This past weekend saw the return of Oysterhead, the super group consisting of Stewart Copeland, Les Claypool, and Trey Anastasio. The trio hadn’t played together since 2006 at Bonnaroo and hadn’t toured since their one and only tour in 2001. The band had always veered towards the weird side of the music world, being far more akin to Primus than The Police or Phish, if you were thinking in terms of the groups solo bands. This was definitely the case in Denver where they kicked off their reunion.
The opening notes of their only album rang through the arena a little before 8:30 as the lights went down and the crowd roared in approval. Trey, Les, and Stewart took the stage, with the latter pumping his arms and getting the crowd even more pumped up. With a few notes from Les, the group kicked into the first track from The Grand Pecking Order, the group’s lone record, with “Little Faces.” Right away the three of them locked into the song and nodded and smiled towards one another. The namesake of the group “Mr. Oysterhead” appeared next and saw Trey and Les meet in front of Stewart a number of times and play off of one another, something that would continue throughout the rest of the show. At the song’s conclusion, Les took to the mic to say how happy he was considering they just started practicing and how good it was, then they continued practicing and it got better, and now that they were playing live, it was like they were fully erect. Fun colorful dialogue like this would come from Les all night.
The light show, done by Phish’s Chris Kuroda, was simple yet beautiful the whole night. While he usually has more toys to play with, Kuroda lit the band and the backdrop up wildly. The lights followed where the music went, and as in the past, the jamming that took place was fairly evil, which meant a lot of green and red from him. Even with only a partial rig from what he is used to, watching the show that Kuroda puts on is always jaw dropping.
“Polka Dot Rose” was the first song to be taken for a walk outside of the confines of the song. Trey dotted the music with some wild playing before each chorus, eliciting roars from the crowd each time. A straightforward go of “Radon Balloon” followed before Les joked about all of their own accomplishments as artists saying the Red Headed Wrangler had a few songs under his belt and Stew Daddy was part of one of the greatest trios of all time. He then said of himself he was the South Park guy, which got cheers from the Denver crowd and then said the next song was their greatest accomplishment in songwriting together, “The Grand Pecking Order.” The silliness that comes from Les really fuels the zaniness and looseness that the trio has always played with. A very jazzy jam during “Rubber Neck Lions” closed out the first set. It was interesting to listen to how Stewart controlled the jamming all over set one and hearing how Les and Trey interpreted how to interact with the drummer. While it didn’t always work, when the three of them clicked it was pure bliss.
The darkest part of the evening kicked off set two with Trey on his custom Matterhorn guitar and Les on his Whamola bass. The two of them dug in before eventually landing on “Shadow of a Man.” Coming out of the song was a hazy ambiance that filled the arena before Les dropped a few bass lines and a high energetic rocking jam followed and finally turned into “Army’s on Ecstasy.” The whole song, pushed by Stewart, felt like a train going faster and faster on the tracks constantly teetering on the brink of falling but somehow staying on. Watching how fast he could play and having the other two play catch up was wild to see in person.
After that intense ride, Stewart came from out behind the kit to sing “Wield the Spade” and Trey took over drumming. Stewart vamped it up while singing the lines before eventually returning to the kit and started a double drum and bass session for a few minutes before Trey returned to his guitar. In a night full of weird dark musical moments, watching Stewart having a lot of fun fronting the group and the following jam, was probably the weirdest.
After that song, Les and Trey had a fun little conversation as they set up for the acoustic song “Birthday Boys.” Les said he was definitely going to fuck it up. Not only did he not fuck it up, but Les nailed it and he was very proud of himself, declaring so loudly at the song’s end. With a quick nod they went back into the ending of the song which gets progressively faster. It was great seeing two old friends having the time of their life sitting next to each other and making music. At the conclusion for the second time, Les nodded and they went back into it again. Les then talked about being on the road with Slayer and how now people were smiling at him. He then then imitated slayer fans and the two of them played a “Slayer” version of “Birthday Boys.” The two of them just kept laughing. Finally Stewart came back on stage and the acoustic guitars were traded back in for electric and they kicked into a quick jaunt of “Oz if Ever Floating.”
“Pseudo Suicide” was the last song of the set and at times had a very Police style jam in it. While the song didn’t reach the peak that some of the other songs did in the night, it was a fantastic set closer. When the group was around in 2001 and 2006 they never touched songs from their other groups. This all changed in the encore as they kicked it off with The Police’s “Voices Inside My Head” that then went into Phish’s “46 Days.” Both songs were unexpected and sounded great. The “46 Days” had a wild rocking jam that felt like it could have lasted forever, but curfew was coming and the band closed the night out with “Owner of the World,” the last original song they hadn’t played from their album. As of now they only have a handful of shows on the calendar for the year, but seeing as they were having so much fun on stage, hopefully they add some more as it would be a shame for them to come back to only disappear so quickly again.
Photos: Bryan Lasky
Article: Lauren Byrnes