Les Claypool | 03.25 | Tel Aviv

Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Goni Riskin

Les Claypool :: 03.25.10 :: The Barby :: Tel Aviv, Israel

Les Claypool :: 03.25 :: Israel
The threshold has been broken. Finally, Israel has received its first exposure to the American jam music scene. It's not that Israelis don't get their fair share of improvisational acts, they just don't get any of the acts that make up the jam band scene that has flourished in the States. As is, even some of the most music savvy Israelis aren't remotely familiar with bands likes The Grateful Dead or Phish. And there seems to be a clear distinction amongst Israeli youths between going to a show and going out dancing (with an arguable overlap in the realm of DJ ruled electronic music). For the most part, the crowd remained unapologetically static throughout the show, at least until the very end. That's not to say they weren't enjoying the music, it's just that for them, concerts are more of a spectacle than a chance to interact with the music by getting down and grooving out, as it tends to be treated within the American jam scene. But hopefully, all that is about to change.

The jam scene could not have sent a better emissary to facilitate that change. While labeling Les Claypool any one genre might be a contentious claim, there's no denying that since his collaboration with Trey Anastasio in Oysterhead back in 2000 and his subsequent project Colonel Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, Claypool has become a bona fide constituent of the jam world. And suffice it to say that this night at Tel Aviv's Barby was heavy on the jams.

Claypool though was not venturing to Israel without a reputation preceding him. Apparently, many Israelis are quite familiar with Primus, Claypool's first successful project, so much so that Claypool's Israeli debut saw The Barby filled to its capacity. Few in the crowd, however, seemed to be remotely aware of any of Claypool's post-Primus projects (aside from one guy in the crowd wearing a Buckethead getup alluding to his collaboration with the guitar virtuoso in Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains. Though the only Primus tune played during the show was "Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread," any familiarity with Primus' material was enough to prepare one for the dementedly bizarre music Claypool served up from his many other projects.

Sam Bass :: 03.25 :: Israel
In formal tuxedos, all wearing Claypool's signature Clockwork Orange-like mask, the quartet took the stage. "It's great to be here in Tel Aviv, though it's a bit different than Amsterdam," said Claypool, fresh off a three night run at Jam in the Dam, before jumping into a story about how in Amsterdam at the same gift shop that he purchased a large stuffed animal for his daughter, they were also selling living peyote cacti. "This leads into our next song that's about a bunch of mushrooms that come to life," talking about "Amanitas" off his latest solo release, Of Fungi and Foe, which was, in part, the soundtrack for an interactive videogame for Wii called Mushroom Men about a meteor that hits the earth and bestows intelligence and mobility to the mushrooms at the crash site.

"Cosmic Highway" was one of the longest, most riveting jams of the night. Vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon's tablas gave the song an ethnic feel, allowing for a seamless yet brief "Kashmir" tease. Dillon switched over to vibraphone, trading off face-melting licks with his bandleader. The distorted sound of Sam Bass' green cello soon took over. In the absence of a guitar or any other lead instruments, both Bass' cello and Dillon's vibraphone took on much bigger roles than I'd seen in previous Claypool ensembles to fill the void. The crowd responded well to the Jewish sounding bass line from "Cosmic Highway," letting out boisterous applause.

While Claypool is renowned for his virtuosic slap-bass technique used on his Carl Thompson electric bass, he can also put on quite a display on his fretless standup and single string bass-like instrument known as the Whamola. Claypool traded off haunting downward glissandos on his fretless with Bass during a lengthy jam from "Red State Girl." After a pounding display of "drums" from Dillon and drummer Paulo Baldi (Cake, Deadweight, Eric McFadden Trio), Claypool returned to the stage shrouded by an ape mask, ready to take on his Whamola. I'm not quite sure where he acquired this odd instrument, but Jesus can he play that thing, hitting it with a drumstick with one hand and pulling on the back of the string altering the tension, and consequently the pitch, with the other.

Finally towards the end of the set, the sheer energy of the music got people moving (though it was more moshing than actual dancing). "David Makalaster," with its children's song-like chorus, was the longest jam of the night. The set closed with "One Better," which was undoubtedly the climax of the show.

"When I was a young fellow," began Claypool coming out for the encore, "I was enamored with Geddy Lee." Les has the distinct honor of inducting Rush into the Canadian Songwriter Hall of Fame soon, and needs to perform a Rush song during the ceremony. "Learning a Rush song is fucking hard," quipped Claypool. "So, we're gonna use you folks as an experiment." Their rendition of "The Spirit of Radio" was immaculately accurate, aside from a slight reggae detour. Bass' cello, with just a tinge of distortion, did a stunning job at replicating all the complicated guitar parts originally played by Alex Lifeson.

Israel's first exposure to the U.S. jam world was a huge success, as people spewed out on to the streets of Tel Aviv smiling. Hopefully this Les Claypool show opens the floodgates for other jam bands to make the trip over here. Many of the necessary elements to facilitate these bands are already in place – multi-day festivals like Boombamela and a multitude of nameless trance parties, and of course, hippies. All they need is an influx of crunchy bands; the music scene here would welcome them with open arms.

Les Claypool :: 03.25.10 :: The Barby :: Tel Aviv, Israel
Up on The Roof > Duchess and The Proverbial Mind Spread, Amanitas, Cosmic Highway, Red State Girl > You Can't Tell Errol Anything > Precipitation > Drums > Buzzards Of Green Hill > David Makalaster, One Better
Encore: The Spirit of Radio (Rush), ???

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[Published on: 4/7/10]

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