Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Les Claypool's Oddity Faire :: 03.27.09 :: Electric Factory :: Philadelphia, PA
Les Claypool pushes odd like a stripper pushes skin. Claypool's Oddity Faire Tour was just a creeping extension of his mutated mind. It was his own sideshow freak-out that complimented his style of performance. There's no point anymore in stressing the fact that Les Claypool is an eccentric and magnificent bass player. We know this, and to expect anything different would crush the point of attending his live show. One only needed to scan the Electric Factory backdrop offering the four "personas" ripped from the cover art of Claypool's latest album, Of Fungi and Foe (released March 17, 2009 on Prawn Song), to know that there would be plenty of eye-popping entertainment and grim surprises laying in wait.
O'Death's hillbilly punk fervor opened the night with a bang. Greg Jamie and his romp-stomping bandmates plowed through a hearty handful of songs they've sweat and bled over for the last few years. Before playing "Hogtie" Jamie was asked if he was a pirate by the spirited crowd. He responded cheerfully, "No one has ever asked me that before. Do you want to be pirates?" The mass yelled back a resounding "Arrggg!" as the band trudged forward in a feast of cries and drum and banjo punctuated rhythms. They carried the energy through "Only Daughter," where Jaime fought back emotion by yanking on a length of cord in his hands. Gabe Darling plucked a few opening notes of "Down To Rest" on the ukulele before pausing to postulate that he always wondered why he has light and now he knew it came from the Electric Factory. His joke led the band into a punishing rendition of "Down To Rest." The band played like brothers showing affection. The bass and fiddle butted heads as Jesse Newman and Bob Pycior pushed against each other's backs, tilting their heads to sing the powerful song. O'Death's spirit should have earned them the slot before Claypool, but not everything can be right-side-up at the Oddity Faire.
Between bands, snippets of old horse races, '50s children's TV themes, rare pop tunes and other oddities graced the house PA. The Secret Chiefs 3 emerged from the darkness resembling some evildoer from Space Ghost meets an Arabic John Zorn. Their dark as night cloaks hid everything except Trey Spruance's scraggly gray beard, which poked out making him the Grand Poobah of the group. Spruance's fame started with Mr. Bungle and has carried him into some very interesting directions with the Secret Chiefs 3. From the first pluck of his instrument during "The 15," the Electric Saz was particularly menacing. Everything about it, from its oversized metal pick-up and swan like neck to the exotic spiced notes and wickedly deep reverberation, dominated our ears. Combine that with Spruance's bouncing demeanor and the set was something to behold. These hooded cats mixed Middle Eastern music spirals with doom metal and Halloween themed eeriness during "Personae: Halloween." With the help of a cross-legged Mike Dillon on tablas, they changed the rhythms and timing structures at will and the sounds bordered on Animal Collective, Ravi Shankar and what I would imagine Hell might have as elevator music.
Timb Harris pulled long draws on the bow while the keys added an ear catching touch. Smoke and darkness rode in on the Secret Chiefs' gloomy Middle Eastern rock as the walls of weird sound were paced and cadenced by that long-necked Saz that Spruance wielded like he was battling with invisible dragons. Throughout the performance he waved the Saz wildly, pulling it down to push his fingers across the strings in rapid controlled strokes, but only using the tips of his fingers to connect with the strings in a finger-picking style known as selpe. The set ended with one of those jaw-drop moments in music. I was up on the balcony against the wall really listening to the depth hidden in Spruance's finger work when the Saz took a huge leap into a chasm of reverberation and before I knew it my body was being vibrated off the wall. The instrument had ratcheted down a few decibels and was violently shaking the grime down the walls. Spruance's Saz made the Electric Factory rattle and hum like it was its own personal subwoofer. Even away from the quaking wall the blast could be felt through seven rows of bodies. The crowd erupted in applause as they finished the take-off jam. Throughout the rest of the night I saw more Secret Chiefs 3 CD's in hands than any other band, including Claypool.
|Secret Chiefs 3 :: 03.27 :: Philly|
Saul Williams pushed out a slightly danceable moment or two, but where he really fired up the crowd was with a screaming barrage of political thoughts in one seemingly endless exhale. From his fur boots to his sparkling make-up, Williams was as much defined by his ostentatious garb as he was by his outspoken nature or music. In the right setting I would have been enamored with his performance, but following the head thwacking that we received from O'Death and the ear-throbbing Secret Chiefs 3 set, he just left us craving the main act.
The difference with Les Claypool's costumed theatrics is that he is defined by his music not his costume. Plain and simple: Les Claypool is a bass god. He plays with one of the most unique styles the world will ever hear. Over the years, his touch has refined with smooth and elegant grace. He has seemingly absorbed all of the wonderful musicians who have surrounded him and pulled 45 years of music appreciation into his fingers, which release their knowledge in a bouncing, playful sort of way. The pocket his bass carves out is deep, tactile and sticky the way Victor Wooten or George Porter Jr.'s basses thump, but Claypool's notes finish with a youthful whip on their backside. The resulting sounds are felt throughout the audience as his fingers spider walk out each note. They plop against your ears like reverse raindrops pulling off the surface of water or the sound the nipple of the bottle makes if you flick it.
|Les Claypool :: 03.27 :: Philly|
On this tour, three equally talented musicians, each sporting bowtie tuxedos and appropriate vintage facemasks surround Les. Sam Bass on cello draws the bow back and forth across his strings, making the bed all evening long for the other three to bounce upon. Some moments his cello lashes out, creating a furious whale-like song, while other moments have a more calming effect. Each of the masked musicians blended well with the backdrop of Darwinesque freaks. They trotted through a dusting of Primus' 1997 parody of The Beatles' White Album with Brown Album classic "Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread." Claypool rained down intricate finger acrobatics while Bass rocked in time on his cello. This was immediately followed by the bouncing "Amanitas" off of the new album. Each song featured classic Claypool stylings including rich intros reeking of sea shanties, followed by Paulo Baldi's heavy handed drum work and rounded out by the slap and grab of Claypool's textured bass lines.
"David Makalaster I" included a "Southbound Pachyderm" tease that churned up the rowdy Philly crowd as a pit broke out four rows from the rail. It wasn't long before a steady downpour of bodies started flailing over the rail into securities' helpful arms. "Red State Girl" was Claypool's version of a samba with some choice lyrics about Sarah Palin and her chest made from recycled bottles. His subtle bass work hit a hypnotic bounce working nicely with Dillon's vibraphone, but he really poured on the goods when he pulled out the Whamola during "Precipitation." After staying silent on the side stage while Dillon charged over the vibraphone, Claypool joined him for a slapping bass/vibraphone head-to-head. Claypool placed his strikes between Dillon's mallet hits and before long the jam reined back in with a few steady draws and whammy bar pulls.
Sam Bass owned "Calling Kyle" and his cello took on a life of its own as he drew out deep, billowing groans while Baldi laid drums over the top. The incredibly rowdy crowd latched onto the song like a desperate ship spotting a lighthouse, and the numbers of people body surfing soon became too thick to count.
You couldn't help but appreciate the memory lane action as Claypool bookended the set with another Brown Album favorite, "The Game of Fisticuffs." This Primus tune sent Claypool springing around the mic and dancing across the stage with his newly donned pig mask bouncing as his coattails ran behind him. Claypool explained that he liked Philly because it had never let him down before beginning Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral." His take on the eerie main riff and dark lyrics was a treat. The cover further demonstrated how amazing Sam Bass was at laying down aggressive, supporting cello passages and pushing his own tone with distortion.
Ticket prices for the event clocked in around $27 dollars. Considering the five-hour marathon of music and the economic turmoil we are in, I must give it up to Les Claypool for organizing a splendid event at a very reasonable price.
Les Claypool :: 03.27.09 :: Electric Factory :: Philadelphia, PA
Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread, Amanitas, David Makalaster I > Southbound Pachyderm tease > David Makalaster I, Red State Girl, Precipitation, Calling Kyle, Booneville Stomp, Drums, Mushroom Men, Rumble of the Diesel, Fisticuffs,
Encore: What Would Sir George Martin Do, Electric Funeral
Continue reading for more pics of Les Claypool's Oddity Faire in Philadelphia...