April 12, 2001

The Weird Brigade

Print More

Les Claypool, best known for his work as the bassist, singer, and sole creative force behind the quirky band Primus, has of late concentrated less and less on his main band, instead channeling his energy into a variety of side projects. Among them is his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, which is apparently Claypool’s main project at the moment. The Frog Brigade is mainly a touring outfit, and Live Frogs: Set 1 was recorded on two consecutive nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

The album opens with a raucous, searing cover of King Crimson’s ’80s jam “Theela Hun Ginjeet.” The Brigade stretches the song out to over 14 minutes, with long sections of jamming. The interpretation remains true to the original’s dance vibe, while altering the actual structure and music immensely.

“Shattering Song” is a 12-minute summation of every aspect of Claypool’s musical output. The song shifts effortlessly from sections of metal guitar riffing to long sax-blowing improvisational sections over its course, remaining almost completely instrumental throughout.

“Hendershot” is more Primus-flavored weirdness, with a twangy surf guitar riff accenting a driving, glitchy track. Claypool’s vocals are at their most bearable here, as he reigns in his tendency for grandiosity. Still, on most of the rest of the album, the best moments come when Claypool shuts up and lets the instruments do the talking. His annoying voice, somewhere in between Roger Waters and Captain Beefheart, mostly only distracts from the impressive music on Live Frogs.

Though most of these songs achieve that delicate balance between an enjoyably complex jam and utter nonsense, Claypool’s merry Brigade occasionally falls short, as on “Running the Gauntlet.” The song never really finds a solid groove to rest on — especially since the band cuts off every 20 seconds to change gears completely and showcase a different musician.

The album ends with a cover of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” The long instrumental sections offer plentiful opportunities for impressive guitar and sax showmanship. Even the vocals seem perfectly tailored for Claypool — in his whiny Waters impersonation — to tackle.

Though this album may at times seem overwrought and lacking in direction, it is overall a satisfying and endlessly fascinating listen. After only playing together for a few months, the band seems as tight a unit as Primus does after eight albums. For fans of Claypool’s other bands, this disc will be nothing surprising, but should serve up a pleasant treat. For those who aren’t familiar with Claypool, Live Frogs is as good a place as any to start subjecting yourself to his peculiar brand of eclecticism.

Archived article by Ed Howard