To the packed and eager crowd at the Wiltern the night of July 3rd, aptly colorful explosions of ’70s psychedelia and Americana were in abundance for most of the three-hour show. With the room charged by the synth-rich swells of glammy openers Uni, the Claypool Lennon Delirium took the stage to the somber arpeggios of “There’s No Underwear in Space,” promptly entering the hypnotic territory of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” From here they enchanted the audience into a forty-minute prog hallucination rich with the sorts of cartoonish, uncanny characters and melodic detours one would expect from the complementary strange union of Les Claypool and Sean Lennon.
Performing their entire set in mostly red, purple and blue washes of light, the two frontmen and their band evaded direct illumination, their faces remaining mostly in shadow. Their stage presence instead relied on a huge backdrop depicting the cover art from this year’s South of Reality, against which their silhouettes could have been an acid-chomping comedy duo: Lennon in his oversize captain’s hat and the lanky Claypool in his bowler and fitted suit. Their banter between songs was hilariously weird, especially on Lennon’s end as he joked about getting breast implants (“not bigger, just more, like a cat”) and how no one really knows why water freezes faster after being boiled. When called out by Claypool for taking on a hillbilly accent (“I think you got it from your dad”), Lennon quickly replied, “He was from Alabama.”
Bolstered by a wily keyboardist whose deft swells and rapid chirps of oscillators on “Court of the Crimson King” owe a debt to the neo-classical sojourns of 1970s prog rock and whose twinkling harpsichords on “Blood and Rockets” reach back a little further, veteran talent was on full display. Lennon’s chops on the guitar, which had a mirror-like chrome finish, are not to be underestimated. His noodling solos sat perfectly in rhythm, with tight little flourishes between quick changes in tone and tempo. His heavily effected vocals bore an uncanny resemblance to his father’s, bringing to mind numerous moments from the Beatles’ catalog before they even reached their cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows” near the end of their set. Unfortunately, Claypool’s virtuosic attacks on the strings with both hands were often drowned out. When traveling up the neck, certain notes resonated far more than others that seemed to occupy dead spots in the mix. However, this wasn’t the case on the two songs when he bowed an electric upright, the sonorous rumbles of which went straight for the chest.
Banter was in short supply for Jim James’ 16 song set, instead of delivering a dense set of infectiously catchy hooks and Southern rock riffs that put the crowd in motion, waking them from the heady dream manifested by Claypool and Lennon. James and his band took the stage against towers of bright lights, promptly delivering a cluster of grin-inducing anthems from last year’s Uniform Distortion. Tearing through anthems like “Over and Over, ” “You Get to Rome” and “Out of Time” right out of the gates, James and Co. continued to lob cluster bombs into an eager audience that headbanged and danced in tandem with the band’s two backup singers, who sidestepped back and forth in place for the bulk of the set.
The triumphant and joyous rock songs through which delirium would often dance on the bent notes streaming from the guitars were contrasted by softer moments like “A New Life” and “Of the Mother Again.” The first song of the encore was a “cover” of his own My Morning Jacket’s “I’m Amazed,” which, in an evening of diversion and nostalgic pastiche, felt the most relevant to today’s oh-so-many fraught situations in the media and politics. Lines like “I’m amazed what they want me to believe” and “where is the justice?” drew defiant cheers from the audience.
It may be pointless to claim what music is the most “now,” but the dual headliners of this show would not be whatever that is. James’ drenched vocals convey a nostalgic sensibility that is appealing to an audience that likely wishes not to be reminded of what ugliness occupies the contemporary landscape. Ringing off the deco contours of the Wiltern’s architecture, the mash of James’ wistfully delivered lyrics, head-banging riffs and wide-berth guitar solos seem to echo a past that maybe never was but is. Even “All in Your Head,” which is a call to the present, still feels like a happy throwback, however mobilizing the lyrics are. In other songs, lyrics like “When we were young” and “we could all be lovers and friends” underscore a mood that is sopping wet with that reverberant eternal youth and hope that smooths the dust and wrinkles of the present, if only for a while, before the audience has to step back out into the world and its disarray to be reminded once again why nostalgic idealism is so fucking appealing.
Lennon Claypool Delirium Setlist:
Blood and Rockets: Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons – Movement II, Too the Moon
Cricket and the Genie (Movement I, The Delirium)
Cricket and the Genie (Movement II, Oratorio Di Cricket)
South of Reality
The Court of the Crimson King
Easily Charmed by Fools
Breath of a Salesman
Cricket Chronicles Revisited: Part 1, Ask Your Doctor – Part 2, Psyde Effects
Tomorrow Never Knows
Third Rock from the Sun
Jim James Setlist:
Over and Over
You Get to Rome
Out of Time
A New Life
Just a Fool
Here in Spirit
No Use Waiting
All in Your Head
The World Is Falling Down
Yes to Everything
Same Old Lie
Of the Mother Again
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)
Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer