Last Night: Primus At Verizon Wireless Theater

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.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray