, the song has a totally kick-ass guitar solo, as do many others. Too bad it all sounds so shitty.
There's quite a few surprise elements appearing throughout the show, but they're questionable. ʽPandora's Boxʼ is a lengthy mood-setting soundscape, slow, quiet, with minimalistic, almost ambient guitar serving as a backdrop for Evans' boring poetic monologue. Rhino's ʽGuitar Jamʼ is disappointing: the man is a very capable guitarist, but this here «jam» is largely just a test for one of his guitar tones — seems like some kind of an early talkbox, but it sounds as if he just discovered it and is testing its possibilities rather than intentionally using it for any specific purpose. ʽMesmerization Eclipseʼ starts out okay, but then transforms into a 15-minute drum solo: and, okay, Bobby Caldwell was a good drummer, but he did not have either the jazz versatility of Ginger Baker or the superhuman crashing power of John Bonham to deserve a 15-minute drum solo (actually, not even Baker or Bonham deserved a 15-minute drum solo).
They do close the show with a Hendrix cover (ʽStone Freeʼ) that is almost unexpectedly good — I mean, these days there's absolutely no reason to listen to it, but it turns out that Rhino could offer a pretty decent imitation of Jimi for those who still yearned for a live Hendrix-style sound in the early 1970s. So it all just goes to show that, just like in the studio they had enough ideas and good taste to qualify as a solid B-level prog outfit, so did they have their excessive misses and undeniable successes on stage: not a great band with an unmatchable vision, but a good one with real talent to burn. Too bad they did not have the opportunity to leave us a sonically worthy memento of that (live) goodness.