As I entered Plush the three major categories of Les Claypool fans made their presence known: jam band-loving hippies, aging alternative-rock fans and a younger crowd hooked by franchises like "South Park" and "Tony Hawk Pro Skater." Claypool put his audience in the mood for his collection of curiosities with audio stripped from "Popeye the Sailorman" and other cartoons from the 1930s. Conversation buzzed about Claypool's last performance at the Peabody Opera House, where he employed 3D stage visuals and a jam-band take on Primus tunes.
Marie Cecile Anderson and Katy Frame of Reformed Whores opened the night with what could only be described as comedy country. Anderson and Frame belted out song after song filled with unveiled satire focusing in on the role of women in conservative America. While their message was not exactly hard to miss, it did help to smash conservative female stereotypes in a way that was impossible to ignore.
After a short stage reset, Les Claypool and Bryan Kehoe strolled onto the stage drinking cocktails. They walked up to a glowing, plastic campfire flanked by two comfortable chairs. Warm orange light played over their faces as they performed "Buzzards of Greenhill" with an acoustic guitar and bass. The sound was stripped down, but not so much that it didn't capture the bluegrass sound that Duo De Twang suggests.
As Buzzard's last reverberation leached from Claypool's bass, chants of "Jerry" and "Puppies" echoed through the crowd. Claypool took these rude interruptions asking for "Jerry Was a Racecar Driver" and "Too Many Puppies" in stride. He even joked with overzealous fans by playing just 10 seconds of his most popular songs before diving into deeper cuts from his records.
To the chagrin of a loud faction of the assembled crowd, Claypool started dipping into his collection of carefully assembled covers including "The Battle of New Orleans" by Johnny Horton and "Bridge Came Tumblin' Down" by Stompin' Tom Connors. Claypool's personal set of old tunes came to a conclusion as he gave a long and nostalgic speech about fixing his Schwinn bike while listening to AM radio in his grandfather's garage to illustrate the purpose of music in our lives. His heartfelt confessions would have been more powerful if not consistently interrupted by a minority of intoxicated fans.
Just after Claypool delivered his sermon he caved and unleashed bluegrass reinterpretations of his greatest hits including "South Park"'s title sequence. Songs like "Up on the Roof" and "Red State Girl" gained a great deal from their translation while "D's Diner" seemed to lose its original punch.
After finally feeding the swarming masses with "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver", Claypool and Kehoe left the stage and then returned with full drinks in an act that was more of a break than an encore. Kehoe stayed a while to belt out some more hits before he left Claypool to his considerable improvisational jam skills.
Claypool could have easily filled the Pageant and rolled out of St. Louis with a great deal more money than he made this evening at Plush. However, his dedicated fan base didn't see an aging rocker desperately hanging on to hits written decades ago. Fans of Les Claypool saw an aging artist still adding to a musical vision that continues to expand to this day.