Claypool’s Oddity Faire brings the weird to Boston

A review of Les Claypool with Saul Williams and others at the House of Blues on March 26, 2009

, Staff Writer

Long known for his strange antics and wacky stage personas, Les Claypool brought the weird to the new House of Blues last Thursday, stopping by with a few of his friends for a show that was at times hyperactive, at times jammy and chill, usually fun to watch, and always intriguing.&

Claypool’s production is billed as “The Oddity Faire: A Mutated Mini Fest,” and the lineup was as diverse as that of any big music festival. (Just be thankful that the staff at HOB aren’t running a show anything near that size; crowd management is not their strong suit.) For twenty-five bucks, you got to see four diverse bands that probably wouldn’t normally tour together, but could definitely be found while wandering around Bonnaroo at 2am.&

Openers O’Death put on a frantic set of bruising bluegrass based folk rock filled with crazy jams about whiskey, women, and fighting. Driven by freight train of a rhythm section, they were worth showing up early for. Following O’Death was Secret Chief 3, a truly bizarre cast of characters who wore black hooded robes and didn’t speak once before, during, or after their 45-minute set of psychedelic, world-influenced, prog-rock jams. They weren’t terrible, but their set would have been a lot better had it been 15 minutes shorter. And a thank you, or anything else for that matter, from the band would have been nice.&

After watching four guys in robes play guitars in the dark for awhile, watching the crew set up the stage for Saul Williams was like watching a time-lapse film of a garden coming into bloom. Synthesiers, turntables and drumkits popped up all over the stage, which was soon inhabited by an alien-looking group of men dressed in shiny, colored pleather pumping out some serious beats.

Now, I’m not much of a hip-hop guy, and I only knew Saul Williams for some of his poems and his role in the movie Slam (which is really good, by the way), so I was looking forward to his performance, if only because Les Claypool was playing after him. After seeing him live, I have to say, he fucking rocks. Taking the stage wearing a bright red suit, dazzled in strobe lights and standing next to a guitar player dressed in a shiny silver space suit, Saul Williams’ manner and dress was a polar opposite to Secret Chief 3’s cult-chic. An explosion of blacklight, strobes and loud colors, the visual aspect of the show was just as intense as William’s hyper-critical, revolution-inspiring lyrics. “The Government” and “Black History Month” were highlights, as well as a cover of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

After such an eclectic set of openers, people in the crowd seemed a little overwhelmed, a little confused, and sort of anxious. The first three acts were such a mindfuck that no one knew what to expect from Mr. Claypool and co. Sporting his Pinocchio mask and long coattails, Claypool led a band (really just a badass rhythm section) through a set that focused on material from Claypool’s two latest albums, 2006’s Of Whales and Woe and Of Fungi and Foe, which was released on St. Patrick’s Day. Also masked and dressed in tuxedoes, his band was an incredible set of musicians. Opening with “Buzzards of Green Hill”, Claypool’s bass thundered through the HOB’s killer new sound system and got everyone in the crowd ready for a fun set. He meandered through a reprise and said a thoughtful hello in the rambling, high-as-hell Claypool sort of way, then slid into “Amanitas”.

Changing masks between his Pinocchio face, his normal face, and the famed Pigface, Les Claypool’s stage persona would overshadow his music if he weren’t such a talented musician. He has clearly surrounded himself with a greatly talented group of players who display versatility and amazing ability. Cellist Sam Bass provided depth to the strings, while Mike Dillon jumped between a variety of percussion instruments, adding another level to Paulo Baldi’s drums. In fact, Dillon’s work on the vibraphone was some of the most impressive playing of the night. That’s saying a lot when you’re backing up the most innovative bassist alive.&

Claypool treated his long-time fans to a few treats, teasing us with the intro to the Primus classic “Mr. Krinkle” before moving into “Hendershot”. “Mushroom Men” and “One Better” were highlights.&

The night took a bittersweet turn when Claypool paused to discuss his friendship and admiration for the late Mark Sandman of Morphine. After talking for a minute about his friend, the remaining members of Morphine took the stage for a tender version of Morphine’s “Honey White”. It was a nice moment and a kind tribute from one virtuoso to another. After a short break, the original band returned for encores of “Iowan Gal” and “Fisticuffs”. The night was a long one, but one well worth it. This mini-fest is certainly odd, definitely mutated, and a whole lot of fun.& &

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