By: Blythe Penn
Last time I went to the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, I was dressed for a gala. That is the kind of event you might expect at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater. That’s why I was surprised to find out Jim James and the Claypool Lennon Delirium were kicking off their summer tour there.
When I arrived at the venue on June 21st, the setting summer sun was beating down on the polished six-story grand lobby through the glass window front.
It’s not hard to feel a sense of awe when walking into the sleek, white, modern lobby. The architecture stands in striking contrast to its location on Main Street, a busy central-city thoroughfare.
Delirium merchandise was spread across two large folding tables in the lobby. James’ small merch table, on the other hand, offered a limited, but unique, collection of items. Jim James pencils, anyone?
Concessions offered cold sodas, beer, and snacks. As a gluten-free drinker, I was pleased there was a non-beer option, a spiked spritzer. Surprisingly, alcohol was allowed into the concert.
A theater warning bell rang to announce the show was beginning soon, perhaps a first for a Les Claypool show. Tough looking middle-aged fans headed to their seats, some double fisting beers.
James and Claypool–41 and 55 years old–fairly represent the demographic of attendees. Think, graying beards, old Primus tour t-shirts, and bald-spot ponytails. There were plenty of gray-haired couples, some accompanying pre-teens to the show.
The massive walls of the Delta Performance Hall emulate the colors of Utah’s red rock in shades of sandy coral pink and cream. Meanwhile, the ceiling acts as the black night sky–strands of lights posing as stars.
When the lights went down I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was unfamiliar with James’ solo albums before this event, I knew him as the vocalist for My Morning Jacket, but I wasn’t familiar with the Claypool Lennon Delirium in any way. I learned Les Claypool’s name early in my punk-rock adolescence when my friends played “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Primus, Claypool’s seminal group. You may know them as the authors of Southpark’s theme song, though their musicianship is much more than that.
As Claypool and his bandmates came onto the stage, the audience roared with applause. The audience bobbed their heads as Delirium launched into a bass-heavy cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” which Delirium recorded on their 2017 album “Lime and Limpid Green,” named for a lyric in the song. Surrealist cover art from their latest album “South of Reality” hung on the back of the blue-lit stage.
The crowd remained seated until the second song when an audience member towards the front of the theater stood up to headbang and twirl his long hair to “Bariska.” (See image.) A man in the balcony egged him on, and the headbanger turned to the audience and raised his arms as an invitation for the rest of the audience to join him in standing. Soon most of the crowd was up. Delirium’s plucky, dissonant prog-rock rhythm invoked fist pumping, headbanging, air drums, and all interpretations of toe-tapping. The crunchy bass riffs, droning keyboards, and quirky vocals cast an entrancing rock n’ roll spell on the audience.
During a song break, Claypool commented on the refinement of the venue, pointing out that his bandmate Sean Lennon’s pants matched the chairs. Lennon joked he was more than happy to sit in one of the velveteen seats if someone else would play guitar.
I hadn’t realized Sean Lennon made up the Lennon portion of Delirium. I was a little star struck as I considered the legacy he represents.
Claypool introduced Lennon as “Shiner,” and asked him to share a science trivia fact, comparing him to the Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, a 1969 comedy about a human math genius. “I forgot about this part,” Lennon remarked.
“Did you know that it takes about 100,000 years for a photon to travel from the center of the sun to the surface of the sun. But then, once it escapes the sun and comes to earth, it only takes 8 minutes. Isn’t that crazy?”
Delirium was a crowd pleaser, playing long, engaging songs. Besides their opening cover song, they played two others: “The Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson, and ending with “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles.
During intermission around 10 pm, folk-bluegrass harmonies played over the speakers while the stage crew set up for James. The crowd started to thin out. It looked somewhat sparse by the time Jim James took the stage.
James and his band did not disappoint, though. He performed with a full band–guitarist, bass player, and drummer–plus back up singers from another band. Columns of audience-facing ring lights surrounded the band from behind, quickly flashing as James performed guitar solo after guitar solo, wildly tossing his hair. Stripped down blues rock unapologetically crashed through the theater.
They opened with “Over and Over,” followed by “You Get to Rome,” and “Out of Time.” James switched to an acoustic guitar for “A New Life,” ring lights glowing behind him for this softer tune. He then launched into “Just a Fool,” resuming the electric guitar. The bass rattled the chairs of the theater. Songs were fast and quickly followed each other. In “No Secrets,” the band built up the musical tension, the backup singers melting their voices into soaring vocals.
James connected with the audience during several songs. During “Here in Spirit,” halfway through the set, he raised his hands towards the crowd while he sang, “You can call on me!” The crowd responded with their hands in the air.
As the set continued, concert-goers started to move closer to the stage, claiming abandoned seats and filling the aisles. Crowding around the stage is quintessential for an inspiring concert, although contrary to theater etiquette. Ushers repeatedly directed guests to clear the aisles, and the remaining audience gravitated to the seats closest to the stage.
James ended the set with energizing “Same Old Lie,” and “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” a pair of songs encouraging the audience to take action for the social-political needs of our day and age.
After a few short moments, he came back onstage for an encore performance. He started with My Morning Jacket’s “I’m Amazed.” The crowd cheered ferociously with the opening bars of the song. He played two more songs, “Of the Mother Again,” and “State of the Art – A.E.I.O.U,” a crowd favorite, before the band cleared the stage and the house lights came up.
As is habit for me, I was slow to leave the theater after the show. I watched the road crew start to break down the set, and took in the atmosphere of the theater until an usher asked me to leave. Back in the lobby, both merch tables were swarming with people, ready to give away their dollars in honor of the music.