Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, Quest Club, Minneapolis, MN- 11/24
Bagels and Cream Cheese: An Evening with the Frog Brigade –
A subzero Sunday night in the Twin Cites doesn't usually leave much
to be desired outside the friendly confines of one's own home, but
this week was different…this week was special! On this particular
evening the warehouse district in downtown Minneapolis became a boggy
swamp while a night club normally reserved for all-night dance
parties was transformed into a lily pad stage for Colonel Les
Claypool and his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
Although Claypool and his band of virtuoso madmen were just in
Minneapolis over the summer, it only seemed fair that they would
choose to play the final night of their fall tour here — after all,
Claypool's latest album, Purple Onion, was named after a local Bob
Dylan-frequented pizza joint of the same name.
From the opening tweaks of Eenor's guitar and the thunderstorm crunch
of Les Claypool's bass, we in the crowd knew we were in for an
unforgettable evening of the Frog Brigade's merciless, no-holds
barred assault on the senses. Claypool is clearly as "outsane" as
they come and if his constant frog-hopping and crazy-costumed
head-bobbing aren't a testament to that then his non-sensical vocal
jivings surely are.
A nearly 15 minute "Thela Hun Ginjeet" got things started and kept
things simple featuring every jamband fans favorite song structure:
chorus > jam > chorus > jam and finally one resolving chorus
featuring the standard lyrics playfully juxtaposed as "Bagels and
Cream Cheese, Bagels and Cream Cheese". It was a frenetic,
high-energy opener that immediately took the chill out of the room
and forced all in attendance to stop focusing on another Vikings loss
and instead on five musicians, each of whom is a master at forming
their own vital portion of the Frog Brigade sculpture.
"David Makalaster" brought even more high voltage energy to the room
while the testosterone-filled, primarily male audience chanted along
like some sort of tribal voodoo ritual on a far away island in the
South Pacific. Better yet, an army of frogs compliantly croaking
along to their leader as percussionist Mike Dillon dropped his
drumsticks and grabbed a microphone to lead the manic vocal charge.
All the while, Skerik's filthy saxophonic wailings played like the
soundtrack to a psychotic dance party upon your arrival in Hell. I
could simply close me eyes and feel the warmth exhuming me.
Moments later, Mr. Claypool himself stepped to the microphone to make
a brief statement: "Though he may look like Satan, he is as gentle
as a lamb.. or is he?". Clearly not the musings of a person intent on
cooling off the heat of this party anytime soon.
They did however allow us to catch our breath as they directed us
into the tasty meat of what turned out to be a "David Makalaster"
sandwich. "Long in the Tooth" is a percussion-laden song that
features a Red Hot Chili Peppers-type groove accentuated by more of
Skerik's demonic saxophone howling. The closing lyrics were again
twisted to say what sounded like "Down with Disease, Down with
Disease". Hmmm.. apparently I'm not the only one excited about New
Year's Eve. [Anyone have extra's?]
While part 1 of the "David Makalaster" brotherhood is akin to a bone
dance with devil, part 2 is like Lucifer's evil twin summoning you in
a dream and beckoning you to follow him through a lightless wet
tunnel, all the while fearful of what may be lurking around the next
corner. Whatever it is, you know it won't be good. Though the
"Makalaster" twins share the same gene pool, their structures are
completely different and version one stands out as the far more
listener-friendly and crowd-interactive of the two.
"Intruder" is next and immediately highlight's the strong-armed
drumming of Dean Johnson in a "My Name is Mud" sounding introduction.
He's not simply playing these drums, but beating them. It's like he's
trying to inflict pain on our eardrums while forcing our head's to
bob in unison as he pounds his nail-like drums through the floor. The
drum and percussion mixture of Johnson and Mike Dillon tends to be a
far more muscular combination than when Jay Lane played a one-man
drum part in the earliest incarnation of Claypool's Frog Brigade.
As "Intruder" draws to a close it becomes difficult to contain my
wide-mouthed toothy grin as the loosey-goosey bass shuffle of "Ding
Dang" launches into it's Primus-like feel of stop/start verse lines
highlighted by the oft-repeated words of an angry young man, "No
matter where you are, there you are!". The song maintains it's smooth
shuffle throughout until it winds out and the now familiar groove of
Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" starts it's trademark rumble
through the venue.
Other than the noticeable absence of Ian Anderson's flute, the song
varies little from the original in structure. In style however,
Claypool and Johnson's blistering drum and bass stylings make one
feel as though they aren't going to be saved by Dudley Dooright but
rather turned into hamburger by the speeding train heading down the
tracks. It was still relatively early in the evening but I could
clearly tell my brain was going to experience a hangover on Monday
morning based not on beer but instead the overall heaviness of the
Frog Brigade's mind-numbing set.
Claypool again enters the mix first on the next tune with a different
slow shuffle bass line that is soon accompanied by the handclap's of
1000 intense young men. "Highball with the Devil" was originally
recorded in 1996 by Les Claypool and the Holy Mackeral and has become
a concert staple for the Frog Brigade over the last two years. The
identifying one-part whiny, two-parts nasally vocal's of Les Claypool
standout during the "Come the morning, we'll be waiting" chorus lines
and soon bleed into a flanger-laden outer space guitar solo by the
dread locked man known as Eenor.
No sooner did I return from finishing my $4.25 locally brewed
microbrew (the Quest, formerly owned by Prince, isn't exactly known
for it's inexpensive cocktails and is made even worse by the fact
that the mouthwatering Summit Pale Ale is brewed only 10 miles away
in St. Paul yet they're still charging almost five dollars for a 12
ounce beer as if it's imported from Belgium by the man in purple
himself) when the super-extended percussion jam led by the Critters
Buggin' duo of Dillon and Skerik starts winding down and Claypool
returns to the stage to conclude the newscast length (and newsworthy)
half-hour version of "Highball with the Devil".
The 15 minute "Highball" drum jam also featured drummer Paulo Baldi
from opening band Deadweight. Baldi is an extremely fierce and
pulse-pounding player in his own right who was easily the standout of
his San Francisco band on this particular night.
"Barrington Hall" emerges after a quick breather and makes me think
of the Oompa Loompas as they bob and sway their way through the
chocolate factory and into a blender with the quirky, baritone lead
singer of the Crash Test Dummies and prepared for 'liquefy'.
"Barrington Hall", named for a dormitory at the University of
California Berkeley, also featured some fine dual string-action from
Ben Barnes and Sam Bass, the violin and cello players from
As the gunfight-style drumbeat began and Claypool disappeared into
the dark towards the back of the stage the audience knew it could
mean only one thing: the one half springless pogo stick
cross-pollinated with a motorcycle handlebar contraption
affectionately known as "Whamola". A masterful, lively edition of the
new Frog Brigade standard ensued and was only slightly ruined by the
twenty-something male next to me screaming like a kindergartner into
my non-stealth microphones every time the "stop" portion of the
stop/start "Whamola" jam segment occurred.
The encore of "Cosmic Highway" turned out to be a smooth, largely
mellow closer that seemed more like an Oysterhead b-side than a Frog
Brigade tune. It's a "Little Faces" sounding space-ditty which
ultimately left us with open-mouthed shit-eating grins on our faces
and pulsating, pounding aches in our brains.
As we wearily filed out of The Quest near midnight we came to the
realization that it didn't matter that the temperature outside had
dropped into the single digits and it mattered even less that most
had to work the next morning — Col. Les Claypool's Fearless Flying
Frog Brigade had ignited a fire so blistering with their high-octane
pyrotechnophonics that it would leave us with the sweetest of
nightmares and keep our inside's burning and cranium's boiling well
into the next afternoon.