Beefeater's sound as always struck this listener as a mixture, often times a beautifully messy one, of four very distinct elements. This feel was what made them so compelling upon initial listens, and what probably keeps them that way.
Foremost among these elements is the distinctive vocal sound of Tomas Squip. The emotional rawness of his delivery, wherein he sighs, cries, hits, and even spits into the mic provides for an often exasperating listen. Of course by now the term "Emo" is probably bandied about at any level of cultural discourse; as far as Disaster Amnesiac recalls, that term arose as Post Hardcore Punk Rock listeners dialogued with each other, searching for ways to describe the highly charged approach of Squip, Rites of Spring's Guy Picciotto, and Embrace's Ian MacKaye. Over time, some of the more overt political references of tunes such as Reaganomix seem to lose a touch currency (but, then again they also serve as snapshots of what was on the mind of a large chunk of an underground music scene), but his lyrics on Out of the Woods, Song for Lucky, and Mourning, with its incredibly poignant musings on the dynamics of suicide, retain tons of powerful impact. I've often felt, while listening to Plays, that Squip's style is almost too confessional, too emotionally intimate for "polite society" dynamics, in the way that often the first reaction to any type of sorrowful tears is to try and immediately stop the person shedding them from doing so. Certain emotional displays make people uncomfortable, and Squip spends the span of this entire LP evincing them. Disaster Amnesiac counsels: don't be afraid of it. Listen to and feel this emotional outpouring. Additionally, Tomas plays one hell of a great guitar solo on the cover of Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression, essentially going ape shit with feedback and raw six string caterwaul. As with his vocals, it's all about the rawness, there.
Not to be outdone in the guitar rawness department is Fred Smith, with his style that fuses Heavy Metal, Funk, Punk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, all blended into a very personal expression. I can recall marveling at his sounds, so at odds with most Hardcore (save the crew over at SST, of course) of the time. Over the years, these sounds continue to thrill the guitar player fan that I remain. His heavy, block chords on Trash Funk, his quicksilver intro on Beefeater, his feedback-drenched playing on Assholes Among Us, the wild riffing on Miss You So Much. Fred just provides so much in the way of guitar expressiveness throughout Plays. His wild, careening playing added a lot to the singular Beefeater mixture. In the early 2000's, Disaster Amnesiac was channel surfing and saw Fred on the tube as part of some Rock band based "reality show". All that I could do was reminisce about seeing his smile up on stage at a community center in Washington, D.C., riffing away with Beefeater.
Funky bassist Dug E. Bird also adds his own personal voice to the Beefeater mix by way of his four string originality. I'd say that if you want to go to the heart of his expression on Plays For Lovers, skip ahead to track 5, Mr. Silverbird, and marvel at his thick, rumbling low end heaviness. Disaster Amnesiac never tires of this tune, with its musical and emotional movement, and Bird's playing has so much to do with this. At this point in time, the musical paring of Funk and Rock elements is well-trod territory, but I'd counsel the listener to really pay attention to the gritty, dirty, FONKY sound that Beefeater get on this track, and recall that they laid it down over thirty years ago. Now, I ain't saying that this was the first example of such action, as I'm sure that Bird was in the audience at that Big Boys/Trouble Funk/Minor Threat show in D.C., but I am saying that it's a damn fine example of the potential of it. Dug pretty much plays lead bass on A Dog Day and Song for Lucky, builds huge low blocks of sound on 4 3 2 1, floats melodic on Beefeater, and just generally holds things down throughout. His style has always struck this listener as a liberating voice of the bass guitar in Punk Rock, right up there with Mike Watt in some ways.
Paired with Bird, nay, glued to him throughout Plays is drummer Bruce Taylor. I can still recall seeing his picture on the sleeve of the LP, and marveling at this "old guy" playing on a Punk Rock record. That notion seems ridiculous now, of course. Bruce's playing on the album is most definitely not ridiculous as he, like Smith, mixes what sounds like elements of different influences into a voice of his own. His kit playing has the energized feel of Punk Rock and Hardcore on Mourning and 4 3 2 1, albeit still beat-based, and his solid thumping beats on Assholes, Red Carpet, Mr. Silverbird and Manic Depression, always blending lively cymbal work with over the top rolling snare and tom tom patterns, show grounding in earlier styles. It's probably safe to say that he played drums in bands before Punk Rock, and felt fine utilizing lessons learned from those experiences. Where did he come from pre-Beefeater, and where did he go after this LP?
Disaster Amnesiac remembers exactly where I was, the first that I heard Plays For Lovers, and who I was with. I also remember how it made me feel. All these years later, I put it on and still feel something. Beefeater's dervish mixture of elements, and their raw delivery, just never gets old for this listener.