After over 20 years, Les Claypool will once again hit the road with his Fearless Flying Frog Brigade for the Summer of Green Tour. Long considered to be one of the animated bassist’s most beloved bands, this incarnation of the ever-morphing act boasts longtime Frog Brigade members Skerik (saxophone) and Mike Dillon (percussion, vibraphone), as well as Sean Lennon (guitar), Harry Waters (keyboards) and Paulo Baldi (drums). However, when Claypool initially dreamed up the Frog Brigade at the dawn of the new Millennium, he actually considered it to be more of his “therapy project.”
At the time, Primus—his long-running, festival-approved alt-funk trio—had hit a rough patch and Claypool was looking for a new creative outlet. “We called it a hiatus but, at the time, we were broken up,” Claypool says, referencing Primus’ trajectory in 2000.. “Me and one of my best friends in the entire world, Larry LaLonde, weren’t talking.”
Just as Primus’ future was starting to feel uncertain, Claypool was beginning to discover a new, exciting audience thanks to a high-profile set with Oysterhead—his supergroup with Phish’s Trey Anastasio and The Police’s Stewart Copeland. After receiving an offer to perform at Angels Camp, Calif.’s Mountain Aire Festival, Claypool put together a new group of musicians drawn from both his inner circle and the extended improv scene. He briefly toyed with calling the project the Thunder Brigade, before shifting to the slightly gentler moniker the Frog Brigade. Riffing to the Mountain Aire Festival’s scenic location, he chose the name as a nod to the jumping frog of Calaveras County popularized by Mark Twain. Then, he hopped on the road.
“I said, ‘I’m gonna gather some of my favorite musicians together and hit the road.’ I bought this little airstream and packed these guys into this motorhome and started driving up and down the coast playing bars,” Claypool says. “That was the original Frog Brigade—Skerik, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane, Todd Huth from Sausage and then Eenor, who I found on Craigslist. We just had a blast.”
The ensuing run of shows not only exposed Claypool to an entirely new, open-eared audience but also kickstarted his second act as a solo artist. Not wanting to play songs from the Primus catalog, Claypool loaded his Frog Brigade sets with new, juicy originals and covers by prog-rock godfathers like King Crimson.
“When I did the Holy Mackerel record, Highball with the Devil, in 1996, I always said that those were the songs I wouldn’t inflict upon the guys of Primus—I just knew that it wasn’t gonna thrill them to play those songs,” Claypool says. “Some of them were written on guitar and some of them were written on drums. With Frog Brigade, I was free to do that again. I was free to go in there and be a mad scientist.”
He also made the daring decision to perform Pink Floyd’s 1977 psychedelic masterpiece Animals in its entirety each night.
“I’ve always wanted to play ‘Pigs’ if I had a keyboardist in my band because it’s one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs,” Claypool says. “And then we said, ‘Why don't we learn the whole record. That way we can play two sets.’”
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