Friday night, Les Claypool brought his dastardly creation Bastard Jazz to Boulder Theater and for the lucky 850 who got tickets to the sold-out show, many left the building awe struck, jaw dropped, and looking for more. Friday and Saturday would serve as the final two stops of the nine-date tour that had started in California at the end of July, but for fans of the man who gave us Primus, many not only planned to catch the Denver tour closer, but also four more nights of the band that sucks, evenly split between Red Rocks and the Gerald Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
With the doors opening at seven and the band firing up the weird by a little past eight, the ship drew sails for uncharted waters, dark, deep, and devoid of expectation, and nary a soul cried out for us to turn back. Lit in the hue of deep purple and thick blue, the stage was drenched in smoke as the four horsemen of the aural apocalypse started the night with an east Indian feel and set out for adventure. Mike Dillon started the beat on the tabla with its recognizable hollow metal sound while Stanton Moore began keeping time, steady and straight. Claypool and Skerik both pulled long-noted moans out over the top, setting the room on tilt as many closed their eyes to better absorb the auditory murk.
Six or so minutes in, the band switched it up and drove the music into a cyclic groove and gave Dillon his first opportunity to show his mastery of the vibraphone, laying down an error-free melody and making it look easy. Skerik stepped up next and started delivery on his pulmonary push of off-key skronk, tickling the funny bones of the strange. Between the chaos of Skerik’s dischord and the Claypool thunder, everyone was getting off on the uneasiness of the music early on and, scanning the room, it was clear that everyone felt like they had made the perfect choice for the night.
At seventeen minutes, the King of Oddity called all ears to himself, dragging extended notes down the fretboard, grabbing the attention of the other three fatherless, making them aware he was changing the focus. He plucked out a bouncy rift and played it over and over, taking it up with each measure into higher and higher octaves, until it melted in an indistinguishable puddle of nonsense. From the aqueous solution, Claypool then pulled out a funk groove that spawned a wide smile across Stanton Moore’s face as he slipped right into the pocket and got dirty. At this point everyone threw in and rode the groove, turning the place from spectacle to dance party.
At the tailend of an earful of insanity and twenty-eight minutes into the set, the band finally took its first break. To well-deserved and raucous applause, Claypool addressed the audience: ”Well, this is Bastard Jazz. More bastard than jazz as you can see. We started doing this. That’s it, that’s the story. I happened to be in your neighborhood and decided to throw some bastards out.”
The next segment of the viscous worm dove deep into the muck and mire and plodded along, inch by inch, focused and mindless, bite after bite through the organics. Mike Dillon changed percussive instrumentation with almost every measure, toying with each device for only a moment and then moving on, communicating with the invertebrate through the talking drum, triangle, timbali, and many manners of accouterments. Stanton Moore’s demonstration of time showed a being whose arms are directly connected to his ears and both are fused together through something unearthly.
Ten minutes into the second movement, as if pulling away from the microcosm of the terrestrial origin, the whole of the group began to ascend into the infi-scape of the celestial as the wide-eyed onlookers moved through space like the cosmic birth scene of Koyaanisqatsi. Droning meteoric strands of Skerik sped past as sequential Stanton time shifted from precise to unanticipated lightning burst, the only constant: an unsettled, driving bass line that pushed through angular deformity, strewn with distant disheveled but perfectly placed star-like voicings of Dillon’s randomness.
Taking a moment to gather the consciousness scattered about, a breath, and a drink, the whole of the room saddled up again. The next passage of the night conjured more cartoon soundtrack than music, but of course not your typical Saturday morning fare, but rather something born out of The Twilight Zone. Here the two major characters were a bass-shaped elephant pursuing, while also being pursued, an alligator with xylophone pegs for teeth. The caricature chase eventually gave way to a lumbering, plodding bass modality, marching slowly into the unknown. Rolls of skins and brass presses flurried around the undeviating pathway. The walls shook, sternums rattled, and that feeling of secure fear birthed excitement as we all continued to drink from the experiment.
Now an hour into it, the form changed yet again from sinister shenanigans back into a more constructed and palatable melody. With the gate open wide, Dillon returned to vibraphone and hammered it out with two mallets in each hand, his gaze locked into his instrumentation as his mind seethed with creative delivery. A steady jam continued and Claypool stepped to his effects pedals and began toying with the auricular canvas, sifting through soft accents while planting and reaping reverberating expressions while the others laid out their thoughts during the pauses in the conversation. Stanton accented and flashed, and the groove throwdown moved even those who were not akin to dancing.
Seventy minutes in, Skerik and Claypool began the next piece with a call and response interlude, which eventually gave way to a bluesy head that was more voodoo than gospel. This body developed for several measures and showed yet another facet of talent and the ability of the four to shift once again without misstep or error. Having run its course, the creature morphed this time into a frenetic chase and had the audience and the band itself holding on as best everyone could. Evolving further, the product shifted into a shuffle before dissolving into sporadic phrasings and disintegrated pieces. With dreams of Coltrane and middle eastern tales strewn about and throughout, the group softly spread cosmic goo as the room dripped with the psychedelic.
At its close, Claypool growled: “That last one was dedicated to that Colorado marijuana. Skerik is high as hell!” and then sang comically the ELO chorus “Don’t bring me down, Bruce!”
Skerik retorted,” Colonel..”
Claypool: “Yes sir. Something on your mind?”
Skerik: “I came to play!”
Claypool: “I came to make sandwiches!”, illicing a wave of laughter from the crowd.
Skerik: “I have nothing to get high with…. except the music!”
Claypool eloquently closed the conversation with, “You’re f*$%ed.”
The final session kicked off with a high-stepping bassline and the timekeepers fell right in line, bringing the energy back up. Skerik brought it with a strong funk contribution and the Boulder Theater was once again up and on their feet. The last seventeen minutes of the show was a non-stop boogie, strewn with sweat, and would be a strong finish to an evening that would not soon be forgotten.
For those who chase the note, the idea of a supergroup often conjures feelings of excitement and anticipation, but oft the delivery on the promise leaves much to be desired in light of malpractice and ego. This was not the case with the bastard quartet. Throughout the single, two-hour set, the foul four worked as a singular multi-headed beast, each mind independent while connected to the others. The music from start to finish was accessible and exciting and kept all but the few faint of heart in those four walls through to the end. The music was truly a fusion of many flavors, from the dark forests of Asia to the humid revival of the American South, and even now it is a bit of a mystery whether these ungentlemen have been practicing extensively for this tour or they are independently that good, honing the ability to form a whole with whomever they connect with. The sound and execution were without stumble, fumble, or carelessness, and was certainly demonstrated in a masterful way that guaranteed for many, including myself, that when Claypool brings his band of bastards around again, there won’t be an empty seat on the tour.