Words by J. Picard
Photos by Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)
"When all else has been done and said, along comes Mr. Oysterhead..."
The mid-winter blues had set in and what better to rip me out of it than seeing Les Claypool (Primus), Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) reunite as Oysterhead with some of my favorite folks who I hadn't see in some time? I had the pleasure of experiencing Oysterhead at Bonnaroo 2006, though at the time it was a little too dark and out there for my taste given the substances that I was on. That said, when the opportunity arose a mere decade and a half later, it was my hope that the project had aged like a fine wine, but triggered by sobriety. While my friends attended night one, I babysat their four-year-old and watched the setlist and the videos of the reunion unfold via social media. Following rave reviews and the desire to spend time with my favorite people doing what we love, heavily discounted tickets were purchased and we were off to the races!
My wife and I arrived at 1stBank Center around 6:45 PM, following a stop in Broomfield for ticket number one, to find the longest lines that we had ever seen at the venue. It was no surprise given the fact that they released a graphic that showed the line set up and the early arrive time of 3:00 PM. We had no choice but to bite the bullet and hop in line. Luckily we had a fun group to banter with and the line moved quickly. The energy inside was electric and we hugged a bunch of familiar faces before purchasing a drink for $21.50 and selecting our seats in the back corner of the bowl. We ripped on a flight of cannabis vape pens and traded goodies as friends swung by our seats to say hello. Around 8:30 PM the lights dimmed and the crowd roared.
Les jumped into some hilarious banter about his Polish friend saying "happy as a clown" as opposed to "happy as a clam," before addressing the issue of Oysterhead fans being called "Oysterhead heads."
"The Grand Pecking Order" meandered along with it's flippy floppy bass lines and repetitive lyrics and lasted a mere five mins. "Rubberneck Lions" was a return to groove and made me shift focus to Stewart Copeland who was driving, holding everything together and basically soloing in waves. It was more than impressive. It was overwhelming. What followed was something that I saw videos of from night one and hoped would be repeated on night two. Sure enough, out cam Les' "Whamola," a single stringed instrument with a leaver for tension and a stick for creating the vibrations. In addition, Trey brought out his "Matterhorn," a guitar featuring a full size deer antler. What followed was weird, dark, terrifying and delightful. It sounded like an under water war of the whales and slowly transitioned into "Shadow of a Man," a dark number about a man (Billy) returning from Vietnam. It was the song that I was most looking forward to hearing.
The first set closed with "Shadow of a Man" transitioning into Cream's "White Room." The Colorado crowd's energy peaked as they cheered for the debut. I looked around at my friends who were all smiling and dancing. It was a beautiful moment that reinforced our decision to attend. Upon the set's conclusion 1stBank Center erupted with appreciation. The lights came up to a moderate level and the hilarity of set break unfolded. Faces were melted, eyes were crossed and smiles were enormous. We smoked furiously and laughed about life while enjoying the company of our group and those dropping in and out of the evening's adventure. We sat, rested our legs, stood back up and sat again before the house lights sank to darkness.
"Question, question, question for you," Les interrupted. "So, we've been around before. All of us. All three of us have been around the horn a few times. More than a few times. We've played with a lot of people," Les continued. "Yes we have," Trey affirmed.
"We've done this thing where you sit on the stool and look over at the other guy and I know you've done that quite a bit," Les suggested. "I have," Trey again affirmed. "So, what I need to ask you and I want you to be honest with me because we're pals... Who's better looking; me or Dave Matthews?" Les inquired, to which Trey laughed.
"Up close, up close, I mean up close. I know from afar I've got him beat," Les said. "Dave is many things. Many, many better things," Trey began to explain. "Whoa! Easy Tiger!" Les yelled while the crowd laughed and cheered.
"Eh, it's getting a little hot in here," Les said before explaining that the next song was inspired by "Vegas, a penis, some Cocaine and a pair of breasts. Oh, and Kid Rock."
The second set began with the acoustic, "Birthday Boys." Each time the song would seemingly end, they would jump back into it with increased speed. "Little Faces," which was teased during set one's opener "Mr. Oysterhead" returned for it's full due. The song was anthemic, pocket and explorative during the next ten minutes plus and was one of the clear show highlights simply for it's phrasing and depth of the jam. Up next was "Polka Dot Rose" which featured an ebb and flow of futurity and notation. Much like most of Oysterhead, it felt weird, just to be weird and I was ok with that. In fact, it was why I was there.
"Wield The Spade" featured Copeland up front and Trey on the drums, before Stewart joined Anastasio on the kit. The song transitioned into "Radon Balloon" with Les jumping back on percussion while Trey returned to the forefront. The song was only about three minutes long and went into "Army's on Ecstasy," another clear highlight. I was confident that it would be the final song of the set and enjoyed it through and through. The song ended, the band remained and they kicked into "Owner of the World" to close the second set! It was short, but very sweet. After two intensity packed sets the band exited the stage. The crowd was loud and was in no way done enjoying Oysterhead.
"Trey, so you said something to me backstage which was very heart-warming right before we came on," Les said with a smile. "Yes, I fucking love this song and I have been waiting thirty years to play it," Trey said with an even bigger smile. Les then crossed the stage, extended his hand to Trey, who shook it and then they continued blazing trail. The room lost its collective mind when the trio dropped into the debut of Phish's "First Tube." For my money, it may have been the best version of the song that I'd heard. It was cathartic and it was the result that I was hoping for. The band once again exited the stage and as the crowd screamed the house lights remained dimmed. Oysterhead return with Les counting it down and the band diving into "Pseudo Suicide."
After two full sets, two encores with three total songs and a masterful display of wacky other-worldly musicianship, the show and the two night run had ended. Folks flooded out of 1stBank Center and into the district surrounding the venue. In the distance I could hear and see a brass band performing. People flocked towards it, so we kept our distance while saying "so long" to some and "hey" to others. It was chaos... beautiful chaos. We retrieved our car from the free parking garage and filed out of Broomfield bound for Denver, feeling energized and grateful for what we had experienced. Ultimately, the world is a better place with weird shit like Oysterhead in it...
Set One: Mr. Oysterhead, Oz is Ever Floating, The Grand Pecking Order, Rubberneck Lions, Whamola & Matterhorn Jam > Shadow of a Man > White Room
Set Two: Birthday Boys, Little Faces, Polka Dot Rose, Wield The Spade > Radon Balloon > Army's On Ecstasy, Owner of the World
Encore: Those Dammed Blue-Collar Tweakers, First Tube
Second Encore: Pseudo Suicide