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Published: 2003/02/14
by Jonas Heineman

Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, The Fillmore, San Francisco- 2/7

I gave up The Wailers at the Great American Music Hall and Robert Walter's 20th Congress at the Elbo Room to attend this intense jam. I had seen RW recently at the Sunship Superjam, and am not deep enough into the roots rock raggae to have justified missing this sublime display of funkery. I think I heard some of the set the first time CCBBB played together in Tennessee this past June, but there's only so much you can see sitting in a mist tent behind 80,000 people; Bonnaroo was a blur, so I'm glad I had the chance to see them in a more intimate setting. And, having been thoroughly disappointed that I passed up the Frog Brigade to see The Other Ones or The Dead or whatever the hell "the band without Jerry Garcia" is calling themselves these days (the highlight of which was MMW), I figured I owed Les some quality time. We never talk anymore…

Bernie Worrell started tinkling the B3 ivories in a solo that had the fervor usually reserved for an encore, or at least the second set. Nobody really knew where he was going unitl the first recognizable notes of "All You Need Is Love" brought those words to the lips of a surprising number of audience members. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; you have to be on your toes to enjoy a show with Les and the boys, especially these boys!

Buckethead’s distinct six-string sound reverberated constantly throughout the Fillmore auditorium, ceasing only momentarily for the most amazing display of The Robot" I’ve ever seen. The KFC bucket and eerily simple white mask made it impossible to tell his expression for the duration of the show. This was not the case with Colonel Claypool who arrived in full battle gear, up to the golden ram horns protruding from his studded leather helmet, and maintained a look of weirdness paralleled only by the oddities emerging from the variety of musical toys he brought along. The look on his face gave him the appearance of being just as bewildered as he was bewildering. As far as the music goes, don’t expect a set list to be published; I didn’t recognize a single song, it was just one long jam.

There was no official set break, just a reprieve for each of the members of the band as the others took their turns to go freakishly wild. Brain did as any good drummer of Les’ should, and remained fairly unnoticeable until his seamless drumming broke up into an amazing solo that stayed amazingly true to the beat it began and ended with, just enough so to give even the undiscerning audience member a chance to keep up with the funkiness; some jazz drummers can get lost in their own heads and forget that most of us don’t listen to drums by themselves often enough to keep track of the rhythm that they are supposed to provide for more than a minute or two. He was halted just in time for the mighty Colonel to do battle against the fearsome Buckethead. For this he brought out a special tool of war, something akin to a washtub of old that I can only refer to as the funkstick. Basically a one stringed instrument with no solid attachment point at the top of the neck, just a fulcrum point for Les to push and pull the string across with the equivalent of the world’s largest whammy bar. Anyone who is considering taking up this instrument should be aware that you have very little competition, but the road to Les’ playing level is long and funky; strumming, fingerplaying, whacking, and drawing a bow across the six-foot plank-o-funk, the Colonel evoked war cries from the beast that have not been heard since the Ghengis Kahn ravaged the villages of Asia, unless you’ve been to the Richard Gere Home For Sexually-Abused Animals.

The only low point of the evening was when the confused attempt of some poor schlub who couldn't get over Primus to start a mosh pit was ill-recieved…did I mention we were at the Fillmore? It was one of those scenes that was sad and funny at the same time. Sad, because not only was he unaware that his leftover adolescent rage was, at best, inconveniencing the nice folks around him, but, conversely, that he didn't seem to care or be aware of the fact that this rat circle consisted of about three people running into each other repeatedly. Don't get me wrong, I've been in some great pits: Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Rage, Metallica, System of a Down…but this was just out of place. Anything that causes the incredible chill Fillmore security staff to set foot on the dance floor is over the top, which is saying a lot here in San Funkcisco. Long story short: if you weren't at the Fillmore last Friday, you missed an unidentifiable funky object that may not blaze its way through SF very often, so get your funky ass up and go see Les, no matter who he's playing with! But this ensemble was something special, and I hope it becomes a focus rather than a side project. If, after reading this, you're going to get the ass-kicking machine out of the closet because your leg isn't working fast enough, don't! You still have time to catch Bernie Worrell when he plays March 15th at the GAMH with (gasp!) Zigaboo Modeliste, King of the Funky Drums, Bobby Vega of Sly Stone, and Brian Jordan of Tiny Universe and Greyboy Allstars! Be there or be square!

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