After two live albums, Les Claypool's Frog Brigade was renamed The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, a more definite title for what would be the group's sole studio album, Purple Onion. Released September 24th, 2002, I don't remember playing this much on my radio show at the time. It was on WAIH's playlist though, and somehow a copy made it into my CD collection.
The one song I do remember is track two, "David Makalaster," which follows the eponymous opener. It's catchy as hell, with bouncy lyrics: "I'm David Makalaster, your ten o'clock newscaster, good evening and here's what's new..."
It's been well over a decade since I gave this disc a listen, and as I reacquaint myself with it, I can't help but to think that this sounds like a Primus album. There are fewer nods to the jam band scene and a whole lot of tighter – albeit still experimental – rock songs on the set. The two longest tracks on here are the closers, "David Makalaster II" and "Cosmic Highway," neither of which make it past eight minutes.
A lot of guest musicians pay the Frog Brigade a visit on this set. A couple of members of Fishbone, bassist Norwood Fisher and drummer Fish Fisher show up. The former plays with another bassist, Lonnie Marshall (Weapon of Choice) along with Claypool to form a triple bass attack on "D's Diner." Fish leads his rhythm work to "Whamola," a song named after a one-string upright percussive bass. Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers Band) lends guitar work to "Buzzards of Green Hill." And Ben Barns and Sam Bass of Deadweight play on numerous Purple Onion songs.
"David Makalaster II" is the pessimistic mirror to "David Makalaster." While the latter is bouncy, optimistic and a bit naïve, part II slows the tempo and declares that the revolution is about to begin as "vengeance is back in style," whereas before "apathy [was] back in style." If you are up for some mood whiplash, play the songs back to back.
Other songs that stood out for me are "Lights in the Sky," "D's Diner" (about an actual place), "Barrington Hall" (about the counterculture dorm at UC Berkeley) and "Ding Dang," a song about how what goes around comes around.
Purple Onion closes with "Cosmic Highway," the most Phish-y thing on this set. It's a good closer, even if it does look back to the two Live Frogs albums. Of course, it could be said that the rest of the disc looks back even further more often than not, to the days of Primus. Considering that Primus never broke up, but merely went on hiatus, it could be said that this is looking forwards as well. The group began playing together again in 2003, eventually deciding to record another album in 2011.