[ATTENDED: August 31, 2016] The Claypool Lennon Delirium
I saw Primus back in 1990 or so. I’ve been a fan ever since but I’ve never seen them live again. In 2015, Primus was touring with Sean Lennon’s band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (who are really good, too) but my schedule conflicted so I couldn’t go. When I heard that The Claypool Lennon Delirium were playing in Philly, I snapped up tickets.
During the above tour, Les Claypool and Sean Lennon got together to make a song and they enjoyed playing so much that they made a whole album. And it’s as trippy and weird, as you might expect.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from them live. I mean, it seemed like it would be an insane spectacle (Primus had recently toured Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which was a real spectacle). In comparison to what I imagined the show would be like, it was pretty subdued. The backdrop was three (non-changing) banners, and aside from switching guitars and basses a few times, there wasn’t a lot of shenanigans. In fact, the usually loquacious Les barely said more than a few words the whole night. When he first came out he said Hello Philly and commented that we were all staring at him. And that was pretty much it.
Because it was all about the music. And the music was really freaking good. There was a ton of jamming–with each guy showing off. Les was Les and Sean really wailed on his guitar and effects. From the picture you can see what appear to be tablets in front of them. Were they for lyrics or chords or were they playing Pokémon Go? Who knows.
I had glanced at earlier setlists to see what kind of stuff they were playing (I hate to be spoiled but I wondered if they did only the album, or what). I had seen that they played a few covers, but I didn’t really digest what they were.
So I was pretty excited that they opened the set with King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginjeet,” a great noisy song which King Crimson did not play when I saw them (and, while, of course this version was nowhere near as perfect as KC’s would have been, man was it fun).
And then they dove into their album The Monolith of Phobos. The fan base was pretty intense–a ton of Primus fans and a lot of people who knew TCLD album really well. So they were really excited when they played three songs in a row. There are 11 songs on the album. They played 7 (and used the final instrumental as a taped intro music). We got the first 7 songs from the disc (but not in order).
Most of the album songs were played pretty faithfully. But there were tons of jams before during and after the songs. Lennon played some amazing solos (on three separate guitars–one of which sounded a lot like a sitar). Les did some wonderful noodling (and a bunch of fast fingerwork). He did not jump around as per usual though–no foot stomping, or prancing around. Perhaps it was because he was in a suit and hat, it kept him more restrained.
I had a hard time hearing Les’ vocals on a lot tracks–although it seemed like when he did deeper vocals or sang noticeably louder I could hear him fine. So I don’t know if it was his mic or my pa cement, but I heard Lennon just fine.
Back in the 1990s, when Sean Lennon first emerged as songwriter, he was a clean cut, adorable indie rocker. But now he has grown his hair out and he looks a lot like his dad from the late Beatles era. And his music (with GOASTT) is much more psychedelic than indie. And his songs do channel the trippier Beatles music.
Lennon and Claypool’s two sounds don’t seem like they should go together, but they do. Claypool’s fast bass works perfectly with the psychedelic washes that Lennon creates. And when Lennon shreds, which he does, it works perfectly with the rhythm Les lays down.
In addition to Sean and Les there was a drummer Paul Baldi (who I never saw) and a keyboardist (with a top hat, long hair and a cape, who proved to be Mark Ramos Nishita (Money Mark from The Beastie Boys)). He was visible (unde all that gear) and did some fun things back there, but it was hard to take your eyes off the main two guys.
The first big surprise came when Les launched into the super fast intro part of Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise.” They played it perfectly. Sean added some guitar when necessary, but I feel like he never quite got the high-pitched notes exactly right. No matter though, it was a great jam–and they didn’t bother with any of the singing parts.
And then they played a cover of a Les Claypool Frog Brigade song called “Cosmic Highway.” Lennon played his guitar like a sitar on this song–I couldn’t get a good picture of the guitar but it was cool looking (and there was a lot of jamming on it).
And then the major surprise of the evening–Dean Ween came out on stage. He kind of hung at the back for a minute but Les put his mic right up front and then the whole band played Ween’s “The Mollusk.” (It was nice synchronicity since Marco Benevento’s bassist is now touring with Ween). I must have put some kind of crazy filter on my phone because the photo to the left is the only one that came out (in my defense, they never raised the lights very high). Despite the excitement everyone felt at seeing Deaner up there, there’s wasn’t a lot said about that–Les thanked “Steve Ween” and that was that.
Now I’ve seen Gene solo and a one-off from Dean, I just need to see them reunited.
After playing the delightfully creepy “Mr Wright,” they totally shocked me by playing another King Crimson song–a great rocking version of The Court of the Crimson King–with both Sean and Les alternating lead vocals and being suitably dramatic for the end of each. This boisterous song ended and I thought, but couldn’t imagine that they were starting to play… then I conformed Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” And they did a stellar job of that too, with some great jamming.
Les played three basses over the course of the night. The main one he plays (with that signature body shape). And for “Boomerang Baby” they brought out his electric upright bass which he bowed and then thumped. For the last few songs, he brought out the bass in the picture above to the left. It didn’t seem really different but sounded different.
They ended their album songs with “Captain Lariat”-a really catchy song, I must say. And then concluded the set with a great version of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” And hearing Sean Lennon singing a Beatles song was pretty amazing.
They all left. Actually, Les left while Sean was still making feedback noises and then he left too. When they came back for the encore, it was just Les. He started fiddling around with his bass and then started playing “Too Many Puppies.” I honestly didn’t expect that they’d play any Primus songs, so I was really excited to hear this one (one of the first Primus songs I’d ever heard!). He did a kind of weird version–it seemed hurried and like he was just goofing–unsure if he was rally going to sing it or not. And he didn’t do the whole thing, just sections. But since nobody plays Primus like Les does, it was still great to hear.
When he finished, before the rest of the band was ready, he played a verse from “Pure Imagination” presumably as a tribute to Gene Wilder (he’d played the whole song the night before).
And then the band played “Southbound Pachyderm.” A lot of people had split before the encore–presumably people who were hoping to hear Primus songs. So the missed out. Ha ha. Of the dozens of Primus songs that they might have played, “Pachyderm” wouldn’t have been my first choice. Ans yet, seeing him up close playing it–watching his hands play that distinctive riff–was really awesome.
They finished the song, the last chords rang out.
That’s the last I saw of Les. And Sean.
It was a really great show. I was absorbed the whole time and really loved watching these two guys play off of each other.
Oh yeah, and guy in the audience wore a chicken mask for much of the show, too.