Last Night: Primus at Free Press Summer Fest

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More FPSF 2012 Coverage:Summer Fest line-up reviews on the Rocks Off blog.
Free Press Summer Fest 2012: The Sexy, Sweaty Crowds
Popsicles and Pizza: The Food of Summer Fest
FPSF: The Bands from Saturday
FPSF: The Bands from Sunday

Primus Free Press Summer Fest, Eleanor Tinsley Park June 3, 2012

Primus shows always seem less like musical performances and more like Les Claypool bass-playing clinics. Many would pay top dollar to have the front man and lead singer for the influential San Francisco-based trio jam unaccompanied for two hours, myself included.

They appeal to the jam-band set as much as the rockier crowd, and Claypool is rightfully accepted as a genius. If only we could all do what it was we were set to do here on Earth as well as what Claypool does with the art of bass, well...I could probably finish that thought.

Sunday's slot, the last on Summer Fest's Stage 2, was a shift from the rest of the acts over the weekend, which ranged from hip-hop to indie, rawk and electronic, to all strains of roots. Primus is something altogether different.

David Firth cartoons played behind the band for most of the set, interspersed with great video art. People spinning, morphing, a child with his own head coming out of his mouth. Two large inflatable astronauts were on either side of the stage, with an elderly man's face peering out. I had seen those space cadets at a previous Primus gig, but it was too bright out to get the full effect.

I have read the band described as fun and quirky, but I don't hear any fun or quirk in Primus, just a lot of paranoia and dread. Every song feels like it's heading for calamity, in a good way.

Claypool's bass melds with Larry LaLonde's guitar so that they don't sound like two instruments but one. Jay Lane's drums fly above them, and in fact he has a lot to do with their live sound. The interlocking parts are all oiled and weave with precision.

The band closed their set with the triple-pack of "My Name Is Mud," "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," naturally, because those are the songs that we all learned from Beavis & Butt-Head, and had junior high kids wearing Pork Soda shirts.

Personal Bias: My last Primus experience was last year at the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I shot the band, went to my hotel room, changed into swim trunks and listened to the rest of their almost two-hour set while laying in the pool a few yards from the stage. I could feel Claypool's bass tone inside the water.

The Crowd: Per my previous Primus experience with bikinis, bros and oldsters, I didn't expect for the Primus crowd to be so stone-y and metallic. I was heavily surprised, and I saw plenty of old friends. They are the "good" kind of jam band.

Overheard in the Crowd: I watched a young father attempt to teach his son to play hacky sack. You've come a long way, Summer Fest.

Random Notebook Dump: Looking back, Primus's catalog (Sailing the Seas of Cheese isn't too terribly accessible for mainstream listeners) was pretty adventuresome for the public consumption in the '90s, but as I could see in the audience, they helped mold and warp plenty of young minds. And you can't help but kick your leg in time with Claypool's.

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