Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.18.10

Colonel Claypool Rides Again

In this post-everything era, coming up with a distinct sound is nearly impossible. But iconic bassist Les Claypool remains one of the rare artists whose percussive carnival freak-show style is instantly identifiable and completely unlike anything else out there. Claypool made a name for himself as one of modern music’s most innovative bassists as a member of Primus, but since going on hiatus in 2000 (odd one-off shows notwithstanding), Claypool’s been constantly in motion. He tours constantly with various creatively named bands — among them the Flying Frog Brigade and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, of which famed guitarist Buckethead is a member — but the music is just the axle around which Claypool’s myriad other projects revolve. Some of these things are natural progressions, like writing soundtracks and making a feature-length, Spinal Tap-inspired mockumentary about the jam band scene. Others, like Claypool’s recent vineyard venture, make less sense (if you’re curious, you can order a $42 bottle of Purple Pachyderm pinot noir from Claypool’s website). Fortunately, Claypool’s got a new album for sale to go along with the new wine. It’s called Of Fungi and Foe and was inspired by music Claypool wrote for a video game called Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars. Like all of Claypool’s music, it’s a head trip that’ll make the purple elephant on your bottle of pinot jump right off the label. It’s even better in person: Live, Claypool is a dervish whose stable of unusual basses and skill as a showman are almost as stimulating as the music itself. Les Claypool and Beats Antique perform at 8:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 20, at the McDonald Theatre. $25 adv., $28 door. — Sara Brickner

New Traditional

The folksy, countryish, rootsy, Americana, all-woman Misty River regularly draws over-capacity crowds in Eugene and around Oregon. Back in 2005, Misty River fiddler Chris Kokesh released a solo CD, and I’d sure like to hear it; her new October Valentine celebrates the best of the classic folk singer-songwriter sound. She sounds a little like Lucy Kaplansky without the sugary sentiment, a little like Kris Delmhorst without the poppier sound, a little like Tracy Grammer and a lot like  success on the Americana circuit.

The wistful “Lucy” tugs at heartstrings in the tradition of Richard Shindell’s narrators; her covers, like Steve Fisher’s “A Night Like This” and Hugh Moffett’s “Rose of My Heart,” showcase her voice’s sweet, achingly lovely ring. October Valentine features gorgeous cello from Skip vonKuske and everything from elegant vocal harmony to the judiciously occasional dobro from a host of others. Around the song circle fire at a folk fest late at night, friends and family leaning on each other for warmth and comfort, the stars out and crickets singing in the background, Kokesh’s songs of lost love, regret, community and brave persistence would float effortlessly into the place where longing, love and nostalgia meet.

Chris Kokesh and her new band, Brokentop, play at 7:30 pm Friday, Feb. 19, at Tsunami Books. $10 adv., $12 door. — Suzi Steffen

You and Me and the Devil Makes Pete

In addition to fronting California newgrass band The Devil Makes Three, Pete Bernhard also puts out solo albums on occasion. It’s easy — and not entirely wrong — to assume that his solo efforts, including last year’s Straight Line, will sound more or less like one of his band’s records. But there’s a palpable difference between Bernhard’s solo albums and The Devil Makes Three, and that difference is where on the spectrum between revivalist old-timey roots and folk singer-songwriting the DMT’s records lie. The Devil Makes Three mainly deals in the former, with plenty of wiggle room in there for experimentation and genre-melding. Without his band, though, Bernhard tends to tone down the twang, coming off more like Southern California’s answer to Jack Johnson than a country singer. In a way, Bernhard’s pared-down, laid-back songs bridge the gap between country music and the pseudo-grass that defines the modern jam band. That’s not a bad thing, as his music has the potential to entice the most rabid Phish-loving country music hater into checking out Bernhard’s band. There’s something to be said for keeping it mellow, though: According to The Devil Makes Three’s blog, someone in the crowd at the band’s most recent Seattle appearance got bitten … by another human being. You can take the music out of the country, it seems, but taking the country out of the music is another matter altogether. Pete Bernhard plays at 9 pm, Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Oak Street Speakeasy. 21+. — Sara Brickner

An Angel on a Fiddle

Carrie Rodriguez dares you to pigeonhole her.

She took violin lessons as a young girl and went on to a conservatory program at Oberlin. After watching Lyle Lovett do a sound check with his band, Rodriguez fell in love with the fiddle and transferred to Berklee. She’s also got plenty of classical music training under her belt. All this creates a unique mix of folk, country and blues (even some rock and roll) with an undertone of seductive energy woven through it all.

