It’s easy to speak about Les Claypool exclusively in hyperbole. My childhood is populated with memories of Primus songs heard from behind my older brother’s bedroom door. When I started listening to them for myself last year, it was because I was in a six hour painting class every Friday morning, and something about the funk-metal group caught my attention again, sending my into a full obsession. I was able to see Primus last May at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, MA, in cheap seats that so far out to the sides that it was hard to see the bass wizard do his thing.
My best friend is into Les Claypool through a different one of his projects- the Claypool-Lennon Delirium, Claypool’s act with Sean Lennon. She and I spent the summer of 2018 singing along with the psychedelic tunes on CLD’s first album, Monolith of Phobos, and have been looking forward to the opportunity to see the group ever since. We headed to Toronto on April 10th to meet Claypool and Lennon on the first night of their North American tour this spring, dressed to the nines in weird outfits that would make Claypool proud.
I love a day trip. It’s been one of my favorite things about living in Rochester, NY. TONS of cool Midwest cities are within driving distance of Rochester, so nearly every band that I like is going to come to a city that counts as driving distance. I’m not always able to make it to these shows, but when I can find a buddy I love to take to the road, see some good music, and explore a new place. I’ve been to Toronto multiple times, usually specifically for concerts. I saw my favorite band Ween for the first time in Toronto. In January this year I went on one of my favorite trips ever to see The Lemon Twigs with friends, and was surprised by an amazing ramen-inspired rice bowl.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium concert was held at the Danforth Music Hall, on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. This area was really awesome for the type of day trip I like to have, which is to park your car as soon as possible and spend the rest of the day walking around, discovering gems of the area that you’re in for the day. Danforth Ave. has tons of fun little shops and restaurants with all kinds of world cuisine. When we drove by the venue we noticed that a line had already started forming, so we knew we were going to want to be a bit selective about where we ended up stopping if we wanted to get on the rail of the concert (which me and my best friend always do).
The must have stop for us was Mike’s Music, the record store that we found on Danforth. When we walked in the owner smiled at us and said “I can tell by your pants that you’re here for the show.” One of my favorite albums (Lotta Sea Lice by Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett) played over the loudspeaker while we browsed the stacks– Mike’s had a great selection of used vinyl and CDs at pretty good prices. The highlight of this stop was the eavesdropping– record stores aren’t usually good for eavesdropping, but this space was the perfect size to listen to people without feeling like you’re necessarily invading their privacy. While we browsed, someone came in and spoke with the owner of the record store. It had been a long time since they had seen each other, but the store owner instantly recognized the young man. Followed by a friend, he walked through the store and explained just how significant Mike’s Music was in his discovery of German Industrial music and being a teenage music nerd. Being in a space while someone explains just how important that place is to them is very special. It brought a life to this space, and reminded me that while I was in this record store as a visitor, people feel about this place the way that I feel about Electric Buddah in Portland Maine. It’s a lot like being a guest in someone’s house.
After leaving Mike’s and grabbing a few slices of to-go pizza, we joined the other superfans and waited a few hours in line. Once inside the venue, we waited on the rail for Uni, the opening act. Bassist and “brain” of the band Charlotte Kemp-Muhl is partner of Sean Lennon, which to me explained why a band with a slightly different vibe was opening for the Delirium. There were aspects of Uni that I enjoyed– Kemp-Muhl is a powerhouse, cool radiates off of her. And I was attracted to the heavy sound that the band had. But there were aspects of Uni’s ideas about persona that didn’t gel with me. Something about the personalities of the performers seemed strangely artificial. There was something about them that felt removed.
Claypool Lennon Delirium came out at about 9:30pm, and proceeded to sail through a setlist full of extended jams, and a relatively even split of songs from both of their albums and their covers EP Lime and Limpid Green. Sean Lennon as a guitar player creates incredible environments and satisfying space-outs. And being that close to Les Claypool while he did his thing was, simply put, other-worldly. When you listen to Primus, Oysterhead, or any Les Claypool project, it doesn’t sound like it would be that difficult to pull off. But watching him play the bass-lines is a whole new ballgame– whatever creative pursuit you may follow, watching someone be incredible at their craft is inspiring. I think I would have felt similarly if I was watching a master carpenter make a chair. Les Claypool has the added benefit of writing music that totally rocks. In terms of setlist highlights, the CLD rendition of King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King,” was rather earth shattering, as was seeing “Breath of a Salesman,” and “Mr. Wright,” favorites of mine from Monolith of Phobos, had the satisfying feeling of checking something off a to-do list.
Of course, the highlight of the night was an utter surprise. The set ended with a cover of (as Claypool called it) “one of Sean’s Dad’s songs”– a cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” by the Beatles. While the band laid the opening of the song out, another musician casually walked out onto the stage. My mouth dropped open wide as I recognized the performer as virtuosic bass player (and notable Canadian), Geddy Lee of Rush. All of a sudden people were really pushing us up against the rail. It was truly a moment unlike any other, watching two of the bass greats perform together, both grinning from ear to ear. It was an infinite feedback loop of excitement between the crowd, the band, and Geddy. In that moment, there was no other place anybody in the room would rather have been.