As Les Claypool’s traveling mini-fest tumbled through the Rave on March 20th, I faithfully stumbled in again, even though I keep wishing he’d pick a different venue. For a few different reasons, this event did not get all the attention it deserved from me, but I feel it is my duty to at least give the best recap I am able to.
Start time was 7 p.m. I honestly figured they were just saying that to get people in the building and buying seven-dollar beers early. Nevertheless, I wolfed down a delicious patty melt from the essential pre-Rave gathering place, Conway’s Smokin’ Bar & Grill, and everybody was able to meet up in a timely manner so that we were walking in to exchange our “two-drink minimum” tickets right at seven. After that hassle, we walked up the stairs, and as we got in the next line (ID check/wristband), we could hear that Secret Chiefs 3 had already begun; it was 7:06.
As it turns out, we’d completely missed the first song! Way to go, clock Nazis. The truth is, I was there more for SC3 than anything, but I wasn’t going to let this get me down. The band blazed through their take on the Halloween theme as we walked in, then switched gears to the shifting beat of “Fast”. Drummer Ches Smith was right up front and he was a madman. I’d never noticed him hitting the drums so hard before, yet he also seemed more at home with the bizarre time signatures than ever before as well. We literally saw chunks of his cymbal fly into the crowd at one point. “Zulfikar” featured some miscues that might have resulted in the briefness of the techno section, but it was still excellent. “Brazen Serpent” must have reached its most brutal, metallic stage in 2008; tonight, Trey Spruance plucked his electric saz more subtly for most of the song, but still contributed to the intense crescendos when needed. I almost felt as if I’d finally heard it enough to actually flow with the disjointed rhythm. It’s just one of the most incredible songs I’ve ever heard, and this may have been the best performance yet that I’ve heard of it. “Renunciation” again featured some miscommunication on the pre-recorded percussion section, but Trey took control and finished the song with a vengeance. Stunning set, and of course, way too short for my liking.
This show brought together a group of friends including some people I rarely get to see, so unfortunately for Saul Williams, I spent more time catching up than actually paying attention to the music. All I can say is that, while I will grudgingly admit that the Rave has made great strides in improving the sound in its main room, where we were tonight, it’s still basically a garbage can for hip-hop. I enjoyed what I heard from Williams’ set more than Tim Fite, the joker Les had brought along on last year’s tour, but everything was still pretty muddled. I heard reports that it sounded better from the balcony; if I’m ever forced to see a hip-hop show at the Rave again, I’ll give that a shot.
I wish I could say that I settled in and immersed myself for Devotchka, but again, I was more absorbed in some really intense conversation. This is incredibly unusual for me, as I’m usually the one bitching about other people talking at shows. At least I had the decency to stay in the back, right? I was definitely digging what I heard, but I will also say that there didn’t seem to be any sort of continuity between songs to hold my attention. Still, that’s an unfair shot to take as I was falling deeper and deeper under the sway of Sierra Nevada and rail gin. The best I can say is that Devotchka was the background music to some great talks between me and some dear friends.
I couldn’t not pay attention for Mr. Claypool, however. He opened with “Of Whales And Woe”, which I always mistake for a Sausage or Holy Mackerel song that I can’t quite place; I guess I just don’t listen to Les’s CDs enough. But this really is one of my faves. It was a highlight from the previous year’s Rave set and it was a forbidding and exciting opener tonight. “Makalaster” got me hopping around like a dummy, chanting along, and loving the predictable extended “Southbound Pachyderm” tease. I wish he would bring back “Makalaster II”, though! I don’t understand why he never plays that any more. New tune “Amanitas” was cool on first impression, and then came “Cosmic Highway”, which is making a major resurgence on this tour and for good reason. I always hope for this one and it was a mesmerizing version. It’s one of those songs whose title is a pretty perfect description of the music; it really moves and it gets waaaay out there. I just find myself bouncing up and down giddily to it every time.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that the rest of the show is a bit of a haze until “Fisticuffs”: a bunch of new material, except for the drum jam and “Hendershot”, which I must have been distracted during because I really don’t remember it at all. I must also say here that I was getting quite intoxicated on thimbles full of gin and tonic, which were ensuring a cloudy recollection of the second half of the set. I’m anxious to give the new stuff another listen, but all I can say is that it was generally really creepy in its overall mood, so by the time Les started his Primus teasefest before “Fisticuffs” I was feeling really disoriented and the teases were actually driving me crazy. I generally dig the little nods to Les’s bread and butter band, but tonight I just felt like screaming “just PLAY one for once!!!” “Fisticuffs” was cool but it didn’t come close to the version with Skerik from last year. Sam Bass on cello was doing an admirable job, but Les’s gimmick of hiring different non-guitarists to play the guitarist role is wearing just a little thin at this point, and I guess I just felt that Skerik’s shoes are pretty big ones to fill in the end. Bass certainly had his moments, though.
“One Better” ended the set proper and that’s honestly about all I can give you. It’s a great song and it is a perfect synthesis of Les’s various impulses, as close to quintessential solo Claypool as you can get, with a lengthy “Awakening” sandwiched inside, pretty fabulous, even though you really miss the sax when it’s not there. My head was nowhere near the show for the encore, though. I expect I’ll listen to the recording and lament the fact that I drank a bit too much to enjoy it at the time. I may have reached a point where I’m taking Les for granted a little bit, and I must stop it. Just because he faithfully comes around every year, usually multiple times, always playing his own oddball brand of music that only he plays, is no excuse for me to stop paying attention to how blessed I am to be able to see him. I didn’t think this show was quite as fantastic as last year’s Rave set (“Coattails Of A Dead Man”, come on!), but it was still great. It’s a rare Claypool set that disappoints. I think that has happened to me one time out of twenty-some performances, and certainly not this time. Les, I promise I’ll be all there in mind and body for Summer Camp!