Les Claypool's Frog Brigade | Oct 22, 2002 | McDonald Theatre | Eugene, OR

The Colonel has, without a doubt, assembled the most talented freaks in the northern hemisphere onto a single stage to play his hard-core circus music. I haven't seen The Frogs play since last year at the Family A-Faire; once a year does not do them justice. In fact, I now think it's down right sacrilegious to play deaf to the Frog's calling for that long. Les - excuse me - The Colonel showed me the error of my negligence by coming out with a completely different incarnation of his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade than the one to which I'd become accustomed. No Floyd, no eerie Willie Wonka interludes, no raping of Beatle's tunes - but plenty of costumes, a dash of Skerik, a long pull of Eenor, a swig of Primus and plenty of quality stage banter. The new additions of the past year are in the rhythm section with a powerful drummer, Fish (Fishbone), and Mike Dillon - a hybrid of Ogre from the Nerds movies and Mongul from Blazing Saddles that Les referred to as D Dog the Tree Frog, playing the vibraphones and percussion. They took the spotlight quite a bit. A long interlude back and forth between the drums and vibraphone - like escaped mental patients releasing various demons in a garage - took the place of a set break.

It sold out an hour or so before the show, leaving a good handful of disappointed Oregonians pleading for extras at the doors. The show made me realize it's been a while since I've seen a really good, legitimate, rock concert. They went beyond the groups of very talented musicians creating sounds on a stage, to creating an entertainment extravaganza for an evening. They put on a show. Perhaps it was Skerik's flowing yellow cape and matching superhero attire, Les's fully buttoned colonel jacket and helmet forcing his face to start in the middle of his nose, Eenor's long blonde dreads and six foot banjo, Mike Dillon grunting a pirate chorus... Perhaps it was the simple amazing raw talent that most are afraid to show in public, if they do happen to possess such gifts, for fear of jealous retaliation, that produced the full serving of evening entertainment.

Les Claypool's stature seems to be rising all the time. I suppose if you get enough people wearing shirts and plastering bumper stickers promoting you for President, you're bound to climb a few notches on the hierarchical ladder. I personally enjoyed Skerik's flagrant abuse of Claypool's title. [Perhaps what I see as jovial mocking and role playing is really the manifestation of Claypool's complete and ultimate dominance over his sax player - though I doubt it; it's very difficult to force a man continually waving his sparkly golden cape, like Dracula, into your submission.] Skerik referred to Les only as Colonel throughout the show, but my favorite exchange was when someone threw a shoe on stage by Skerik.

Les asked, "Is someone throwing shoes at you, Mr. Skerik?"
Skerik replied, "No, it just kind of landed in front of me Colonel."

Had someone followed with, "Beam him up Scotty," the shows would soon be overrun with Trekkies admiring the costumes, arguing the percentage of D Dog's Volken ancestry, and discussing Claypool's shift from Colonel to Commander. Fortunately, Claypool embodies a delicate melding of Hunter S. Thompson and Mighty Mouse, poignant and unpredictable, that shall forever repel obsessive fans.

They played one long set, which could have been longer, full of energy, exuberance, and hard talent. Whether you like the music or not, it's difficult to deny that Les Claypool is fucking amazing. [I'm going to exploit access to a completely opinionated commentary that comes with writing and say, it's impossible.] He played various basses, and another odd instrument, the whamola (also the name of the song) which resembled a tool used to open skylight windows. He played with enough vigor, power and intense skill to force involuntary vibrations of the body and its various limbs, or catatonic-awe-strucken-poses scattered throughout the audience. These were the basic two categories of onlookers to the musical spectacle, creating a lovely environment to convulse around freely with plenty of room, or cement yourself in a single spot with a circle of drool marking your boundaries. There were also a few crowd surfers who took advantage of the firmly planted individuals and spread their vibrations upwards.

They started the night with one of my favorites, "Thela Hun Ginjeet," and continued with the Colonel's unique styling of music. I can't find words to describe his style, it's hard, and funny, and strong and rhythmic all at once. They did a great version of "Major Tom" and maintained high energy, stomping-laden sounds throughout the night. Most of the songs were off their new album, Purple Onion, and reminded me of Oysterhead, with an eerie combination of coarse sounds paired with snippets of good cheer. Eenor's sporadic smiles, paired with the brief uplifting chords in "David Makalaster," made me question their fine line between jesters playing on unicycles with giant frog lollipops and men you hope never to encounter in dark, or well lit, alleys. But safely contained on stage, there's only room to breathe in, be thankful and enjoy. I can't do their music any more justice with words; though, I do promise my vote to Claypool in the next election.

Reanna Feinberg
JamBase | Eugene, Oregon
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[Published on: 11/5/02]

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