Oysterhead Channel Zeppelin For Toronto’s Bead-Wearing Phish Fans

Trey Anastasio, Les Claypool, Stewart Copeland took the stage Wednesday at Massey Hall.

TORONTO — Originally formed in May 2000 as part of a “superjam” at
the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the trio of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio,
Primus singer and bassist Les Claypool and former Police drummer Stewart
Copeland felt a group chemistry almost immediately. They’ve since put together an album, The Grand Pecking Order, and at their tour stop here Wednesday night in support of that record, proved to a sold-out crowd that the sum is greater than Oysterhead’s parts.

A crowd of 3,000 — dominated by bead-wearing Phish fans who sported
T-shirts from the jam band’s tours — took their seats inside Massey Hall, and the group walked out to a standing ovation. Wearing green coveralls with NASA badges and stalking the stage in circles, Claypool broke the ice with the album’s title track, a funk-rock jam. Anastasio and Claypool sang alternating verses then joined forces on the chorus. There was a lack of ego-stroking solos throughout this song and the whole of the two-hour set, with the threesome instead relying on each other to bring out the best in themselves. It didn’t take fans long to get into the grooves, as most stood and danced right away while others flocked to the front of the stage.

With minimal lighting effects, no previously planned set list and non-existent between-song
banter, Oysterhead hit their mark five songs in with “Army’s on Ecstasy.” As
Copeland worked his rather large and intricate drum set, it was
Anastasio’s gritty guitar work and pedal finesse that set the stage for the
song’s deconstruction and ultimate reconstruction in the vein of Led
Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” (with a little “Dazed and Confused” mixed in).
A Zeppelin-like homage could also be heard in “Radon Balloon,” a song which features Anastasio strumming acoustic guitar. Clearly the ’70s rock gods hold a place in Oysterhead’s collective heart — fans who arrived at the show early heard most of Led Zeppelin’s first album over the sound system during soundchecks.

The bizarre factor came to the fore on more than one occasion, particularly
during “Shadow of a Man.” Here, Anastasio opted for a guitar featuring
antlers protruding from it, the antlers acting as a makeshift theremin that
produced startling effects. At the same time, Claypool approached the
stage’s lip with illuminated goggles and a battle helmet. Copeland, looking
as if he were still in his 20s, also got into the act. During
“Wield the Spade,” he stood over a large drum, raised his hands in the
air and emoted as if running for elected office, and screamed, “Wield
the spade!” repeatedly. The crowd relished this display, judging by the hoots, whistles
and screams rising up from the seats.

As fans hollered for songs from the trio’s more famous projects — signature Police tune “Roxanne” was demanded, as was Primus’ “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” — Oysterhead refused to comply, instead forging ahead with material from The Grand Pecking Order. Songs such as “Oz Is
Ever Floating” and “Rubberneck Lions” pushed each musician to teeter between
scene-stealer and supporting cast member. Only at the beginning of “Birthday
Boys” did the show seem to lose energy, with Anastasio seated alone and
plucking an acoustic guitar. But this mood quickly dissipated into a hillbilly
hootenanny once Claypool emerged from the shadows with a banjo-looking bass.
Copeland, after changing from one sweat-soaked black T-shirt into a
fresh replica, joined the fray quickly thereafter.

Nearing the homestretch, the group closed the evening with “Mr.
Oysterhead,” a rollicking quasi-funk jam. While the inscrutable line, “When all else has
been done and said/ Along comes Mr. Oysterhead,” was sung no less than 14
times, the group exited on a high note. A loud roar from the audience
capped the two hours and fans gave a standing ovation, ending the night as it had begun.

Oysterhead set list:

  • “The Grand Pecking Order”
  • “Pseudo Suicide”
  • “Owner of the World”
  • “Radon Balloon”
  • “Army’s on Ecstasy”
  • “Polka Dot Rose”
  • “Shadow of a Man”
  • “Oz Is Ever Floating”
  • “Wield the Spade”
  • “Birthday Boys”
  • “Rubberneck Lions”
  • “Mr. Oysterhead”
  • “Changes”