By: Cal Roach
Les Claypool :: 03.21.08 :: The Rave :: Milwaukee, WI
It's easy to see how a guy like Les Claypool could become complacent, feeling like he really has nothing left to prove. The man basically redefined the role of the bass guitar and created his own unique musical niche to go with it. His talent is indisputable, and he's got a devoted legion of diehards who don't need convincing. He could just get up on stage and go, "You're all going to cheer because I just made a kooky drug reference and I play like this (unleashing an instant torrent of dbdbdbdbdbdbdbdbwwwwWWWW), even with a broken pinky finger."
Some fans got this impression over the course of Claypool's 2007 tour with the Fancy Band. He wasn't playing any new material and the setlists were getting repetitive. The previous year's tour with Primus had been dubbed "The Beat A Dead Horse Tour," and the concept was carrying over to his solo work. So, when fans read on Claypool's website that his spring '08 tour would feature "some new material," they were understandably excited. While this didn't actually turn out to be true, there have been surprises, and if Friday's show at The Rave was any indication, an increase in energy from the Fancy Band, now sans sitarist/vocalist Gabby La La. Claypool isn't willing to rest on his laurels just yet.
After bringing experimental/Middle Eastern/surf/metal mystics Secret Chiefs 3 along on early dates of the tour, Claypool surprised the crowd by subjecting them to Tim Fite in Milwaukee. The best that can be said of his opening set is that he had some interesting visuals on a screen behind him, but otherwise he was an unholy cross between Jimmy Buffett and Eminem - if Eminem suffered a crippling loss of rhythm. Fite had the crowd cheering when he was praising Claypool, making fun of cops and getting everyone to chant "fuck" over and over, but none of that takes any talent or insight. At least he was having fun.
In between acts, patrons could take advantage of $7.50 cups of Miller Lite or hear promotional pitches from Camel reps, the promotion responsible for turning away fans under 18, even if accompanied by their parents. Even Claypool later made disparaging remarks about the smoky haze in the poorly ventilated venue. Best to hold one's breath while dancing.
Before long, Claypool emerged and he and drummer Paulo Baldi began the intro for countrified funk-out "Buzzards of Greenhill." Claypool's slap bass was engrossing, but saxman Skerik was immediately dominant. The sound system - generally atrocious, but expertly tweaked by the Claypool crew - favored him in the mid-range while Claypool's vocals suffered. They broke into "Fisticuffs," a lost Brown Album Primus classic, and Skerik's wail proved that you don't need a guitar to rock. He started "One Better" with a serpentine, muted wah-wah lick, switched to a screaming octave-pedaled whine after the second chorus and then began to just ROAR like you've never heard a sax roar before. One of the biggest treats of the night was the debut of "Coattails Of A Dead Man," Primus's ghostly reimagining of "I Put A Spell On You." Skerik's voodoo snake-charm was so perfect for the tune it's a wonder Claypool doesn't pull it out more often.
Skerik may have stolen the show, but the whole band was in a tight groove for most of the night. "Rumble Of The Diesel" and "Of Whales And Woe" have become signature ensemble pieces - creepy, heavy funk jams that move the body and twist the mind. Claypool's peculiar songwriting brew is a dollop of Zappa and a dash of Tom Waits spiked with every rock fringe from punk to prog. From Primus's earliest demos to the present day, his sound is impossible to define succinctly. His humor is a surface sheen to keep the crowd bouncing amidst weighty lyrical concerns and a serious dedication to his craft, but at its essence there is nothing frivolous about his music. It's also a testament to the talent of his coconspirators that he can draw tunes from any era of his career and stir them seamlessly into the stew.
"Riddles Are Abound Tonight," from Claypool's 1994 album with Sausage, was a thrill ride of demented energy, and always a crowd-pleaser. The set-closer, Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," didn't really play to Claypool's strengths as a singer, but was a blast otherwise. Mike Dillon's xylophone work was incendiary - Keith Emerson with mallets - and Claypool's arrangement brought Baldi's propulsive drumming to the fore, charging the song in a way Floyd never conceived of. It was one of the finest full-band grooves in a night full of highlights.
JamBase | Wisconsin
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