Bass virtuoso Les Claypool returns with a live DVD offering of his latest solo project, aptly titled, Fancy. Claypool has formed many incarnations of different solo bands over the past decade with himself as the lone constant. I don't really consider the Oysterhead experiment as a Claypool solo venture, as it was really a three way split creatively with Anastasio and Copleland. Everything else has had Claypool's name on it, and he is the ringmaster, or Colonel if you will, of all these variations. First there was Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel, then moving on to Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, it's full and actual title, although it was morphed into shorter versions on different projects over time, to Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, then back to what we have now, which is in essence the Frog Brigade revamped. Things changed when Claypool decided to do away with guitar in the Frog Brigade and recruited Sitar virtuoso Gabby La La to fill that role. It was at that point the band toured as "Les Claypool and his Fancy Band". After that Claypool decided to simplify things and everything from here on out is just "Les Claypool", including his last solo album release, Of Whales and Woe, to this DVD, which he aptly titled Fancy.
Missing is long time drummer and Claypool friend Jay Lane on drums, replaced by Cake drummer Paolo Baldi, who does a masterful job. Other than that the original "Fancy Band" is in tact. You may think why on Earth would Claypool replace guitars with a sitar? Gabby La La is no ordinary Sitar player. The woman is amazing and needs to be seen live to be appreciated. Even this DVD doesn't quite do her justice. On the older material she more than covers any missing guitar parts, solos included, and the newer stuff is written for her. She's a multi talented musician, playing sitar, ukulele, toy piano, accordion and theremin. Claypool also has his secret weapons with him as usual, the best kept secrets in the business, saxophonist Skerik, and percussionist Mike Dillon. The two of them play together in a couple lesser known, while none the less talented bands, Critters' Buggin' and Garage a Trois. These guys are long time Claypool stalwarts who are incredible musicians and showman. Skerik, sax in one hand, Red Bull in the other, is one crazy character whose personality shines through in his superb sax playing and stage antics, while Dillon is an absolute monster of percussion. He is an unstoppable force playing Vibraphone, Marimba and all sorts of other percussion. He's like a whirlwind of never ending energy. So the surrounding cast is outstanding, but let's be serious, what everyone really wants to see is that crazy cut-up on the bass! Les Claypool, a living legend, a preposterous pugilistic polymath of all that embodies the bass clef!
The DVD is shot over a course of shows in Austin, Cleveland, Boston and New York during the summer of 2006. The video footage is shot entirely by fans handpicked by Claypool himself. The audio is billed as being taken from the board as well as from bootleg material taken by audience members. Well, all this fan footage and fan audio is pretty darn good. They did themselves a favor by not having professionals shoot the video footage. What you get is the band instead of extreme over editing by someone in a cutting room, which does seem to be quite fashionable these days. Eight of the fifteen performances are tunes from Claypool's latest studio release Of Whales and Woe. After that there's a few tunes from Purple Onion, a couple from Highball With The Devil, "Big Eyeball In The Sky" from the Bucket album and as an encore Les surprises by throwing in some Primus, doing a slightly shortened solo version of "American Life" from the Sailing the Seas of Cheese album. The Primus is a pleasant surprise of course, but the highlights of the DVD, besides the glut of musicianship, are the highly improvised "Cosmic Highway", and "D's Diner", always a fan favorite and highlight of any Claypool show. The encore performances are special as Claypool does "Running the Gauntlet", "American Life" and "Iowan Gal" solo on his Bassjo, which is a combination electric bass/banjo.
As far as any extras there really aren't any. There is a bonus section titled "Fancy Banter", which is all the footage of Les talking between songs that would make the DVD drag on entirely too long if they included it. It can be rather entertaining at times, but is nothing all that special. These musicians Les is playing with are relative unknowns to the general population; it would have been nice to focus a bit more on them in a section like this. But then again, is this DVD really for the general population?
As one could expect Les Claypool's bass playing is phenomenal, and the rest of the band is pretty good too. The filming by the fans adds to the nuance of the DVD as stated earlier. But to really "get it" you should get out live and see this eclectic, fun and talented traveling side show, fronted by the best ringmaster in the business. The Fancy DVD really captures the essence and fun of this big rock show the best it can.
Now, who wants to go down to D's?
1. Up On The Roof
2. Of Whales And Woe
3. Rumble Of The Diesel
4. Long In The Tooth
5. Vernon The Company Man
6. Holy Mackerel
7. Phantom Patriot
8. Cosmic Highway
9. Filipino Ray
10. The Big Eye Ball In The Sky
11. D's Diner
12. One Better
13. Running The Gauntlet
14. American Life/Iowan Gal
15. Lust Stings