Bob Dylan, Wiltern Theater / Les Claypool & The Frog Brigade, The Palace, Los Angeles, CA- 10/15
One Night, Two Shows
It happened one Tuesday: two shows, two vastly different crowds, but a common appreciation of music and classic performances make the night one to remember.
Los Angeles is the type of city that often has multiple artists performing on a given night, even Tuesday nights, in different venues. Sometimes this leads to double booking,’ or purchasing tickets for two different shows taking place on the same night. Most people in L.A. will simply decide to just do one, or blow off both events and do something completely different. Such is the mindset of Los Angelenos. I, however, am not like most residents of this city. I may be flaky, but concerts are not to be missed.
I purchased tickets to see Bob Dylan’s October 15th concert at the Wiltern Theater soon after they went on sale. Bob Dylan performing at the grand re-opening of the most beautiful venue in Los Angeles? This was an event not to be missed! The weekend before the show, my younger brother mentioned that Les Claypool was playing the following week at the Palace in Hollywood with his Frog Brigade. For anyone who has never seen Les in this lineup, it is quite an experience. We didn’t buy tickets, but it was our plan to see Les until Tuesday arrived, and "My Outlook" reminded me that I had tickets waiting at Bob Dylan.
I know, I know, there really isn’t a comparison between the two, and Bob Dylan is the obvious choice. But Bob Dylan was scheduled for three nights at the Wiltern, while Les Claypool only had one night at the Palace, which produced a slight musical quandary. Skip a night of Bob for Les?
Selling or trading Tuesday’s tickets for another night seemed like the obvious answer, but this proved to be more difficult than first anticipated. As the start time came and went, the crowd moved into the magnificent Wiltern, leaving brokers with dozens of tickets outside (ha scalpers!!). None of the miracle seekers outside wanted to pay face value for my balcony seats, and I really didn’t want to sell them anyway. Who was I fooling? I wasn’t going to skip Bob!
When I told my brother that we had to see Dylan, he shrugged his shoulders, "Cool, It’s my first Dylan show." As the usher showed us to our seats I asked him. "Why didn’t you tell me that, man? It is mandatory for any music lover to see him live. Dylan is an American treasure, the greatest living legend we have."
He’s still an outlaw too, and a fine performer.
Bob Dylan is backed on his current tour by a stellar group of musicians. I shouldn’t say backed, because Dylan leaves room for every member to contribute, with fantastic results. On guitars, Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell absolutely rip. Bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Receli round out the band, and they provide perfect rhythm and back beat, which is even harder when Dylan reinterprets his songs, which I’ll go into later. Onstage they remain in a close-knit bunch, feeding off their combined energy. Dylan has the freedom to do whatever he wants with his voice or guitar, and the band keeps the songs on track with rousing guitar and vocal harmonies. The price of admission is worth seeing Dylan jam with his band. A keyboard was also set up on stage, which Dylan played for at least half the songs, standing of course.
In addition to his own songs, he deftly mixed other songwriters material into his set, including Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby’s "The End of the Innocence" and the Rolling Stone’s "Brown Sugar" which he played before and after his own Grammy award winning "Things Have Changed." Now, the only way I can describe the intensity of "Brown Sugar," would be to reference a moment on the phenomenal Live 1966 album, which documents Dylan’s first trip to England after deciding to play an electric set after his acoustic set at his shows. As he plugs in his guitar, a fan is heard yelling "Judas" towards the stage. Dylan responds, "I don’t believe you. You’re a liar" and then rips into an absolutely stunning version of "Like A Rolling Stone" that sends chills down my spine every time I listen to it. This is the feeling I got as "Brown Sugar" started. There was no letdown in Dylan’s vocals the entire song and Sexton and Campbell’s guitars blew away any version I’ve heard the Stones do live. Later in the set, Neil Young’s "Old Man" brought the house down as Dylan’s voice, combined with Sexton and Campbell’s high notes sounded heavenly. In a nod to his old friend and bandmate, Warren Zevon, "Mutineer" was performed as well. Zevon recently announced that he had terminal cancer. Both songs brought the crowd to its feet as emotions ran high.
The crowd was intertwined by a love for music, and young, dread-locked couples found themselves dancing next to 50 and 60-something’s calmly sitting in their seats, both age groups singing along and smiling at the strange camaraderie.
Dylan drew from his latest album, Love and Theft for "Floater" and "Summer Days" which were received as warmly as his classics, indicating the audience’s appreciation for his new material.
