Oysterhead is a combustible union of three extraordinary musicians – guitarist Trey Anastasio (on hiatus from Phish), bass player Les Claypool (stepping away from Primus) and drummer Stewart Copeland (long gone from the Police, now an in-demand scorer of films in Hollywood). What began as a one-off show in New Orleans in May 2000 has evolved into a fullfledged artistic collaboration, and The Grand Pecking Order is the result. The Grand Pecking Order is a richly textured and wholly absorbing musical tapestry. You will discern familiar elements – Anastasio’s brain-hosing lead guitar, the surrealistic vaudeville of Claypool’s bass and vocals, Copeland’s driving, syncopated drumwork – embedded in a larger matrix that is uniquely Oysterhead. The overall sound might call to mind the term psychedelic, but not so much in a retro Sixties vein as a full-sounding, future-minded way.
It’s not difficult to see why Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Les Claypool (of Primus) have a musical attraction to each other: they both revel in a balance of technical proficiency and head-spinning absurdity. Of course, Frank Zappa was a pioneer in this realm and you can hear his influence throughout. With former Police drummer Stewart Copeland on board as the third accomplice, Oysterhead pretty much wear out the lines between creativity and self-indulgence, between the clever and the goofy–a fact that is not at all surprising given the histories of Anastasio and Claypool, neither of whom are known for their self-editing abilities. Still, Oysterhead earns considerable points for the level of musicianship, originality, and sheer abandon of the project. And Copeland seems liberated by the setting, showing ingenuity and dexterity in driving these ultra-quirky tunes. In the end, this mix of clunky funk and decadent weirdness is maddening almost as much as it is rewarding, but The Grand Pecking Order has a sinister futuristic quality that is simply too peculiar to ignore. –Marc Greilsamer
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