There are certain bands and artists that fans especially gravitate towards during a holiday season like Halloween. Les Claypool is one of those artists.
He and his band, Frog Brigade, or rather Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, wrapped up their Hunt For Green October tour at The Mother Church (The Ryman Auditorium) this past Tuesday on Halloween, and delivered nothing short of a masterclass on sonic and sensory wizardry.
Aside from their fearless leader, the dynamic group features one Sean Lennon (lead guitar), Skerik (sax, guitar), Harry Waters (keys), Paulo Baldi (drums), and Mike Dillon (percussion). Claypool, the Primus frontman and bass sorcerer extraordinaire, didn’t aim for spooky or scary, but rather maintained his delightfully deranged ways with a heavy heap of psychedelia. Though he did rock the long prosthetic Pinocchio/Clockwork Orange nose, pig mask, and a disco helmet at various times throughout, which is par for his course.
Their unique set list breakdown started with a handful of Frog Brigade and Frog Brigade-adjacent songs (which melted into heavy and trippy jams that made you forget what planet you were on), and then after an intermission, they launched into Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, which the ensemble had been performing throughout their tour. The band then reverted back to Claypool originals.
To start the night, the sextet ripped off into an extended “David Makalaster” off of the 2002 album Purple Onion, in which Claypool teased Primus’s “Southbound Pachyderm.” This seamlessly melted into another Purple Onion gem, “Buzzards of Green Hill.” As someone who’s more familiar with the catalogue of Primus with smatterings of knowledge of other Claypool tracks, the next one delighted and came as a surprise, as the band motored into “Riddles Are Abound Tonight,” which is the title track of the 1994 album of his one-off project Sausage.
“Blood and Rockets: Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons / Movement II, Too The Moon” is the mouthful of a title that followed, which is from The Claypool Lennon Delirium’s 2019 album, South of Reality.
Claypool and Lennon had fun stage banter that included the former teasing Lennon after he made a playful comment about sensing the presence of Hank Williams’ ghost in back. He jokingly brought up his “ectoplasm,” to which Claypool said, “I was going to say, your hair was just a bit out of place, and you look ratherrr… stupid.”
“I thought you were going to say sexy,” Lennon retorted. “No, I was never going to say that. It never even crossed my mind to say that.”
“I can read your mind,” Lennon said. “Yeah you can read whatever you want.”
After this heavy circus of sound, the band left and soon retook the stage to perform their last iteration of Animals for the year, and perhaps forever. It was an epic series of songs paying homage to a classic rock staple, as they started with “Pigs on the Wing Part I,” and rounded things out with “Pigs on the Wing Part II.”
“It took us 20 years to getting around to doing Animals in its entirety, and another 20 years from now we’ll do it again,” he said to much applause. “And at that point I’ll be 50-years-old.”
However, the best trio of tracks in this writer’s eyes was the last bunch before the encore, which included “One Better,” “Thai Noodles,” and “D’s Diner.” The encore of all encores for this epic tour concluded with one last explosion of deranged sound and sight, with “Cosmic Highway” and “Whamola” being the last taste of Frog Brigade for the year.
The spectrum of sensory satisfaction at a Les Claypool show is vast. The sounds are something you feel physically, with the bass and percussion reverberating inside your bones and cartilage. The lights and visuals hypnotize and magnetize, and before you know it, you’re sucked into his Willy Wonka-like world. (he and Primus did put out a Chocolate Factory album)
Claypool and his cohorts have been delivering A+ performances for decades now, and like freakish psychedelic hard rock clockwork, they rattled the pews and pillars of the Ryman like not many others have. The coveted venue has seen the world’s greatest songwriters and legends by the dozens for an eternity, but few deliver performances like Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.