Bob Dylan has ascended to a plane of our consciousness where he can take a song like "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man," which everyone has heard at some point, and change the song’s tempo and rhythm to something new and equally compelling. This causes the listener to hear’ the song for the first time and it becomes fresh again. Over the course of the evening, Dylan would do this to some of his most cherished songs, with impeccable results.
As Dylan and his band closed the set with an acoustic version of "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" and a virtuoso "All Along the Watchtower," control of these oft-covered songs was placed firmly back in the hands of their creator. Dylan didn’t just sing these songs – he became them. At an age where he is old enough to be the grandfather of some of his fans, Dylan took huge risks that captured the respect of his audience and made this show much more than a walk down memory lane.
Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade
Walking out of the Wiltern Theater, I checked the time. 10 p.m. "Claypool probably just went on.. let's check it out," I said to my 21 year old brother, who has learned to 'just let Forrest do his thing' when it comes to seeing shows.
We pulled up to the Palace at 10:20 and I dropped my brother off to find parking. "Ask the guys at the door what time the show ends, then call me," I instructed.
As I pulled around the corner he rang. "The show ends at 12:15 – it will be $15 each for us to get in." That would give us almost two hours with Les Claypool's Frog Brigade. "Let's do it," I replied as I set the hand brake and jogged down the sidewalk.
As we entered the show, I didn't really know what to expect. Would Skerik be onstage blowing his mind-altering sax? What special guests did Les have in store for us? I'm not extremely versed in the names of Les's songs, but I enjoy having my brain muddled by the wail of Eenor's guitar and the spastic pulses of Claypool's bass. This show featured both, along with Claypool's typical and wonderful weirdness.
Even though the jam scene has embraced Les Claypool, his Primus fans still come to the shows to rage, so we had to run the gauntlet of the most-pit to get close to the front.
Skerik was wearing a red fedora hat and suit, and took some lip from Les, who talked about Skerik being mysterious, 'almost as mysterious as Buckethead' and egged him to speak, something along the lines of "Why don't you tell the fine people gathered here tonight something about yourself, Skerik?" to which Skerik babbled something and got needled by Les again, "Wow, it's hard to follow up something like that, but why don't you play something for the people." Skerik then let loose as only he can and the stage banter was over for the night. The Message? Don't fuck with Skerik, he's a bad man!
During the song "Cohibas Esplenditos" a bald guy wearing a priest's collar came out and played a regular hand saw with pickups hooked up to an amplifier. He used a violin bow to produce sounds much like a guitar. My head was on a swivel, watching Eenor and the priest, trying to figure out who was really making the noise. I was convinced it was a huge sham, as Skerik stared unconvinced at the "electric bowed saw." Finally Eenor quit moving his hands at all, but the noise continued and I realized that I had been deceived at least three different times during the song. Bastards! I asked someone next to me what the hell was going on, and he replied, "That's just MIRV Haggard." (lead singer of MIRV, which opened the show for the Frog Brigade) As the song climaxed into noise, Haggard used the saw to cut the stage before bounding off into the night.
During another song a tropical bassist and a young girl with a sitar came onto the stage to join the fun. The sitar started too tentatively, but then her confidence kicked in and she jammed with the band.
I did not keep a chronological set list, but some songs I do remember hearing were "Hendershot," "Buzzards of Green Hill," "D's Diner," "Long In The Tooth" and "Highball With the Devil," which featured one of the most intense and dynamic percussion jams in recent memory between Fish Fisher, Mike Dillon, and Tim "Herb" Alexander while the rest of the band lounged off stage.
Claypool put his Pink Floyd covers to rest for a night, but the Frog Brigade did rip through Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath," with Claypool leaning forward using his vintage microphone, setup beside his normal stand.
For the encore, Claypool brought out his good friend and L.A. legend Mike Watt, calling him 'Mikey' and lending him a Rickenbacker bass signed by none other then the late, great John Entwistle and saying, "so needless to say, you're going to have to play that thing very well, Mikey."
The band started into the Beatles "Taxman" and Watt warmed up on the first few verses before showing the speed and dexterity that make him, well, Mike Watt.
Because of a certain star's shoplifting troubles of late, I knew it was just a matter of time before "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver" made an appearance, but it turned out to be brief, as Les sang just the first verse before jamming back into "Taxman."
As the song ended, I turned to my brother and nodded. He simply nodded back. We had made the most of our night, and the music gods had rewarded us, handsomely.