There’s a specific kind of chandelier-lit darkness that gives the appearance of floating heads, and it’s one that was flooding Irving Plaza like sticky, black ink before The Claypool Lennon Delirium took the stage in NYC this week. Irving – a venue so shadowy and alluring it’s basically Union Square’s batcave – has never been darker. And as you’ll swear you didn’t imagine, every floating head in the vicinity bore an eerie resemblance to either Les Claypool or Sean Lennon themselves; bobbing around with a mix of hyped and glazed expressions in anticipation of the psychedelic show. One man turned to glance up at the balcony, and the dim lights illuminated his unmistakable Claypool glasses. Another swiveled around in search of a friend, revealing a Lennon-ish beard and haircut. One guy strolled by in a Claypool bowler hat; another wore a military hat like Lennon. One girl was wearing a jacket with fringe so long it was touching her boots and very little underneath – which has nothing to do with Les’ or Sean’s look, but everything to do with rock and roll. These were some serious fans.
The interesting thing was, even with all the Les/Sean cosplay, it wasn’t a totally homogenous group. If you’re a misanthropic little thing who tends to be introverted at ticketed social gatherings (I feel you man), then you probably know that the game of people-watching has an exciting, lesser-known sub-game best suited for music venues: T-shirt-watching. And the game was in its high season at this show, when the chandelier glow would permit. The Delirium’s fanbase were showing off a wide variety of concert tees, ranging from Phish to Bonnaroo to Prophets of Rage (freshly creased from the merch table at Saturday’s show, if my aimless detective work serves me well). But it wasn’t until the crowd reacted with a unison gasp, at the palpable moment when the duo hit their first deep groove together (during their opening cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” no less), that the reason for their mass appeal came into sharp focus. The Claypool Lennon Delirium are giving us something that is very hard to find right now.
For some fans, it’s something that may have felt lost altogether until they first fell down the psych-rock rabbit hole into things like Primus or The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the pair’s respective main projects. Though I wouldn’t rule out a change in focus for both if they continue to collaborate as fluidly and entrancingly as they are right now. Touring on the strength of their debut LP, Monolith of Phobos, their set featured many of the new songs that fans of the trippy and the strange have been murmuring about since June, when the orphic yellow album first hit the shelves. But the show wasn’t without surprises. The setlist itself happened to feature a religious, Lennon-penned doodle that depicted them trying out a “new stage look” – hanging from a cross, instruments well out of reach. We’ll leave the interpretation to you guys.
In two bookend moments (right after the first song, and right before the last) that were deeply felt by the crowd, still grieving the death of Gene Wilder just one day prior, Claypool and Lennon gave us a few tastes of “Pure Imagination” from 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – a bit of a trademark for Claypool, whose eighth album with Primus was a full reimagining of the soundtrack. In an intense moment at the end of the show, the renowned bassist delivered one of his unforgettable, otherworldly solos, his fingers moving with aqueous grace before the song ended in a sudden hush, like a candle being snuffed. The other two big surprises involved some special guest appearances, starting with Lennon’s girlfriend and Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger collaborator, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, who joined them for “Animals,” a GOASTT cover. Sean also welcomed his mother, Yoko Ono, onto the stage during their encore – a twisting, meandering take on Primus’ “Southbound Pachyderm,” to which she contributed her distinctive, visceral screams for the long haul of the song.
Even amid all the highlights, there was one song that seemed to hit the crowd with a tremulous impact from its very first notes. Their finale before the encore was an almost-too-good-to-be-true cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the quintessential-sixties closing track from Revolver, written primarily by John Lennon. In its time, it treated fresh ears to non-traditional drum patterns and an Indian-inspired modal; setting the soundtrack to countless trips in an era when so many craved an escape. The song seems to be having a similar effect on a whole new generation in the skilled hands of Les and Sean, whose wordless conversations as they meld echo those of another band, another time, another place altogether. And perhaps that’s the magic of The Claypool Lennon Delirium; the underlying draw that sold out the show. There’s just so much freedom in not knowing where you are.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley