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[whitespace] The Road Les Traveled

By Mike Connor

IT'S BEEN a few years now since I've seen the inside of a classroom, and even longer since I've argued a coherent thesis. So I'd like to take this opportunity to make an argument. Namely, that Les Claypool is the funkiest motherfucker alive.

Keep in mind that no single facet of his funkiness that I am about to list makes him the funkiest--only when all his strengths come together at once do Claypool's funky aspects become more than the sum of their parts. If you are not convinced by the following argument and would like to argue that somebody else is, in fact, the funkiest mofo alive, by all means make your case. No matter what the president does, we can still at least pretend that we live in a democratic nation. Send me an argument that in no more than 300 words describes what makes your candidate the funkiest mofo alive. We'll print the best response here in the Rock Show.

But without further ado, here is what I think makes Les so damn funky:

Attire: Claypool wore a bowler hat, black-and-white-striped jumpsuit pants, an orange-and-yellow cowboy shirt, and big, brass rose-colored sunglasses. It was obvious from the moment he took the stage in that get-up that he came to get down.

Technique: Whether he's slapping, popping, plucking, strumming, bowing, scratching or tapping the strings, Les does pretty much everything you can do with a bass without breaking public indecency laws. He Hershey-squirted, wahwahed and envelope-filtered bass lines out of his four-string, and had whacked-out effects tweaking his upright bass into an instrument of heavy psychedelic doom.

Vocal Style: Taking Roger Waters' nasally Commandant voice from The Wall and lending it an air of circus sideshow flavor, Claypool's vocals are pure aural satire. He's managed to create a vocal style that succinctly embodies his lefty politics and his weirdly humble ringmaster stage persona.

Projects: Primus, Oysterhead (Trey Anastasio, Stewart Copeland), Holy Mackerel (Jay Lane, Charlie Hunter, Henry Rollins), multiple collaborations with Tom Waits, and now the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. Given that the future of his other projects is shrouded in mystery, we can only revel in his present project, which leads to the next category ...

Friday's Performance: In the FFFB, Claypool's got a drummer, a guitarist, a sax man and a percussionist, and all are Chinese Acrobat-caliber musicians. The percussionist belted out a bunch of spectacular marimba solos, and also added an exciting tribal element to the group's dark and heavy funk. Too bad they didn't play any Primus songs, but they did bring out a guy in a George W. Bush costume playing a mini synthesizer and talking about experimenting with poppers and anal sex with Colin Powell. "He's the pitcher, I'm the catcher ... We use poppers to accentuate our lovemaking at this juncture." Kind of a mixed metaphor, but funny nonetheless. Prolonged improvs of "David Makalaster" and "Dee's Diner" restored my faith in the jam-band aesthetic, and they earned bonus points for playing "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," even if (compared to the original version) the turbo version pretty much sucked.

Bits and Pieces

Semisweet kudos to whoever put together the blaring music accompanying the fireworks at Santa Cruz's birthday bash a week-and-a-half ago. Although I personally found that the fireworks went much better with a little Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (even the name is apropos), there was no denying the power of the Queen medley, which included rocking Muzak versions of "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." Unidentified shameless tearjerkers had me welling up despite myself, thinking about the hundreds of children who will be scarred for life by that compulsory musical injustice.

I hope Santa Cruzans never cease to amaze me.

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From the October 16-23, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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