Les Claypool @ Winnipeg

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.”

O’death, “Lowtide”

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)
South­bound Pachyderm
David Makalaster (I) reprise
Red State Girl
??? (Whamo­la solo)–he gets a lot of sound from one string
Boonville Stomp
Run­ning the Gauntlet
??? (pos­si­bly Ohio?)
Iowan Gal (on bass banjo)
??? (Raven?)