Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains
Roseland Ballroom- New York, NY
by Mike D'Ariano
"So who goes to this show?" my friend Leo asked as we headed into Manhattan to see the latest creation of Primus front man and bass master extraordinaire Les Claypool. It took me a minute to come up with an answer. I knew that I was really excited about the show, and I knew that the guy who first turned me on to the group was jazzed about it, but otherwise, I didn't know many people that had even heard of the band, let alone were heading out to check out their New York debut. "I guess fans of each guys' other group," was what I finally came up with. "Are there enough of those people around to make this work?" Leo quearied. "It seems likely."
It did seem likely. Claypool, probably the band member with the largest fan base, had sold out Roseland twice last year with Primus, and moved up this past spring to the larger, ritzier, and less likely to tolerate fans throwing cups of beer at the band, Radio City Music Hall. Buckethead and Brain had sold out close to twenty thousand seats at Madison Square Garden two years back when they joined Axl Rose's new version of Guns 'N Roses for what was to be the last night of a doomed tour. And Bernie Worell is Bernie fuckin Worell. The guy was in P-Funk, has his own band that plays around a lot, and got a huge ovation last summer when he sat in with Gov't Mule in Central Park.
The more I thought about it though, I became convinced that these guys weren't the type of people that care much if a million copies of their album sell or if they're playing to a half empty room. I suspect they might even be happier with the latter provided that the folks half filling the room were really getting off on what they were doing. I relayed this line of thinking to Leo, and he nodded his approval.
We spent the rest of the way in musing over what a band that's part P-Funk, part Primus, part Guns N Roses, and part Buckethead would sound like. It's hard for me to think of anyone that could stand next to Les Claypool, and make whatever they played sound more like their music than his. Even the mighty Warren Haynes ended up recording two tunes that sounded like Gov't Primus, when Les sat in on the Deep End Vol. 2 CD. As turned out, wouldn't you know it, his new band sounded like Primus with keyboards. C2B3, the much easier to type acronym that Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains uses as their web address, are sometimes heavy, sometime eerie, always strange, and talented enough that all the quirkiness, which might make some people turn away after a tune or two, is superceded.
The show at Roseland was a relatively short one extremely short if you were expecting two sets. After an introductory noodle by Bernie, the band launched into "Buckethead" the first track on their debut CD, The Big Eyeball in the Sky and then ran through about an hour and a half of material drawing almost exclusively from the new CD. In fact, other than solos by individual band members (Buckethead gave us the same medley of songs from Star Wars into the theme from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that he played at the GNR MSG gig, but he didn't play with nun chucks before hand or hand out toys afterwards. I guess Les needs less time to catch his breath than Axl does) and one nameless fifteen minute jam, the guys never strayed from Big Eyeball, playing six of its eleven songs. This was unexpected since the first gigs these guys played together were almost one hundred percent improvisational. Unexpected however does not mean bad, not by a long shot.
Throughout the night the band continuously wowed the crowd with ridiculous riffs played over the perpetual twang of Les' poppin bass. Things came to a head for me in the middle of the show when during the twenty minute plus extended version of "Elephant Ghost" long time Claypool collaborator and Frog Brigade band member Shriek sauntered out in his hoody sweatshirt, and added a blistering saxophone to the mix. This was infinitely more enjoyable than when the night's other guest musician and opening act, Gabby La La joined the band. There was an audible groan, at least in the section I was standing in, when the sitar playing, loop technology using, vocalist took the stage for the second time that night, and while her input to the Big Eyeball title track, which she also plays on the album, was not bad, it was clear that just as the songs during her set where she was joined by Bernie, Brain and Claypool were her best, the song she did with them was their worst.
The night ended, as it seems all New York rock shows must, with a dig at President Bush. The band played "Junior" complete with Yee-Haws (cause making fun of southern folk is funny round here) and split. From my vantage point, I couldn't tell if Claypool still had Howard Dean stickers on his gear like he did a year prior. It didn't seem likely.
Photos by Mike D'Ariano