Lespecial & Punkadelic 2.22.23

Animas City Theatre
Durango, CO

Words & Photos by Gab Kaplan

This past week I had the opportunity to visit Durango, Colorado for a week-long run of live music photojournalism. The small, southwestern mountain town with a population of just roughly 20,000 is built around the Animas River near the southern edge of the San Juan National Forest and Weminuche Wilderness. It sure feels small compared to the Denver Metro Area’s population of 3 million that I have become accustomed to recently. Abundant with breathable air and eye-catching landscapes, Durango is a home of 5 years that I have transitioned away from over the last year to go explore life from a different perspective over 300 miles away in Denver. What a treat it was to be in town for this show!

The last time I was in the area was actually the last time that Lespecial was as well. Last August, the boys were playing one of their first runs of shows with Punkadelic bandleader and percussionist Mike Dillon at Motel Soco just an hour east in Pagosa Springs, CO. It was a two-night run of Punkadelic with Mike Dillon and Lespecial as the ensemble and it was billed as "Mike Dillon vs Lespecial." I believe the group went on to call themselves "Fackin' A" after that weekend, as it had been a popular phrase transmitted back and forth between the band and the crowd.

Fast forward 6 months, this past week’s “Fackn’ A Durango Homecoming”, as Lespecial bassist Luke Bemand phrased it, was a special event as Wednesday night’s show was indeed a homecoming for Fackn’ A as well as the only date that these musicians will have crossed paths on the group’s Not So Quiet On The Western Front tour this winter. After months of collaboration with their new “Jazz Dad”, Lespecial seemed proud to have been able to show off how tight the ensemble had become after giving it a little more than just a test run and were likely excited to play one more show together after growing closer while touring the East Coast this year and performing a few weeks ago at Jam Cruise 19.

First on the list of the reasons why Durango was lucky to have been treated to an appearance from these musicians is that they braved dangerous winter driving conditions traveling through the mountains from the Front Range to play there. After conquering some fears crawling over a steep, dark, snowy Wolf Creek Pass, the group arrived in one piece just in time to heat up the Animas City Theatre for a night. And the humbleness of the folks in these small mountain towns who will make sure a traveling band is met with warmth even on a snowy weeknight is both heartwarming and admirable and something to be noted as it is not always standard to give or receive that kind of warmth.

It certainly was a Fackn’ A takeover, as almost half of Lespecial’s set ended up being Fackn’ A material with Mike, a very different set than the one I had seen in Denver at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom the previous week, and likely different from any of the remaining shows left on the tour. Besides the Fackn’ A material, Lespecial threw down some of their own bangers such as "Repeater", "The Vessel", and instrumental track "Sugaboi", as well as their catchy tune "Jackwise", which I was excited to hear for the first time in a while, especially with Punkadelic keys player Brian Haas sitting in on synthesizer for a solo.

If you don’t already know, both Mike Dillon and Lespecial are heavily bonded with the energy of the band Primus through both appreciation and collaboration. Mike Dillon has performed with Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz. Lespecial has performed Primus’ album Frizzle Fry live in its entirety multiple times, enhanced by Lespecial drummer Rory Dolan’s ability to deliver a very authentic Les Claypool vocal performance. So it was no surprise that Fackn’ A chose to remind Durango that Primus Sucks by covering the title track off Sausage’s 1994 album Riddles Are Abound Tonight. Sausage was a version of Primus in which the original lineup of Primus reunited during a lull to record a one-off album, under the name Sausage, the title of the first demo the group had recorded years before. A deep cut for sure. Other deep cuts included classic Nine Inch Nails song "Into The Void" and "The Mike Tyson Quote Song", a comedic acoustic indie/rock ballad from the early 2010’s by an artist known as JustDave, with lyrics composed entirely of some of the most strange, vulgar, and controversial quotes from Mike Tyson. An interesting choice that prompted mixed reactions amongst the crowd and made me wonder what it would be like if it were performed somewhere else… Something about the spirit of Primus flowing!

It’s always interesting to follow a band around and see how the energy varies at each show and each region. The energy differences between a place like Durango and a place like Denver are vast, but the music scenes in each of these cities are similar in their passion and support for the scene with the main difference being that due to how isolated it is geographically, there are just physically less people in Durango to come support the scene, no matter how passionate they may be, and unfortunately because of that certain acts just won’t pass through. It really is a treat to have acts like this play Durango when they could easily choose to only visit larger cities, but there’s something about the beauty and energy of this region that draws people in despite how out of the way it may be. My dad always refers to it as “The Most Beautiful Place In The Middle Of Nowhere.” But one’s definition of “nowhere” is relative when it’s brimming with natural features like mountains, forests, and lakes that are inhabited by flora and fauna and not skyscrapers and cars.

And while talent like this doesn’t always blow through the area, Mike Dillon loves playing intimate venues and I have seen him perform four times in this region, with the first time being when I saw Punkadelic just over the state line in Aztec, New Mexico at the first Four Corners Jam Festival at Tico Time River Resort during its inaugural season in 2021. A festival doesn’t exactly sound intimate, but it was a fairly intimate performance as the festival’s attendance was rather low and Punkadelic’s set was early in the afternoon to a beach of about 40 or less. It only took one time for me to get hooked. He’s the only musician doing what he’s been doing all of these years and as a percussionist myself, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Featuring Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey bandleader and “Jazz Uncle” Brian Haas on keys and Fender Rhodes and BeyoncĂ©/Nth Power drummer Nikki Glaspie behind the kit, Punkadelic’s energy is one that is absolutely unmatched in the scene. This finely-tuned project goes beyond being called a power trio, as does Lespecial. Both acts are limitless by nature and inspired by similar, varying and sometimes complete opposite influences. Punkadelic was born out of the pandemic with Mike and Brian writing in quarantine and then hitting the ground running with Nikki as soon as the world was allowed to open up in any fashion, masks and all. There is no use in trying to label the group as a singular genre as it touches upon almost every style. For example, the group’s track "Desert Monsoon" off their 2023 album Inflorescence has a repeated passage with a vibraphone line doubled by rather operatic-sounding vocals from Nikki that reminded me of the kind of textures I’ve heard in the music of the Pat Metheny Group, not to mention both of those ensembles’ usage of world percussion and mallet instruments to create unique sounds. But then, Mike will start assaulting his vibraphone while screaming and spitting bars, something I’m not quite sure I’ve heard Pat Metheny do. I think that any artist performing a fusion if the styles of bossa nova and samba with jazz, metal, funk, punk, and hip hop is certainly not a show to miss.

Lespecial will go on to visit the West Coast with a tour ending date at Nevada City, California venue Crazy Horse Saloon before hitting Florida for Resonate 2023 to kick off a stacked festival season. Punkadelic will be playing on the East Coast and in the Midwest to continue the remainder of their tour dates supporting Marco Benevento. At this moment, there is no telling when I’ll see Punkadelic next, but I do know that the next time I will get to see Lespecial will be during the three days they will be playing at Beanstalk this August and I can’t wait!

Gab's Photo Gallery


Lespecial Setlist: Rays, Repeater, Brown Paper Bag > Dnb > Machine Elf, Enter The Homieverse, Gtr loop solo > Jackwise#, Speed Trap*, Leather On*, Phat Redneck Gangster*, Dogs Heroin*, Rock Star Bench Press*#, Into the Void^, Sugaboi, The Vessel, Mike Tyson Song$, Absolutely Stunning

Encore: Fuck More Bitch Less*

*Fackn’ A feat. Mike Dillon on vibraphone, percussion and vox
#with Brian Haas
^Nine Inch Nails cover


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