Primus Verizon Wireless Theater May 23, 2011
The most important thing Curtis Armstrong, who would also appear that year as Booger in Revenge of the Nerds, tells Tom Cruise in 1983's Risky Business is this indispensable piece of advice: "Every now and then, say 'What the fuck.'"
See Primus, and you will definitely say what the fuck. Adding a question mark is optional.
Primus is such a unique, curious specimen within the petri dish of pop music that explaining the trio's appeal to anyone who wasn't at Verizon Monday night feels like solving a complex quantum physics equation for a room full of liberal arts majors. We're not even that good at math, but we'll try.
Recently Aftermath has been reading Erik Larson's 2003 book The Devil In the White City, about the planning and execution of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Ticking, whirring, wheezing, clattering, Primus is like a newfangled contraption some mad professor would have hauled into the fair, especially with bassist/singer/godhead Les Claypool duded up in a dapper derby, owlish spectacles, whimsical goatee and tight-fitting waistcoat.
Or call them a junkyard jam band. The songs were spring-loaded but spare, with lots of movement and lots of space. For all the ornamental grillwork Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane layered on, the framework never buckled - no matter how far out into the ether (or on ether) two of the three would venture, the other one stayed behind to act as a cast-iron anchor.
Enhanced by most of the songs' deliberate tempos and skittering aural ephemera, the effect could be hypnotic, even for someone who spent a good portion of the evening fumbling for some sort of musical reference point. When Aftermath could even find one, it came from the outer edges of both our personal preferences and popular taste: John Zorn, Sun-Ra, Ornette Coleman, Bernard Herrmann.
Other times, coalescing into a lumbering rock monster prodded by Claypool's bass-taser, Primus made it easier to understand why this show was happening at Verizon and not DiverseWorks or Last Concert Cafe: The scythelike riff of "John the Fisherman"; random foghorn blasts of "Iron Man" chords here and there; the driving Queens of the Stone Age-ish cadences of new song "The Last Salmon Man"; LaLonde's psyched-out Paul Leary-ish solo on "Over the Falls"; Claypool's bass doubling Lane's kickdrum into something metal-crazy on "My Name Is Mud."
Speaking of the Butthole Surfers, at one point Claypool's sing-song vocals - which were as treated and effects-heavy as the underwater/outer-space lighting and any of the other instruments onstage, and often sounded lifted outright from various fifth-dimension nursery rhymes - had our photographer convinced it was he and not Gibby Haynes on Ministry's "Jesus Built My Hotrod." We knew it wasn't, but at the precise moment he said it (whatever song it was), it was hard to argue.
Maybe Primus is best described as a science experiment. If you don't understand the mathematics and physics behind what is going on, some of the significance may be lost on you. But it's still fun to watch test tubes bubble and froth and occasionally explode.
Personal Bias: Once upon a time, I had a cassette of 1993's Pork Soda, which probably did as much as anything to convince me that bassist was not my predestined career path. Other than that, I always liked the South Park theme.
The Crowd: Pretty gnarly.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Primus Sucks!" Of course.
Random Notebook Dump: Is this fusion?
SET LIST (via bullboard.prawnsong.com)
Intro Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers Groundhog's Day Memphis American Life The Last Salmon Man Over the Falls Jilly's On Smack The Green Ranger John the Fisherman Drums Drum and Whamola Jam Eleven Bob My Name is Mud To Defy the Laws of Tradition Here Come the Bastards
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