Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH- 11/19
It is always interesting to see an artist perform with one of his heroes for the first time. Not that it is often great musically but there is a certain drama that goes along with a first time meeting. It was this idea that intrigued me hit the road to Columbus, OH in the middle of a work week. The town was already buzzing with the approaching pigskin contest between the Buckeyes and their next state rival, Michigan. Already by Tuesday the town was abuzz with talk of riots and goalposts. Another buzz was in the air though. At the local record store, even at the now improved Skyline Chili, the buzz around town centered around the Newport Music Hall. Scheduled to appear this night was none other than the court jester of Jam Colonel Les Claypool and his band of merry men affectionately titled The Frog Brigade. The write up in the local weekly entertainment rag referred to Les's and the Frog's latest release Purple Onion as a cross between The Residents and Tom Waits, and then goes on to lament the loss of Primus to the world of hippiedom. My first time to experience this band was at Bonnaroo last summer. They were quite entertaining and obviously great players although it seemed like the songwriting lacked certain depth. The few exceptions were the cover tunes by the likes of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and King Crimson. In fact their rollicking version of "Thela Hun Ginjeet", was the highlight of their set for me.
This brings me back to this roadtrip to Columbus. The internet had leaked the fact that Adrian Belew was to make an appearance at this show. You remember Adrian….Zappa, Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson….that Adrian Belew. Growing up in high school in the eighties, listening to King Crimson Lps Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair was my way to prove to the rest of the world that I was into the "cutting edge of rock". While my peers were banging their heads to the mindless pop drivel of artists like Def Leppard & Bon Jovi, listening to Crimson kept me & my friends separated from the norm, exactly as we liked it. Now as the Jam scene moves beyond the Grateful Dead and their various spin-offs, tributes and derivatives, I find myself listening more to the fringe artists like Claypool, Ween, Particle and Drums & Tuba. I say all this to back up my excitement at the prospect of seeing Les Claypool's Frog Brigade joined onstage by King Crimson guitarist and singer, Adrian Belew.
Newport Music Hall is right across the street from Ohio State University. It looks like it used to be an old movie theater although it was too rough to have been anything but a music venue for some time. The balcony was really big and as I entered it appeared the place was just about at capacity. Nice to see on a Tuesday night, especially this early in the night. The show started with Deadweight. This San Francisco rock trio made up of the traditional drums, Rock violin and rock cello setup is definitely worth catching if you can. Ben Barnes, Sam Bass and Paulo Baldi really put on a great show complete with Colonel Claypool joining them (in pig mask of course) for several songs.
When Les & The Frogs hit the stage the crowd was packed in and primed. The whole band had dressed up for the occasion, a mix of Halloween, Road Warrior & Clockwork Orange. Purple and green balloons rained down on the audience as they opened with "David Makalaster I." A nice jam ensued and then I believe it was during "Buzzards of Green Hill" that a member of Deadweight came out and played a mean violin duel vs. Skerik (dressed in red devil's costume), an early highlight. After the heavy plodding of "Long in the Tooth", Les introduced Adrian Belew and he came out in a red footie jammies (with dinosaur print), and a camouflage pith hat with Rhino horn. The look on Skerik's face was one of pure disbelief it seemed they had no idea Belew had planned on matching their outrageous costumes. Belew's "Thela Hun Ginjeet" was a sonic blast that had the whole house jumping. Les & Adrian traded vocals and you could sense that Les was having a great time. Adrian added much to the song and Eenor showed real class by laying back and letting Mr. Belew take the leads. "Highball with the Devil" also came out strong but then Les cleared the stage for a 20 minute drum solo starring Dean, Mike D, and Skerik. It was smoking for about ten minutes and then they seemed to lose the crowd for the next ten minutes. Mike Dillon was really smoking all night and was definitely the highlight of the percussionists. The interplay of Belew and Skerik was a definite highlight of the night. Les was in command of the performance but these two were obviously having a great time. (Later I found out that is was Skerik's birthday…nice way to spend it)
Then Les, the rest of the frogs and Adrian came back to finish Highball. "Holy Mackeral" followed to the delight of the crowd. Someone was throwing a green glowlight which ricocheted of Les's bass but it did no seem to phase him. The song highlight of the night ended up being D's Diner! So good to hear this song and have the crowd so responsive from the get go. Adrian stayed for "Calling Kyle" and then left the stage. The band went into "Makalaster II" and then "Whammola"..a song named after the single string instrument Les invented and was playing. Adrian rejoined the boys (in street gear – all black) looking a bit like Mark Knopfler to be honest, for the encore a rousing version of The Beatles "Taxman". It was a hot version and the crowd gave them a huge response to end the night. I felt very lucky to get to see this show.