As with so many artists who are casually labeled experimental or avant-garde, a lot of the genuine art in Gary Lucas’ guitar-playing lies in the way in which he grooms and schools his “outside” tendencies for pop and roots applications. Of course Lucas’ avant-garde credentials are legit: He has composed for experimental films and produced works by Tim Berne and other ardent New York outsiders. Lucas’ highly regarded 1990 solo record Skeleton at the Feast is a truly experimental work: a largely solo guitar album with moments of pure soundscape; abstracted rural blues; skittish, West African-flavored improvisations in alien tonalities; and a spooked, heavily effected holiday medley, “Christmas in Space,” that probably doesn’t get much play at office parties in Peoria.
But Lucas’ Outsider Hall of Fame reputation stems mostly from his involvement in two pinnacle moments of rock ‘n’ roll weirdness: two bands that enlisted alien ensemble chops in the service of pop goals and grails. Though Lucas was a late arrival to Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band – joining a full ten years after Trout Mask Replica changed everything for everyone forever – he was a key band member on the discs that are generally considered the best of the Captain’s later records: Doc at the Radar Station (1980) and Ice Cream for Crow (1982). From this, Lucas learned a language and an ensemble logic that is pretty much exclusive to Beefheart alumni. And he has remained a proud carrier of this most rare and coveted musical virus.
Forward another decade, Lucas locked down his rock ‘n’ roll immortality with his playing and co-writing (and, one assumes, mentoring) contributions to Grace, the one complete and wholly satisfying document left to the world by the obscenely talented Jeff Buckley. It is poignant and telling that Grace’s progressive nature is nearly the perfect opposite of Beefheart’s: all ether and impossible shimmer to the Captain’s scratchy earth and rattle.
Lucas has thus twice had to deal with a pretty formidable “What next?” While Buckley and Beefheart are jamming in the Great Elsewheres, Lucas keeps making curious noises here on Earth. On his Jerry Harrison-produced 2011 CD The Ordeal of Civility, Lucas reestablishes his identity as iconoclastic singer/songwriter with a warm and diverse collection of alien-pop guitar and heartfelt mountaintop tunes.
It is in his role as Buckley collaborator that Gary Lucas appears at BSP in Kingston on Friday, August 9, performing after a screening of the new film about Jeff Buckley, Greetings from Tim Buckley, in which Lucas appears. In between the film and the performance, New Paltz’ culture chief and Fasads guitarist Rick Lange will lead a question-and-answer session.
Gary Lucas, Friday, August 9, 7 p.m., 18+, $15 advance/$20 day of, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; tickets at www.bsplounge.com, Outdated Café in Uptown Kingston & Jack’s Rhythms in New Paltz.