If you like eclectic, noisy, jammy, jazz, influenced hard rock, then the historic Fillmore in San Francisco was the place to be this past New Years Eve. Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade brought down the house on the previous night with what was billed as the last performance of Pink Floyd's Animals. This was the one! With full blown visuals and the intense feel of the Fillmore, this concert eclipsed everyone's expectations leaving us wondering how they could possibly top themselves this evening.
We took the 10-minute bus ride from my house to the Fillmore and arrived when doors opened. When we got upstairs, the usual friendly staff greeted us with noisemakers, hats, and other supplies. Everyone was in good spirits. We made our way around the venue and
did the usually art exploration upstairs in that other room. Inside they had a touch bass guitar player warming up the early crowd. We heard him sing about being thrown out of Humboldt County.
Back downstairs in the main hall they were playing episodes of South Park on the two screens. This was keeping everyone entertained. They had these cool green frogs made out of holiday type lights all along the balcony, as well as banners with hemp leaves and other plants. The stage looked beautiful, and was
similar to the previous night. A large screen stretch from side of the stage to the other, from the floor to the ceiling, where images were projected all night. On both sides of the screen were these tall narrow fish tank-like glass box with bubbles coming up from the bottom. What made these so neat was that the bubbles didn't rise straight up; they zigzagged back and fourth up the glass in a controlled motion.
Banyan opened the show in a storm of musical chaos with their brand of avant-garde jazz meets a 90's alternative rock groove. Compositionally, it is in the tradition of early 70's Miles Davis. Steven Perkins, of Jane's Addiction fame, leads the band and is the centerpiece. He took the band from the soft spaces of lazy percussion to the ferocious edge of drumming madness. At points he had the band rolling
like a runaway train and it was became easy to see him leading jams in alternative music. He looked really happy and did not stop smiling the entire show. I really enjoyed watching this extremely talented drummer up close. On bass was the legendary Mike Watt. Watching him play bass is like watching someone operate a jackhammer.. I've never seen a bass player show such physical emotion, making extreme gritty facial
expressions. The interplay between Watt and Perkins lived up to any expectations.
During Banyan's performance, they had an improvisational painter on the right side of the stage. This was one of the trippiest things I have ever seen. It really redefines what it means to have an artist on stage with a jamband. In the past, the only people I have seen paint on stage have created a single piece of artwork from beginning to end. At the end, there is a tangible piece of art that was one person's expression over the course of the evening.
The painter had a tall canvas slightly larger then himself. It was completely spontaneous as he painted along to the music at the moment. He began the show by painting abstract version of person holding a guitar. As the music progresses, he added to the
painting showing things like his head and hands on fire. He also had a paint eraser (like a white board) so he could subtract from the painting. During the song, it was an organic process of him adding and subtracting from the painting. He also had all sorts of combination of brushes to paint patterns. After each song he would wipe the entire screen clean and start again.
He essentially had a different concept for every song. He did people a number of times. During one song he painted a man and it said USA. He then made the face into a devil, a pig, and so on. I was thinking to myself, what are Americans? It was so awesome. Eventually he wiped the face all together and stood there for a few seconds. I was in awe. Yes, we are all faceless. He made some very interesting statements with his art.
There were many Banyan virgins in the audience including myself. They blew us all away. Many people were expressing out loud between songs that they were the best band they had never seen. It was a great vibe and you could see the musicians were very flattered. This was a perfect opening gig for this band, and I hope they return for a headlining gig soon.
Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade came out dressed in their usual costumes. Les had his classic captain's suit on which for some reason reminded me of the Big Brown Beaver video. His face has that plastic look. Jeff had on his wizard gear. Skerik was dressed like the devil. Eenor was dress in his usual unique style. There was an extra drum set to the left of Lane's kit so we waiting in anticipation for the induction of the mystery guest drummer.
The Sausage tune Prelude to Fear opened the show at around 10:20pm. I was a little surprised by this number since we had heard it the night before, but the haunting chanting of "Ah E Ah O" made this the perfect opener. This song could be the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now. Jay Lane's high-flying jazzy rhythms underneath the soft thumbing of Claypool created the appropriate emotional mixed mood to begin the show. The hard rock military band style bass line during the songs chorus lead us down the path of the dark side. This song ended with Les singing the usual lines,
"This is only a test!" Could we pass the Frog Out test?
Next up was a cover of The Beatle's classic Sgt. Peppers > With a Little Help from my Friends, debuted on the previous evening. The
entire band sang the chorus "We're Colonel Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, we hope that you enjoy the show." The band was smiling and having a great time. Jay Lane and Eenor sang on a Little Help. This was the first song I have seen Lane sing, and he has a
very soft pleasant voice. Musically, they did a very cool job of adapting this song as their own.
