Les Claypool, Shoreline Ballroom, Hilton Head Island, SC – 5/28
Masks, percussion, cello, and bass lots of bass. While I may not have been completely versed in every song Les Claypool broke out during his Hilton Head Island debut, one definite thing I can say about the music Claypool played was that it was like no other music I had ever heard before. Who else could combine a cellist (Sam Bass), a wicked drummer (Paulo Baldi), an insane percussionist who played a jaw dropping array of instruments (Mike Dillon), and bad ass bass playing and deliver music that defied all genre placements and also provided a visually stimulating show that used a variety of masks to produce a theatrical music experience?
Throughout the night Claypool thumped and pounded out bass riffs and flurries that would make any musician blush. His bass playing prowess was incredible and made everyone in attendance believe that he could do anything he wanted to on bass. Mike Dillon also equaled Claypools musicianship while playing the vibraphone and other percussion instruments. Dillon was able to render different sounds while playing his electric vibraphone, which made the casual onlooker wonder where the guitar and horn sounds were coming from because neither instrument was present on stage.
This leads to the interesting composition of this quartet. Traditional rock and roll quartets usually consist of drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards or a similar combination, but Claypools band turned that configuration around by having cello, percussion, drums, and bass in the quartets makeup. This unusual lineup played a huge role in giving this group a sound that was completely new and indefinable. Claypools quartet also had the luxury of experimenting with different sounds and arrangements throughout their compositions, because the traditional guitar and/or keyboard players were not present. There was no moment when the crowd could expect what was going to happen next, because there was no possibility of the inevitable guitar or keyboard solo that usually reveals itself at a traditional rock and roll show. Instead the musicians were able to bounce notes off one another and also combine their instruments to produce a thunderhead a musical strength.
The setlist for the evening consisted of songs from almost every point of Claypools brilliant career. Primus songs Southbound Pachyderm and Fisticuffs were given new life when played by this quartet and the Primus tune American Life was also presented as an encore with Claypool playing his bass/banjo hybrid instrument. Fantastic versions of Amanitas, Red State Girl, and Booneville Stomp from Claypools latest album, Of Fungus and Foe which features the same quartet he was performing with at this show, were delivered with intensity, precision, and explosiveness.
The highlights of Claypools set all came from his Frog Brigade album Purple Onion. Up on the Roof and Long in the Tooth ignited foot stomping and a brief crowd surfing episode from the attendees inside the beachfront Shoreline Ballroom. A burning rendition of Whamola included Claypool in a monkey mask and performing with astounding energy. Whamola appeared to be the climax of the concert until Ds Diner erupted from onstage and evoked a wild rash of crowd participation and wonderful playing from all four band members. The show concluded with the first ever performance by this quartet of Lust Strings from Claypools 2006 solo album Of Whales and Woe. Although I had previously seen Claypool with Primus and the Frog Brigade multiple times, I was completely surprised and delighted by the performance of this new quartet that Claypool has put together. They provided a fresh take on Claypool concert staples, wherein the audience was always kept in a state of heightened anticipation for the next song and note, and the quartet never disappointed and left the crowd fully satisfied throughout the extraordinary night of music.