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Les Claypool's strange frequencies

If you've seen Les Claypool wearing a lobster suit in Primus' 2011 music video for the song "Tragedy's A'Comin'," you know the frontman is a genius of weird, and a goofball. But if you're a die-hard fan of the funk-metal trio, you've known that since the early '90s.

During a phone interview from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the first stop on the band's 3-D-enhanced tour, Claypool showed his dry sense of humor remains.

"We're in uber-3-D," Claypool explains. "I was actually wearing my 3-D glasses all around yesterday, 'cause I forgot I had them on. Even that's a bit of an experience."

The 49-year-old musician is known to wear steampunk-inspired goggles and old-school military jackets onstage. That is, when he's not wearing a full-body animal costume.

But Claypool has been in less festive moods since his 2-year-old nephew, Matthew, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. "I've always ranted and raved about various things," he says, "and a lot of it's in the songs, whether it's water diversion in Northern California or the amount of methamphetamine that tends to flow through blue-collar suburbia. This [leukemia] is the one that I've been swinging the bat hardest for."

Claypool's songs, riddled with absurdist lyrics delivered over a loud bass in his sometimes-nasal voice, offer sharp social commentary through metaphors. But some fans may just like the plunk of his music.

During a hiatus from Primus, Claypool formed groups with Phish's Trey Anastasio, enigmatic guitarist Buckethead and former Primus members. Oysterhead, his band with Anastasio and the Police's Stewart Copeland, produced bass-driven progressive jams arranged with eerie vocal effects and ambient notes from modified electric guitars.

For his latest project, the acoustic Duo de Twang, Claypool plays "hillbilly versions" of his songs with a longtime friend known only as Mirv.

"It's just what I listen to," Claypool says of the Duo's bluegrass-inflected style. "It's that scratchy, singing into a can, 'O Brother, Where Art Thou'-style, old-timey country. And it's cool. I've been going through a Stompin' Tom Connors phase. He's been called the Johnny Cash of Canada. My [15-year-old] daughter says to me … 'Dad, why you playing old-guy music?' "

But Primus is far from being “old-guy music.” When the band reunited in 2010, its old backwoods funk-rock returned with it. But a new, less-disarming host of guitar melodies came along with Claypool’s burly slap-bass. The recession of Claypool’s bass to let guitar and drums steer more of the music shows artistic maturity, and he addresses his tough times on “Tragedy’s A’Comin’,” off 2011’s “Green Naugahyde.”

His family’s hardships haven’t deterred Claypool’s affinity for strange stage antics. “Definitely, it’s a head trip,” he says of the 3-D tour. “The heads are going to love this. It’s very psychedelic.”



When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10

Where: Fillmore Miami Beach, 1770 Washington Ave.

Cost: $52-$62.50


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