Rodriguez’ resume includes time spent as a duo with Chip Taylor, a tour with  Lucinda Williams and songwriting collaborations with Mary Gauthier and Dan Wilson (Semisonic). She’s touring now with Alejandro Escovedo and Los Lonely Boys following the release of Live in Louisville and leading up to the April release of Love and Circumstance, which includes covers of songs by artists from M. Ward to Richard Thompson.

In Live’s first track, “Dirty Leather,” an echoey guitar melody supports Rodriguez’ soulful croon and playful lyrics: “What you smiling at? Ain’t you touched one of these before?” You can work that one out yourself. Other songs, like “Blackberry Blossom” and “You Won’t Be Satisfied That Way,” have a folksier feel reminiscent of bluegrass and rock with a country twang; the latter launches into a rollicking bluegrass-and-drums jam two-thirds of the way through. Yet “Seven Angels on a Bicycle” may be the standout track: Rodriguez’ smooth, almost-whisper rises to a rousing crescendo with drums, a guitar solo and folksy fiddle — this melody will circle through your head for a while. Carrie Rodriguez opens for Los Lonely Boys and Alejandro Escovedo at 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Mcdonald Theatre. $25 adv., $30 door. — Darcy Wallace

Shooting Out the Lights

Six-string wonks and elite rock writers have been dubbing Richard Thompson the world’s most underrated guitarist for so many years now that the bestowment seems a bit precious and disingenuous. And it misses the point. Yes, Thompson’s subtle, symphonic prowess on guitar is stunning and especially bewitching to behold live and in person, where he often defies the laws of physics by turning into a human octopus and, with astounding grace, making a single instrument sound like three. But, over the course of nearly four decades — first with Fairport Convention, then with his ex-wife Linda and, for years now, as a solo artist — Thompson, 60, has been crafting some of the finest songwriting in any genre. Listening, for instance, to the haunting arc of “Calvary Cross,” from 1974’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, you come to understand that Thompson’s understated but scorching guitar work is inseparable from the organic whole of his songwriting, which can capture an emotional universe with the economy and punch of a haiku. Such poetry, whether subdued and gentle or furious and aching, is what Thompson does best. His current tour features two sets: The first will highlight new songs for a live CD; the second will put Thompson’s substantial oeuvre on display, from “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” to “Shoot Out the Lights” and more. Miss this historic concert, one of only eight stops Thompson is making, and you’ll have nobody to kick but yourself. 

Richard Thompson plays at 7:30 pm Friday, Feb. 19, at The Shedd. $29-$37. —Rick Levin

Hook and Deliver

Yeltsin’s third full-length album, Rhinestone Glow, wasn’t going to be a full album at all. The Eugene band had planned to record just an EP, but “for a variety of reasons,” guitarist and vocalist Jake Pavlak says, they decided to add three tracks, bringing Glow to a compact 31 minutes. Chief among those reasons was the experience of recording in Portland with engineer Justin Higgins, with whom Pavlak had previously worked. Yeltsin’s experience at Higgins’ Old Standard Sound went so well, Pavlak says, “at times it was almost like he was a member of the band.”

Pavlak says Higgins’ setup — lots of vintage gear in a high-ceilinged, wood-floored old house — provides a natural reverb and a warm analog sound, both of which come through clearly on Glow. The record isn’t much of a departure from Yeltsin’s previous sound, though the subdued “Oceanic Night,” with its delicate percussion and pulsing synth, is unexpectedly dreamy. Pavlak’s sincere, unfussy vocals sit neatly amid arrangements that sometimes, in spare moments, recall a time when an album like this would’ve been a lo-fi recording made in someone’s dorm room. A keyboard and a sweet female harmony dot certain tracks, and, as ever, there’s a particular urgency to the guitar melodies, which are often as catchy (if not occasionally more so) as the vocals. 

In years past, EW writers have mentioned The Pixies, Pavement, The Replacements, The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Weezer, Interpol and Fountains of Wayne when writing about Yeltsin. Yeltsin sounds like none of these bands; Yeltsin sounds like all of these bands. On Glow, they have a Sunny Day Real Estate moment; the intro to “I’m Afraid I’ve Lost My Way in This World” begs an epic, crashing SDRE build, but Dana Axon’s simple bassline sends the song, briefly, into circa-Joshua Tree U2 territory. At the end of the driving “Shady Riverside,” there’s a short riff that comes off like a playful nod to Judas Priest. But that’s what Yeltsin songs do: They hook you with something that sounds familiar, and by the time you’ve figured out what it reminds you of, you’ve got their rhythms firmly settled in your head. 

Yeltsin celebrates the release of Rhinestone Glow at 9:30 pm Friday, Feb. 19, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5. — Molly Templeton


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