Les is more: Bass virtuoso brings his ‘Oddity Faire’ to Tahoe
March 5, 2009
If you thought Les Claypool couldn’t get any stranger, think again.
A new album inspired by the music he made for the movie “Pig Hunt” and video game “Mushroom Men” has led to a one-of-a-kind, avant-garde tour that includes a hobo cabaret and a slam poet. “The Oddity Faire: A Mutated Mini Fest,” is coming to MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa on Sunday, March 8.
“It’s going to be one of those things where people are gonna go ‘What the hell is going on here?’ ” Claypool told Lake Tahoe Action. “I personally enjoy that reaction.”
Since entering the national stage with the live album “Suck on This” in 1989 with his band Primus, Claypool’s imagination clearly never stops. He’s made dozens of albums, wrote soundtracks for the cartoon “South Park,” and put together bands the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Oysterhead, a short-lived supergroup that included Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of the Police. He’s collaborated with like-minded innovators such at Gabby La La, Buckethead, Tom Waits, Charlie Hunter and Adrian Belew.
“Unfortunately, I tend to focus on many goals,” Claypool said before expounding on his book writing and movie projects.
“Songwriting from lyrics, you can tell a story, hopefully concisely, in a few verses, whereas writing a novel you have to fill up a couple hundred pages,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary amount of work.”
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The filmmaking process proved even more challenging.
In the spirit of the mockumentary of “Spinal Tap,” Claypool in 2006 wrote a spoof about the jam band community in which he played drums for Electric Apricot.
“We had a hit-and-run, trips to the hospital, and we had one of the main crew guys disappear with all the footage and threaten us with e-mails saying he was going to chuck them in a fire and check himself into a mental institution,” Claypool said. “It was just one nonstop kick to the testicles, and it continues to be so. We sold it to Lampoon, and now the head of Lampoon is up on charges for fraud and stock manipulation and faces up to 25 years in prison.
“It’s one more nugget in the book I will write about climbing Everest wearing nothing but a Speedo, which was what it was like trying to make this damn movie. … I’ve got to tell you, it’s much easier being a bass player and making records.”
There’s been much speculation over the years how music history would be different if Claypool had passed his audition with Metallica and became the band’s bass player after the 1986 death of Cliff Burton.
“I don’t think it would have been that much different because they would have booted me out after about a month and a half,” Claypool said.
A lot of people might not understand Claypool because he comes from such abstract points of view. The crew at “The David Letterman Show” certainly didn’t appreciate Primus, which wore penguin costumes and played “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” during a one-time appearance.
“We were big Dave fans, Larry (LaLonde, the guitarist) and I, and we wanted to do something special,” he said. “We had done this photo session with these penguin costumes. … They actually got very annoyed with us that we did that.”
A Letterman producer yelled at the publicist for Primus, which has never been invited back.
Some folks just have a sense of humor.
“That’s very true, and I feel sorry for those people,” Claypool said. “I myself enjoy satire on a daily basis.”
Claypool spoke with Action after watching Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl performance. He said it would be challenging to play a halftime show.
“Primus did half-hour sets just opening for other bands like Rush or U2 or whoever,” he said. “I was always amazed because now in a half-hour I can barely get through two songs.
“But I’ve been in positions like that before where I’ve had to condense things. I’d probably just grab the Whamo (one-string bass), put a monkey mask on and go out there and bounce around. That’s the best bang for the buck as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t see them having me play the Super Bowl anytime soon.”
While a nation’s worth of football fans might not be ready for Claypool, count on enthusiastic, open-minded audiences at the 18 cities on “The Oddity Faire” tour, including Stateline.
“I’ve done every festival there is to do except for Lilith Fair,” Claypool said. “And the thing I’ve always commented on is there hasn’t really been one for the folks that don’t necessarily fit into any of them. This is a tour that’s purely based on strange music and performance.
“I was one of those guys growing up that was always looking for something different. I was turning over rocks looking for cool things, and this is a way for folks that like to turn over rocks looking for strange things can find them all in one place on one evening.”
Mushrooms grow in dark places. That premise spawned a new album from Les Claypool. “Of Fungi and Foe” is an extension of the music Claypool made for the video game “Mushroom Men,” in which a UFO crashes in a field, suddenly giving mental powers to some mushrooms, who move about battling things like bunnies and evil polypores. For Claypool, that sounds about right.
“My son, he caught wind of it and was very excited about the notion of Pa doing the music for a video game,” Claypool told Lake Tahoe Action. “On a creative-writing level, it was very interesting and inspiring, and on the father level, I made some brownie points.”
The album is the latest Claypool experiment, which shows off his mastery of percussion, including the Whamola, a modern-day version of the washtub bass. He also has a bending solo on a slide whistle.
On earlier albums, Claypool used audio clips from both “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Deliverance.” His career has advanced to see him writing a song, “Boonville Stomp,” for the movie “Pig Hunt” in which Claypool even played a role. “Boonville Stomp,” is one of a few macabre songs on the new album.
“It’s a little darker than some of my previous releases,” he said. “It’s definitely out there. It’s (Captain) Beefheart meets the Residents while trying to rip off Ennio Morricone.”
I disagree somewhat, considering the spookier “Antipop” in 2002 and 1991’s “Pork Soda.” Some of the characters in Claypool’s previous work include a race car driver who dies in a drunken-driving crash, a Niagara Falls barrel rider, a serial killer called “Scissor Man,” and an unassuming person who is into pornography.
My favorite song on “Of Fungi and Foe” is a duet with gypsy punker Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordell, an artist cut from Claypoolian cloth. Hütz doesn’t seem to sing any actual words on “Bite Out Of Life,” but his Ukranian accent is detectable. Claypool follows with:
“I have known a thing or two about/
love and lust and fly fishing for trout/
If you feel your days are diddley dim/
then sink your teeth right in.”
Sure it’s rather dark. It’s also hilarious.
“Red State Girl,” immortalizes Sarah Palin, and not in a way she would like. “Kazoo” is a humorous marimba-and-fiddle tribute to a dog whose charm supersedes any notion of scolding her for peeing on the floor.
Claypool delivers his vocals in a variety of ways. In the persona of Mr. Hayne from “Green Acres,” Claypool berates a drunken driver in “Ol’ Rosco.” He also uses narration, square-dance-like calls, chants, demented nursery rhymes and what the voices might sound like inside the head a prodigy who is just a little bit touched.
Les Claypool last performed at Tahoe during the 1997 Boarding For Breast Cancer benefit at Sierra-at-Tahoe when he was with the band Primus.
“I just remember playing in the sleet and the slush,” he said. “I forget who was playing after us, but they didn’t want to play. They chickened out. We took the stage. I was worried about getting electrocuted. It was the most adverse conditions I’ve ever had to deal with, but it actually turned out to be a pretty amazing thing.”
At one point, the power went out, and Claypool performed a solo acoustic version of “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.”