Monday, December 14, 2009

Les Claypool live in Melbourne 2009 (review)

Venue: The Forum

Note to self: Never try and write a concert review straight after the event. A series of superlatives and expletives does not make for good reading, it’s true but describing Les Claypool in concert presents many challenges. Claypool is to the bass what Don Burke is to gardening, David Lynch is to weird and Neil Armstrong is to moon landings. His unhinged music delivered with such stone-faced conviction, has the unerring ability to make me laugh  hysterically. Not that Les is trying hard to be funny; he is more or less just stringing together phrases and sounds that compliment each other so as to push the music forward. His first concern is the bass and making that sucker rumble, his second here at The Forum tonight is keeping this seemingly unplanned racket running like a cohesive show.

The San Franciscan ‘king of stoner rock’ is joined on stage by two drummers, a cellist and his collection of basses including an electric up-right. The band, all in Richard Nixon Halloween masks and tuxedos look as though they’re seconds away from pulling m16s out of violin cases and robbing the first few rows. Les is one well dressed man too, in his tailored shirt, vest and fedora. It’s his behavior on stage though that’s really worth noting. While his band continues an onslaught of rubbery drum and bass heavy music, Claypool takes his time in setting up the mood for each song. After an ear-splitting intro set, he walks off stage while the two percussionists battle it out for a few minutes playing off one another on dueling kits. This spectacle is then interrupted by a pig’s face peering out from the side of the stage; the crowd start yelling and leaping like frogs at this sight. Les sheepishly is stalking back out on to the stage posing every few steps with a violin bow in hand as though he’s on an imaginary catwalk. He finally comes to rest at the up-right electric bass recently set up by the roadie.

Those in the audience, who remember Les in the Primus video Mr Krinkle dressed in a pig suit playing the cello, began cheering for what felt like an inevitable set up for a much adored Primus number. I was pretty sure that Les would’ve dropped Primus songs from the set but now as he begins dragging the bow along those strings and Mr Krinkle creeks out, it’s momentarily thrilling. The song however isn’t to last, it’s only a teaser for those who bought and played near to death Primus’s Pork Soda album. Instead he is soon hammering the cello to the just as impressive Tooth. This diversion is too much for some fans though and cat calls (no pun intended) for Tommy the Cat grow louder and louder. Unseen dude behind me; “Play the song that made you famous, you douche!” Les responds; “If I had my way, I’d play Tommy The Cat, every night for all eternity, just for you.” It was the only possible retort, and coming from a very tall man in a pig mask with a voice that’s more nose than throat, is also piss funny.

The tour’s basically in support of Of Fungi & Foe Les’s new bag of weird which really doesn’t divert from his Primus roots at all, with the exception of no guitarist. Instead, Les’s band is working only with percussive instruments including vibraphone. The first four songs are from all over Claypool’s catalogue including the rarely exhibited Riddles Are Abound Tonight, a one-off release he did under the name Sausage. The many Primus fans here tonight are treated to a re-worked Southbound Pachyderm from 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl, but it’s the distinct lack of noted Primus tracks that has caused some unrest tonight. Personally, I’m contented just to see one of music’s great oddities perform and hear the true sensei of the bass. The current Claypool album is probably still too new for fans to have embraced yet, but given time many of the songs will surely become favourites of anyone who dug Primus. Songs such as Red State Girl could easily find approval of long-term fans with its seedy plot of sexual fantasies regarding dopey US senator, Sarah Palin. Plus anyone who didn’t enjoy the hillbilly-rave of newie Boonville Stomp must have been dead. In a round-a-bout way, Les explains Boonville is a kind of redneck anthem that can be applied to anywhere populated by the dentally challenged; “Launceston!” someone in the audience helpfully suggests.

Towards the business end of the show, Les has decided it’s time for another change and leaves the stage once again as the duelling drummers take their cue for a second battle. This time Claypool is gone for what seems like ages, until finally he waddles on stage stooped over almost dragging his knuckles along the floor, his head contained in a monkey mask. There’s a roar of laughter and cheer, so Les makes a second lap of the stage in ape-fashion. The commotion caused is as though a real primate had gotten loose and entered the room unexpectedly. Claypool finally straps on his big black bass, steps up to the second mic which is running through a voice vocoda, and starts barking indecipherable sounds into it like a circus ring master. He seems to be running through a medley now of Primus and solo tracks, including the much demanded Tommy The Cat. The band and Les are now working hard at tacking bits of songs together in some improvised jam. It becomes utterly hypnotic watching Claypool’s fingers blurring up and down the fret on his bass, while the band attack their instruments for an unforgettable finish.

There’s really nobody quite like Les Claypool, and it’s kind of a shame his back catalogue is bigger than the man himself. For my money at least, he’s still making some excellent music and has one hell of a band, but it seems some fans can’t move on with him. Sure a Primus show would have been great, but a nostalgia trip would’ve taken a lot less skill than what was on offer at this outstanding concert.


(Pics by myself and Fruitbat)

Click the link to see Les performing "Precipitation" from this show:

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