Jun. 15th, 2014

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Throughout the 1990s Primus was a college radio staple. You couldn't scan the left of the dial without running into "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" or "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver." Primus was a more demented Red Hot Chili Peppers – in other words, perfect for college radio. They lasted from 1986 until 2000. During that time, bassist Les Claypool released one solo album in 1996 entitled Highball With the Devil under the moniker Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel.

During the summer of 2000, Claypool collaborated with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) to form Oysterhead. The group's sole LP, The Grand Pecking Order was released October 2nd, 2001. There was a brief tour in support of the album and the group subsequently disbanded afterwards, having a one-off reunion five years later.

And with that we come to what, on the cover of the CD case, is Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. On the edge of the jewel case, it is simply Les Claypool's Frog Brigade - Live Frogs: Set 1. The Frog Brigade actually came together during the Oysterhead year(s), as both "sets" (there were a total of two released) were recorded over two days at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in October of 2000.

Live Frogs: Set 2 is Pink Floyd's 1977 LP Animals covered in it's entirety. I don't own a copy since I have Pink Floyd's original and am disinclined to revisit another band performing what I consider to be an already perfect set of songs. The Frogs do get into Pink Floyd on set 1 however, as the disc closes with their rendition of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

The glut of Pink Floyd reverence should tell you where we are at here. If you are still confused, the opening song, a cover of King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and the extended running times of each track (only one song is less than six minutes long) should lay any doubt to rest. This is jam-band prog-land. As an aside, there is one final cover: in the middle of the Sausage's "Shattering Song," a couple of verses from the Doors' "Riders on the Storm" pop up during an extended jam.

Incidentally, for those who are confused, Sausage was Primus before their line-up solidified. They get three songs on this set: "Riddles Are Abound Tonight," "Shattering Song" and "Girls For Single Men." Filling out the five originals here are two Holy Mackerel pieces: "Hendershot" and "Running The Gauntlet."

When this disc made WAIH's playlist (because I put it there), I chose "Riddles Are Abound Tonight" to play on the morning show – namely because there wasn't enough time to play anything else in that time slot. Extended jam pieces are great for dorm room listening, but not so great on the radio during drive time.

Admittedly, I haven't listened to this disc much since its initial release. In fact, I almost forget I have it until I come across it when I rearrange my music collection. It's not that I dislike what I'm hearing or think it's a bad set of songs – not at all. The musicianship on Live Frogs is excellent. If it weren't for the occasional crowd noises and Les Claypool's stage banter, I'd swear this was a studio album – that's how tight this band is.

If anything, it's constraints on my time which keep me from putting on a set of headphones and zoning out to prog rock and jam band music...and perhaps that I'm not a pot smoker has something to do with it too. If I brought CDs into work, that is probably where I'd put this set on if I felt inclined to. When I don't have music to listen to at work – even something in the background to give me a baseline to "white noise" to hang onto, it makes work less pleasant than it already is. Thankfully the era of having to cart CDs to the job has passed and I can stream music from internet radio stations (I've always avoided commercial broadcast radio if possible, for reasons which should be obvious).

Last.fm records scrobbles by Les Claypool's Frog Brigade simply as Les Claypool. I imagine that this is for simplicity's sake. I can see myself doing the same thing if I was importing Claypool's non-Primus work into a radio automation system, since this type of software makes sure artists are time separated based on the exact name entered into the field.

Live Frogs: Set 1 closes with Les Claypool saying, "we'll be back into twenty minutes with more Pink Floyd than any human being should ever withstand." A cheer goes up in the crowd and then fades out to end the disc. Perhaps if I ever find it cheap in the used bin, I will buy a copy of Live Frogs: Set 2 just to complete my collection and to revisit it since I haven't actually heard it in fifteen years. Les Claypool's Frogs had three LPs in total: the two live sets and one studio disc entitled Purple Onion. Two-thirds of their discography resides on my CD rack.

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Seth Warren

May 2017

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