Back in the good old early 1990s, during a period of surprising innovation in rock, Les Claypool's band, Primus, carved out not just a niche but an entire cave for itself as one of the weirdest bands on the planet. Defiantly idiosyncratic, Claypool's bass-driven Bay Area mutation was born out of an unholy three-way between the punk-funk of Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the absurdist humor of Zappa's Mothers of Invention and the prog-metal splendor of Rush.
Critics and rock fans alike were initially sideswiped by the band's startlingly original sound, which was heavily reliant on bizarre baselines over odd time signatures and Claypool's nasal, half-sung, half-spoken vocal delivery. Sides were drawn up. For its albums in particular, Primus was either adored or hated (though the band always seemed to display an uncanny knack for winning over even its most die-hard detractors with its irresistibly entertaining live show and stage antics).
Not everyone may have been on board with Claypool and his merry pranksters (typically, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander), but true believers turned their love of the band into a point of pride. They were in an elite group, after all, a cult of like-minded devotees with a deep appreciation for edgy, aggro funk-rock on the decidedly cheesy side. For some, no doubt, Primus will go down in history as the most annoying rock band ever. For others, well, they still just can't seem to get enough of it.
Wednesday night, Claypool, along with The Frog Brigade (the latest in a long line of post-Primus supporting ensembles and side projects) will mount the Met stage to take fans on a journey to the center of the mind -- Claypool's mind -- complete with all the theatrics we've come to expect from one of rock's most peculiar personalities.
Primus was always all about Les Claypool and his trademark, truly virtuosic, slapping piccolo bass technique. Following a couple of false starts, the classic Primus lineup (Claypool, LaLonde and Alexander) cohered sufficiently by 1989 to record its debut (the live album, Suck on This). The record caused enough of a buzz in the underground to hurl the group forward -- first to its sophomore effort on indie label Caroline (Frizzle Fry), then to a major deal with Interscope for 1991's Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Despite lineup changes, the band continued to score throughout the '90s with more whacked-but-impossible-to-dismiss albums and increasingly larger tours. Primus enjoyed a headlining slot on 1993's Lollapalooza Tour and wormed its way into every household in America via the Claypool-penned theme song for South Park.
After Primus went on more-or-less permanent hiatus in 1999, Claypool continued to wear many hats (literally and figuratively) and spread himself thin on the project front. He headed up a reunion of early Primus members (Sausage), and spearheaded a pair of quasi-supergroups -- one with Phish's Trey Anastasio and the Police's Stewart Copeland (Oysterhead), the other with Black Flag's Henry Rollins (Les Claypool & amp; the Holy Mackerel).
His latest musical assemblage is the Frog Brigade, an entity distinct from previous Claypool projects. It's far from being merely a reformed Primus with a shiny new veneer. Composed of Claypool (bass, vocals), Mike Dillon (vibraphone, marimba, tabla baya, percussion), Eenor (guitar, yaili tambour, jaw harp, vocals), Jay Lane (drums) and Skerik (saxophone), the band utilizes exotic instruments in its quest to further push against the boundaries of rock. The new Frog Brigade album, Purple Onion, features Claypool leading the band and a rotating group of modern rock illuminati through self-penned compositions that are bass-heavy yet considerably more jamming than anything Primus ever recorded. (In retrospect, the more jam-oriented cuts of Primus' swansong, Antipop, seem to have been the harbingers of Claypool's new direction.)
Completely free these days of major label entanglements -- Purple Onion is on his own label, Prawn Song -- Claypool remains an anomaly, a fiercely independent artist on the farthest edge of the popular radarscope, who -- in the face of all that's right and holy and commercial -- continues to fly the freak flag high. All while wearing a funny hat and a silly grin.
Legalize it, Mr. Man. You know what we're talking about, here. That's right: Mary Jane. Ganja. Dope. Weed. You've wasted hundreds of millions of our tax dollars waging a losing war against something most of us consider harmless. It's time to pull the plug and clear those harmless pot heads out of our prisons so we can actually squeeze some violent offenders in there. Legalize it, baby. But if you do, bear in mind you may be depriving some of Orange County's finest of their livelihood.
See, the Kottonmouth Kings (who have a date to keep at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall this Saturday night) have pretty much built their semi-notorious career by advocating the legalization -- or at least the decriminalization -- of Mother Nature's finest plant. Subtle they're not. Throttle-down, hard-puffin' and beating that horse till it's pulp, the Kottonmouth Kings (Kottonmouth. Get it?) travel the world unraveling the word -- just as their red-eyed, long-haired forefathers did before them. (Hey bro, remember Cheech and Chong? the Grateful Dead?)
They proudly proclaim that in the seven years since their inception, they've logged more than 500,000 miles touring -- and consumed more than 90 pounds of weed. Their albums are bursting with blunt, full-on stoner anthems that rail against the Man and other perceived enemies and extol the virtues of smoking herb. Their fifth full-lengther, for instance, Rollin' Stoned, is a 22-track headtrip with enough doper insider nods ("4-2-0," "Rest of My Life") and overt references to the almighty green bud ("Pot Head," "Light It Up") to keep their thoroughly baked minions giggling, high-five-ing and woofing Chips Ahoy! cookies well into the night.
But take away their pro-pot battle cry by acquiescing to their demands and you might very well reduce these committed and selfless social activists to just another troupe of suburban white boys milking the hip-hop/punk hybrid formula for all its worth. Before you act, think about what these guys have given us: Rabble-rousing good times. Clever rhymes. Monster hits. Attitude. Giant inflatable pot leaves and a fully functional illuminated bong. Another reason to bake ourselves into oblivion. Yeah. Act, but act with caution and sensitivity.
Thank you, Kottonmouth Kings. For your righteous indignation turned fun. And for making it okay to lampoon dopers. Again.