Les Claypool leaps into the jam music scene

Since the mid-’80s, Les Claypool has etched his mark on a variety of musical genres. He tried out for Metallica, but was turned away by lead-singer James Hetfield for being “too good.” He made guest appearances on albums by the gravel-voiced cult icon Tom Waits. Claypool’s longtime band, Primus, came into the public eye in the early ’90s with the minor hit “My Name is Mud,” and later with the punk-funk novelty song “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver.”

Now, Claypool turns his attention to the popular jam scene. His new band, Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, which Claypool describes as “(Frank) Zappa meets Pink Floyd meets King Crimson,” comes to Nation in D.C. Feb. 15, as part of the SnoCore Icicle Ball. Other acts include the New Orleans funk sextet Galactic and the genre-defying trio Drums & Tuba.

Claypool describes the typical audience at the SnoCore concerts as an “interesting, college crowd, a cross between Primus fans and jam (music) fans.”

The major difference between this tour and a Primus tour?

“Not as much moshing,” Claypool said.

Early last year Primus released the album Antipop (Interscope), which featured guest artists such as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Limp Bizkit vocalist Fred Durst. Primus then toured as part of Ozzfest, the hard rock/metal extravaganza run by ex-Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne.

“Over the past two years Primus was falling into that testosterone scene, which is not . my favorite thing,” Claypool said. “It was time to take a break. Everyone wanted to take a break.” While Primus is currently on hiatus, Claypool said the band will return.

As for now, Claypool said he is thrilled with his new band and the jam music scene in general.

“It’s a whole new world,” he said. “It’s a huge group of people I’ve discovered who like music for music and don’t care about how much you jump around.”

But like many artists within the scene, Claypool held off making any exact definition of what qualifies as “jam” music.

“It’s an evolving scene, a hub for any type of music approached in a different way,” Claypool said. “It spans music as out there as the Steve Perkins Band to Galactic, which is pretty much classic New Orleans funk.”

The Frog Brigade spawned from Claypool’s participation in the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in which he played in a trio with Trey Anastasio, singer-guitarist of jam band Phish, and drummer Stewart Copeland, ex-member of The Police. After the group’s initial success, Claypool began playing other jazz-oriented concerts with a number of musicians he played with over the years, including a few ex-members of Primus and members of his two Primus side projects Sausage and Holy Mackerel.

The current lineup of Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade includes Claypool, original Primus guitarist Todd Huth and ex-Primus drummer Jay Lane, a current member of Ratdog. Additional musicians include jazz keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, “sax maniac” Skerik and Eenor, a virtually unknown guitarist who answered a want ad Claypool put out in search of new musicians. The band’s name comes from its first show in California at the Mountain Aire Festival, which features the Calaveras County Frog Jumping Contest.

The Frog Brigade’s current set, which lasts about 90 minutes, includes about 10 songs, Claypool said.

“We play a lot of Holy Mackerel, a lot of Sausage, some (Pink) Floyd, Beatles, King Crimson . some Primus,” Claypool said.

Without any original songs, the Frog Brigade remains a purely live experience. The first half of a double album, Live Frogs – Set 1 (Prawn Song), will reach stores April 10, and will be available online at www.lesclaypool.com as early as March 5. Claypool said there is no set release date for the second album but it should be out by late spring.

Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade promises to bring quite a show to D.C. The band’s mix of jazz, jam, funk and outrageous antics will undoubtedly excite, disturb, and – in the end – entertain.

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