Jam on Wry
Primus' Les Claypool rocks the mock-doc in 'Electric Apricot'
Like tripping on acid while waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, jam bands – Phish, Gov't Mule, the Grateful Dead, Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade – will always be an acquired taste. Too willfully obscurantist for the mainstream, too tie-dyed for the underground, but just right for a certain percentage of Bonnaroo-bred Goldidreadlocks that keeps the Dead's and Bob Weir's wiry little Ratdog back catalogs permanently pressed; the String Cheese Incident will always be incidental to the majority of concertgoers.
Electric Apricot, the directorial feature debut from Primus' slap-bass mastermind, Claypool, (playing in a limited run at the Alamo South Lamar this weekend), dissects the minutiae of the jam-band scene in a way no Phishy concert film would ever dare to attempt: via outright parody. Sure, the jam-band genre has provided comedy fodder for everyone from The Simpsons to virtually every late-night talk-show host (excluding Alan Thicke), but Claypool is himself a proud member of an actual jam band. That insider status makes this mockumentary both less likely to upset the karmic equilibrium that genre stalwarts rely upon to avoid being beaten to death by Motörhead's fan base, while simultaneously blurring the lines between satire, parody, and overkill.
Electric Apricot's filmic template is obviously Spinal Tap, right down to its rainbowed kick-drum heart, with Claypool himself playing drummer Lapland "Lapdog" Miclovich as Phisher Trey Anastasio by way of the Tap's Nigel Tufnel. Claypool's canny mock-doc follows the group – which also includes spiritually bent bassist Steve "Aiwass" Hampton Trouzdale (Adam Gates); beefy, anger-management-miscue guitarist Steven Allan "Gordo" Gordon (Bryan Kehoe); and Marin County beachboy Herschel Tambor Brillstien (Jonathan Korty) on keyboards – into the studio where they record the painfully literal anthem "Hey, Are You Going to Burning Man?" before ultimately securing a third-tier backup semislot at the equally fake Festeroo concert.
Along the way, Electric Apricot skewers not only the jam genre's penchant for endless, seemingly mindless guitar noodling and New Agey self-importance – a trait handed down from their hippier-than-thou San Franciscan forebears – but also the manic, stoney fans and live-show "tapers" (represented here by Robot Chicken's Seth Green and South Park's Matt Stone), who attach themselves to their favorite band's touring undercarriage like scraggly, tie-dyed remoras. "It's like free love with a bit of ass-shaking and a little bit of crazy, like, wow," gushes a female Phish phan at one point, while, speaking of growing tensions in the recording studio, Apricot Gordo says, "I felt like Hitler at Waterloo in there yesterday."
Needless to say, once they finally end their quest at Festeroo, real-life Phish bassist Mike Gordon pointedly tells the camera, "I've never heard of Electric Apricot," but whether he's hip to Claypool's cinematic gag or not remains a mystery. Much like the appeal of jam bands, actually.
National Lampoon Presents Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo screens Thursday through Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. For more information, visit www.electricapricot.com.