High Ball with the Devil, from the High Ball with
the Devil album was next. This is where things really started to pick up. Claypool's slow bass line over the pulsating rhythmic march of the rest of the band had many people dancing or jumping in the crowd. The unique bass line during the chorus acts as the main riff of the song, and leads us through the Pink Floyd like music and lyrics. This song reminds me of something off The Wall, as I had images of children chanting, "Come the morning, we'll be waiting and yielding the power to paralyze."
And then all hell broke loose. This version of King Crimson's Thelu Hun Ginjeet was possibly the band's best performance to date. I had no concept of time, but I would not be surprised if it clocks in at over 20 minutes as everyone took their own long solos, including the drummers. In most cases, a solo only means one person is leading the band. In the true spirit of improvisational music, there is always an intricate web of noise behind the lead player directly interacting with the lead and influencing the lead. It was incredible how many different jams they took on this one version.
There is not much you can say about Claypool playing the part of Tony Levin on this song other then perfect. In the same fashion, Eenor has mastered Robert Fripp's complicated three-dimensional rhythm
part on this one. Jeff took a very memorable keyboard solo that sounded like a space ship had landed in the middle of the Fillmore. He continues to impress me every time I have seen him since the early
days of Rat Dog. Skerik freaked us out with a long shimmering solo that was absolutely gorgeous in a Knitting Factory kind of way. His style really adds to the dynamics of this song since Crimson did not
have a horn player when this song entered their repertoire in early 80's.
Les then welcomed the crowd to the Fillmore, and told us how excited he was for the show. For someone who plays such monster music, he is one of the warmest, friendliest musicians I have seen on stage. He spoke shortly about this being a new scary thing and he was taking some chances with the band. He added he was happy to be at the Fillmore for NYE.
Les then informed us that he had a special treat for us and brought on Tim 'Herb' Alexander. Herb was Primus' drummer from '90 to '96 and played on such classics albums as Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. His last album with Primus was Tales From the Punch Bowl, which was interesting since we had imagery from that album on stage. I won't claim to know that much about Primus history but I was thinking they never did a NYE show with him after this album came out since he left that same year. Herb playing with the Frog Brigade is really huge news in the Primus world. This became a mini Primus reunion show mixed with musicians from other line-ups of Primus, Sausage, Holy Mackerel Band, mixed with even more crossover from the Ratdog and Critters Buggin. What a mess of mixing musical biographies!
The band then broke into long sequence of 16 Shells > Hello Skinny (one verse) > Hendershot. I could be confused but I believe 16 Shells was this hillbilly country blues rock song. It sounded like the type of stuff Les must have heard growing up as a kid. It was fun and the band really took their time opening this
one up. Jeff took a solo that reminded of him playing The Grateful Dead's Deal or Might As Well. I had never heard Frog Brigade empty this style, and they clearly showed they are capable of just about anything.
The Sausage tune Hendershot has become one of my favorites from the Frog Brigade. This song is a funny little blues song that reminds me of 50's swing meets 60's psychedelic. Claypool's bass line in synch with the drummers makes this song an upbeat dance classic. Herb and Jay pushed out the poly-rhythmic percussion as Eenor took his usual slip sliding style solo on this one.
Old Diamondback Sturgeon, a Primus song, was next. Les asked Todd to demonstrate on his guitar what it sounded like to hit rock bottom on drugs. Les explained Todd had hit these low points, and he would now channel that feeling through his guitar to let us know he felt at those times. I think he successfully did that as I stood there with clenched hands and tingles running down my spine. It was one intense solo from piercing solo. I remember one sequence of
ferocious rhythm that electrified the place, very similar to Todd's solo on Sausage tune, Here's to the Man. It's completely possible with my blurry mind that they actually played this song.
The musical journey of The Sausage tune Shattering Song was similar to others where the band uses the song as vehicle to create a song sandwich. In the past, I have bits and pieces of many classic Primus songs appear hear including Big Brown Beaver and Race Car Driver. Tonight's shimmering version included the Primus tune Tommy The Cat and the always popular cover of The Doors' Riders on the Storm. Claypool sings an intensely interesting version, changing the inflections and emphasis of the words from the original version.
In the middle of Shattering, Les played an electric banjo bass. I believe this is the same instrument I have seen Eenor play in the past, including the Vegas run. It kind of made him look his
South Park image.
We were about 30 minutes from midnight when Pink Floyd's Shine on You Crazy Diamonds began to echo though the Fillmore. The staff began to pass out kazoos and party favors. As it got closer to midnight, I went to the bar to buy a glass of champagne. To my pleasure I was informed there was free champagne all along the bar. I also saw waitress handing out glasses. This was awesome and I was so happy to be at the Fillmore. I feel honored to be able to see shows in such a comfortable, friendly, and caring atmosphere.
Before I realized it, they were counting down to midnight. There was really no big production, just the numbers flashing on the screen. I cannot even remember if they were still playing Crazy Diamond
underneath. The band wished everyone Happy New Years.
