For about–let’s see, 2009–1990, carry the 1, uh–almost twenty years I’ve been a fan of Primus and of their moderately mad, frenetic, fantastically talented bassist/lead singer, Les Claypool. I’d always lamented the fact that anytime Primus or Les toured North America, the closest they got was either Toronto or Vancouver, both of which were a little out of my price range.
So when I heard that Claypool was going to hit Winnipeg on his new tour, my first question was, “Where do I get tickets?” (Answer: online.)
It got better, too: They would be in the Big W on June 30th, and as all Canadians know, that’s the day before Canada Day, the annual celebration of my nation’s incept date. Which would mean I wouldn’t have to get up the next day to go to work. Sweet!
Months went by, and then the end of June arrived. My friend Craig and I went into the city, got to the venue half an hour before the doors opened (largely because we weren’t sure how much time to allot for getting to the theatre; I’d rather be a little early than late), and got our seats once they let us into the building.
At 8 PM, the opening band, O’death, went on stage. I’d never heard them before–I’d never heard of them before–but their music impressed us both so much that we ended up each buying a CD from the wares table.
They featured a banjo, a guitar, an electric bass, a fiddle, and drums. The lead singer sounded, at times, eerily like Neil Young. Their sound is best described by Craig: “They’re punkabilly,” he said. “They’re like rockabilly, but more.”
They played for almost an hour, and then came a brief intermission. After that, Claypool hit the stage.
On the way into town, we listened to Power 97, and they interviewed Les Claypool, asking him things like “How many basses do you pack?” (5 including the Whamola, on which more later) and “Can we expect any Primus tonight?” His response to this last was, “Well, you know, it’s more fun to play the songs I haven’t already played a thousand times on other tours.” Which was reasonable, I thought, but in some ways I prefer the Primus material to the latter-day stuff.
I shouldn’t have worried, though.
Les hit the stage with a cellist and two percussionists. They opened with my favourite song from his first (I think) solo outing, a tune called “Highball with the Devil”.
Highball with the Devil–not the show I was at, though
Bear in mind, too, that that’s a bass guitar he’s playing.
After that they did 15 more songs over two and a half hours. Most of the songs–all of them, really–had extended solos and jam sessions in them. Twice they did a “duelling drummers” kind of a thing. One time the percussionist on the left hooked his marimbas through a distortion pedal, for easily one of the oddest sounds I’ve heard a musical instrument make.
Les has an instrument he’s termed the Whamola. It’s a single bass string on a long pole, with a lever at the top that allows him to adjust the tension. He plays it, as he said on the radio, by “whacking it with a stick”. He did one song on it, dressed in a tuxedo shirt, vest, and monkey mask.
I did say he’s odd, right? Or at least imply such?
It was 11:30 before the concert ended, 2:30 AM before I was home again. I think I grinned all the way home.
Setlist (there were a few songs I couldn’t ID because I don’t have the latest CD):
Highball with the Devil
Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread
David Makalaster (I)
David Makalaster (I) reprise
Red State Girl
??? (Whamola solo)–he gets a lot of sound from one string
Running the Gauntlet
??? (possibly Ohio?)
Iowan Gal (on bass banjo)