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An Evil, Freak-Out-Funk Tuesday

June 9th, 2010

Les Claypool – Brooklyn Bowl – June 8, 2010

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If I told you the melody of the darkest funked-out music I’ve heard in a while was by and large held down by a cello and a vibraphone you might think I’m nuts. But that assertion might make more sense if I revealed that Les Claypool fronted the guitar-free quartet. An early “Highball with the Devil” found him bantering with percussionist-vibraphonist Mike Dillon in a sort of musical Pig Latin, setting the pace for the jamming that would characterize the set. With everyone onstage wearing an “I’m a freak” mask and drenched in dark green-and-purple lights, there was a wild intensity from the start. As always, Claypool was in a playful mood, engaging the audience, hectoring them at times and challenging their bowling prowess.

The band was essentially a rhythm section: Claypool’s bass with percussion, drums (Paulo Baldi) and an eerie digitized, anything-goes cello from Sam Bass. Sold-out Brooklyn Bowl’s sound was as good as ever, allowing the audience to appreciate the one-two punch of visceral pounding and subtle intermixing of the unique instrumentation. Tunes flowed from one to another with long stretches of improvisation and playful interaction, each piece coming off like creepy chapters in a children’s book wholly inappropriate for kids of any age. A blazing midset crunch of “David Makalaster” spiraled through the looking glass with psychedelic solos from nearly everyone before resting in “Southbound Pachyderm.” After a brief pause, they worked their way back with a pummeling full-band foray, finally returning smoothly to “David Makalaster.”

From there, Claypool went schizophrenic, appearing in a pig mask and then later in an ape mask and giving the crowd a high-energy stretch on his Whamola. The set ended with Claypool doing what he does best, slapping the machine-gun bass so powerfully you could feel the recoil during the set-closing “One Better” and “Riddles Are Abound Tonight” before finishing with Rush’s “The Spirit of Radio” as an encore. —A. Stein