Photo by Steve Rood
Jim James deserves respect. Not only for his ongoing musical endeavors but on this evening in Los Angeles, for taking the stage after The
Claypool Lennon Delirium. It isn’t that his near-two-hour appearance wasn’t worthy of the peak slot. However, he offered a set largely drawn from his latest, Uniform Distortion, and its cache of pop rock deconstructed, in the wake of an arousing and praise-winning hour from the Delirium that, with its shadowy affect, couldn’t help but remind a little at times of James’ other outfit, My Morning Jacket. Even Uni, the opening group slated painfully early at 7 p.m. playing its Bowie-esque art rock to a mostly scattered crowd still wandering in, shook up any pre-conceived notions of being in deference to what was to follow. It was as though each of the first two artists were playing to their own blissed-out audiences, as their own headliners.
The reaction to The Claypool Lennon Delirium blended curiosity with genuine appreciation. The creative reputations of bassist Les Claypool and guitarist Sean Lennon preceded each, but it was Lennon’s prowess as a guitar player- a blend of progressive innovators, such as David Gilmour and Robert Fripp, with overtones of Hendrix’s distorted blues- proving to be an overwhelmingly pleasant surprise, and Claypool’s continued mastery of the bass and offbeat onstage banter always entertaining and awe-inducing. Amongst a host of wildly original compositions, they did, indeed, cover Pink Floyd, and King Crimson, and closed with The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” with a guesting Larry LaLonde (Primus) battling amp trouble, rendering his guitar work mostly muted.
“We’re here to entertain each and every one of you,” said Claypool from a darkly lit corner, as psychedelic pinwheels projected above him swirled. It was ethereal playtime for the quartet, only slightly sinister, amidst an onslaught of descending minor chords, and Claypool’s maniacal, lanky bouncing dance steps. It wasn’t so much weird as otherworldly, and held a firm grip over the near-capacity house that included producer and current Bob Weir Wolf Bro, Don Was, and Circles Around the Sun keyboardist Adam MacDougall.
Whereas a certain unpredictability marked the Delirium’s night, James was prone to getting his songs quickly up on plane, then riding each to a close on extended, fuzzed-out guitar solos. In a black, sleeveless shirt he prowled the boards, pushing the jaunty choruses of “Over and Over” and “You Get To Rome,” establishing a predilection for his recent solo output over his MMJ or folk troubadour past. It was power-chord, summer rock that got busier and dug in deeper as it went along.
For an encore, James gave a conspicuous contrast, with just an acoustic, playing Jacket’s “I’m Amazed.” It was a terrific choice both in song and in arrangement, offering a welcome breather and an echo of his acumen for Dylan-like sincerity that he showcased on Uniform Clarity– Distortion’s acoustic companion. A final “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” was the ideal ending note; again contrasting nicely and succinctly the prior barrage of thundering guitar.
It was as if this four-hour concert functioned as a mini-festival; the three bands showcasing styles that were not as much divergent as independent of one another. Uni’s set did feel like that of an opener, hungry to make their presence felt, but The Claypool Lennon Delirium and James were essentially equal at the top of the bill. Again, give Jim James credit- Delirium is a really hard act to follow. Yet he did so by being exactly who he is: an accomplished songwriter, talented guitarist, and brilliantly distinct vocalist.