Les then explained that we all have these kazoos in our hands, and asked if we wondering what they were for. I pulled it out of my pocket and it says, 'Frog Out 12/31/00 Fillmore.' He humorously warned us not to pack our weed into the large end. He hummed the
chorus to the Primus song Here Comes The Bastard through it, and asked us to hum along. The actual song has this sound so it was perfect. The kazoo sound was coming from everywhere and created a surreal surround sound feel.
Les then dedicated the song to George W. Bush and the Republicans. Could they have been the original bastards he was referring to when he wrote this song? Again, it was fittingly appropriate coming from a
bunch of freaks in the middle of a Frog Out in San Francisco during the first days the 21st century.
At about 12:20, the bank walked off the stage. I was a little surprised since it was still very early. There seemed to be some confusion among the crowd as to whether or not the show was actually over. While some people were grabbing their coats, I made my way
up to the balcony and found vacated front row seat. I was ecstatic. I knew this was where I wanted to be for what ever was going to go down next.
After a very short break, Frog Brigade came back on stage with Banyan, as well as the improvisational painter. Claypool introduced this part of the show as the "Cluster Fuck". They then broke into raging
version of Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick. I believe this was the band's first performance of this song. The first centerpiece of this song was at the first musical interlude. Most of the musicians left the stage leaving only Herb, Jay, and Steven on percussion. Steven was playing some sort of percussion set up at stage right. The proceeded with a very long rhythm devils section. At one point, Herb
and Steven traded places so that Herb was in the spotlight. The crowd was really getting into it and most of the balcony was dancing around like a Dead show. I was having my own enjoyment by melting deeper into my seat.
The improvisational painter continued to astonish me. I spaced out watching him for what seemed to be hours. There was almost too much going on - I didn't know where to look! At some point, Eenor was even adding to the painting with the top end of his guitar. I think I saw the trumpet player from Banyan was also painting.
Moby Dick went on forever, as the jam continued and we found ourselves at the second centerpiece: a bass dual between Mike Watt and Les Claypool! This was so entertaining, especially since they have such different styles. Watt just tore into his bass like nothing I have really seen. Seeing him on stage we Claypool felt like a historical moment at the Fillmore.
The transition into The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows was very smooth, and caught me completely off guard. Originally I thought I heard hints of Tax Man. I have only seen Frog Brigade perform TNK one other time, in Vegas with members of Oysterhead joining them on stage. This version was extremely trippy and was
probably what The Beatles originally had in mind. I also find their version far more enjoyable then the Grateful Dead rendition from the early 90's.
The "Cluster Fuck" portion of the show was nothing less then spectacular. It exceeded any expectations I had, both from a musical standpoint and a "give us something special since its NYE" standpoint. The jamming was exceptional as they surfed that thin line
between actual rock song and musical chaotic noise.
The musicians left the stage and it appeared as if the show was finally over. I made my way down from the balcony and found my friend and my coat. Very shortly after, Frog Brigade came back on stage alone and performed the final encore. I ran back up to the balcony to catch The Primus song Harold The Rocks scream through the Fillmore. They sounded essentially like Primus as this point. The energy was unreal as the mosh pit slowly came to life
when the music intensified. It was surreal watching it form and mellow out with the music. In many ways, it was just like watching the improvisational painter.
At one point the band completely slowed it down and Claypool remarked, "Now children, you better play nice." It made me think about the interesting culture experiment Frog Brigade has become because of its diverse fan base. Frog Brigade brings in all types of
people from hard-core Primus fans to Phishheads to Critter Buggin fans. While Ratdog fans could also be showing up, I think people like myself might prefer to be called Jay and Jeff fans. These two gentlemen continue to amaze me as they carry the backbone of the
music with Claypool, creating an intense rhythm section on every song.
The show ended at around 1:15pm and we hurried up out of the Fillmore, happily greeted to posters at the bottom of the steps. The poster is a trippy symmetrical design with a bunch of frogs leaping in all directions. The large frog in the center has his tongue around a fish. Now this would have been the perfect New Years Eve shirt!
JamBase San Francisco Correspondent
Go See Live Music!
This setlist was found on the LesClaypool.com message
Prelude to Fear, Col. Claypool's (Sgt. Pepper's),
Highball With The Devil, Thela Hun Ginjeet, 16 Shells@ > Hello Skinny@, (one verse) > Hendershot@, Old Diamondback Sturgeon@, One of These Days tease > Shattering Song > Tommy The Cat jam (Les on banjo
bass) > Riders on the Storm (Les on banjo bass) > Shattering Song, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, New Years Countdown, Here Come The Bastards (dedicated to George W and The Republicans)
Encore 1: Moby Dick (with huge drums jam) > Tomorrow Never Knows
(both with banyan)
Encore 2: Harold Of The Rocks
The show ended at 1:15 am.
@ = Les on upright bass
** Tim Alexander (Herb The Ginseng Drummer) played on every tune starting with Thela Hun Ginjeet.
Before Prelude To Fear, there was a Ride Captain Ride tease