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Published: 2001/11/15
by Dan Greenhaus

Oysterhead, Roseland Ballroom, NYC- 11/13

These days, with vapid pop songs being written, marketed and sold by a cynical few within the music industry, it’s a pleasure to know that, by contrast, our community is filled with bands who just love to play their instruments for themselves. It was on
this premise that Oysterhead was born. Three gifted musicians who just
wanted to play music together. The band’s fall tour pulled into Roseland Ballroom for two nights for the stressed, but faithful New York crowd.

I got to the venue around 7:00 expecting a hoard of ticketless fans and a
huge line due to heightened security concerns. Fortunately I found neither.
In fact, tickets were in abundance outside the venue with at least a dozen
people holding up tickets for trade or sale. Surprisingly, by the time I
went inside at 7:30 to see Marc Ribot, tickets were being offered at $10,
with no takers. I also noticed the diversity of the crowd. While the
obligatory throngs of heads were there, also present were more than a couple
people there clearly for Les, proudly sporting Primus t-shirts. Despite the
crowd’s diversity and age difference, everyone was getting along just fine
as everyone was in high spirits.

From the opening notes of "Polka Dot Rose", it was clear that this band had
made lengthy strides since the New Orleans show that some felt nearly harpooned and
sunk the band before it even got started. Thankfully for all of us, they have
moved forward at a fine pace. Stewart Copeland’s heralded drumming is every
bit as good as everyone has said, and he reminded everyone just how good
during "Army’s on Ecstasy" which, in my opinion, was the best song of the
night. His drum rolls and fills are something to behold, rocking the very
foundation of Roseland.

While the band didn’t push the music to the
boundaries, there was plenty of jamming. I’ve read several newspaper
reviews of the shows that equate Oysterhead to "masturbation", that the band
is just tooting its own horn with solo after solo. What these mainstream
journalists are missing is the cohesiveness of the band during those solos.
While their ears are focusing on and individual member, I found my ears
dancing back and forth from one band member to another, repeatedly being
amazed that the individual talent on this stage.

Les Claypool, who has twice been quoted as saying he loves the fact that
there is a community of people in the world that just want to see people
play their instruments, was clearly enjoying himself all night long. With
every skip he took away from his microphone, it became more and more
apparent that this is where Les wants to stay. Trey too was clearly having
a good time. His new guitar setup produces a sound and tone that is
significantly heavier than anything we’ve heard him do before. There were
several points, specifically during "Pseudo Suicide" where Trey’s guitar
sounded extremely similar to a Gibson, the guitar used by both Warren Haynes
in Government Mule and Slash. Stewart, using two different drum setups,
bangs his drums as hard as anyone I have ever seen live. Frequently tossing
his sticks away he commanded the audience’s attention for much of the show,
and exhibited equal control over several of the jams. "Shadow of a Man"
showcased Stewart’s skills as he pounded away on his secondary kit to the
delight of the entire crowd. In all the shows I’ve seen, I can only think of
three other drummers who commanded the attention of the crowd the way Les
did; Neil Pert from Rush, Stanton Moore from Galactic and Matt Abts from
Gov’t Mule.

Other highlights included a beautiful "Radon Balloon" and a tight, concise
set closing "Mr. Oysterhead". The encore offered a bonus: both "Birthday Boys" and
"Little Faces." I was pleased to hear the silence during "Birthday Boys". I have
noticed that at very few shows, everyone is completely focused on the music.
During most quiet sections, you can plainly hear hundreds of people talking.
Not tonight. As Trey strummed away on his acoustic, you could plainly hear
the silence, which only sporadically was broken by someone screaming, which
of course was immediately followed by hundreds of "Ssshhhhhhh’s".

While Oysterhead isn’t changing the world, the band is alot of fun. I’m glad
for Trey that he’s doing what he wants. I’m happy Les enjoys playing for us
as much as we like to listen. And I’m glad for Stewart because his talent was
sitting on the shelf for too long. I am attending the second show as well
so I can then make the determination if the songs are exactly the same from
night to night, as I’ve heard they are. But either way, "Pseudo Suicide" is
a great live song.

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