The average person — including myself — is peripherally familiar with Claypool as the leader of the rock band Primus, which has seen mainstream fame from a few songs and by performing the opening theme to the raunchy cartoon "South Park."
"I never thought (South Park) was going to get on television to begin with," Claypool told the Sparks Tribune. "I just thought the guys (who created South Park) were cool."
The definition of "cool" can vary greatly, and in the case of guys like Claypool "cool" will certainly encompass weird, offbeat and eccentric. In spite of all those applicable adjectives, and perhaps because of them, Claypool maintains a level of appeal that has helped him find success on varying fronts for more than 20 years.
While Claypool has been a successful musician for more than two decades, his fame has not often brought him to northern Nevada. Loyal fans won't have to travel to one of his many San Francisco engagements this year, however, as he will bring his "traveling freak show" to the Montbleu in South Lake Tahoe on Sunday night.
To say Claypool is the one bringing his show may be giving him too much credit.
"That's a very good question" Claypool said, responding to an inquiry about what has kept him from playing the area more often. "I tend to go wherever my agent tells me to go. I have a new agent now so perhaps that's why I'm going to Tahoe."
For the record, Claypool had to ask exactly where in Tahoe he would be performing. A minor detail, in case he would be able to make it to his own show.
If he didn't show, he might be accused of playing hooky to partake in some favorite pastimes: fishing or snowboarding. Claypool said he has been invited to go ice fishing during tour stops in the Midwest, but he said the combination of the words "ice" and "fishing" sound more like torture than fun. When it comes to hitting the slopes, his handlers will be keeping him on a short leash.
"As far as snowboarding, the last time I played one of the boarding tours one of the first stops was in Reno and on third run of first day I broke my foot," he said. "So I have been banned from getting on any kind of board while on tour. Too many other people’s livelihoods depend on me playing."
When the Claypool crew takes the stage this weekend, it will be to promote the release of a new solo album, "Of Fungi and Foe," which comes out March 17. The album is the result of several Claypool projects: composing music to accompany the video game "Mushroom Men" and soundtrack music to the film "Pig Hunt." These were Claypool's first such efforts. After seeing the video game's artwork and some clips from the movie, Claypool said he wrote music to accompany the eerie, dark vision of each project. The Mushroom Men games, developed for Nintendo, revolve around a civil war between three-inch high Mushroom Men in a human world. "Pig Hunt" is about a 3,000-pound swine that terrorizes the pot fields of Northern California. If anybody could come up with music for such things, it would be Claypool.
"So far people like it," Claypool said of "Pig Hunt," which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival but is still seeking a distributor. "How can go wrong with 3,000-pound animatronic pig?"
Claypool says there is underlying anti-war social commentary in “Pig Hunt,” but it’s more fun to just imagine it’s just a crazy vision of Porky Pig meets Godzilla meets Cheech and Chong.
Listening to the album is more akin to a score than a soundtrack. Certain tracks do stand out, but at the same time they flow together, as though part of a larger narrative. Normally, a score is associated with an orchestra led by guys like John Williams or Bill Conti, but this Claypool effort, with his signature heavy bass accompanied by seemingly random but rhythmic sounds, unusual vocals and even more unusual lyrics, feels appropriate for images of sentient spores and an overweight pot-smoking swine. Not all of the album is the result of Claypool’s work on the film and video game, but the tone of all the songs tie together such that they could all be.
The result is an interesting collection of music, which is just one more feather in Claypool’s cap — which is more like something the Mad Hatter would put on his head.
Claypool will perform with special guests Yard Dogs Road Show and Saul Williams on Sunday at 8 p.m. at Montbleu Casino, Resort and Spa in South Lake Tahoe. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com. For information on the venue, go to www.montbleuresort.com. To try and get a grasp of the wonderful weirdness that is Les Claypool, go to www.lesclaypool.com.