Live Review: Primusby Mitch Goldman
Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA 5/10/96
Sometimes I have to wonder about the Primus audience. I mean, here's this highly skilled trio who play a singularly non-aggressive fusion of Residents-style avant garde pop and post-Bootsy funk (with a touch of metal thrown in), and yet they elicit the most, well let's say enthusiastic approach from their mostly-male, college age-and-younger audience. Amidst screams of "Primus sucks!" and loud whoops, Primus plays a more cerebral brand of rock. It’s almost as if the crowd reaction has little or nothing to do with the music.
And in Seattle that music was as creepy and edgy as ever. Les Claypool held up the majority of the rhythm and melody on his six string bass, while ex-thrash guitar maestro Larry LaLonde played absolutely searing lead guitar lines, and drummer Herb Alexander pounded out complex rhythms effortlessly. Les's nasal vocals seemed a bit buried in the mix at the historic Paramount, further contributing to the spooky bent of this show’s material. After a throw-away opening of the banjo tune "De Anza Jig," things got real dark real fast with Frizzle Fry's "Spegetti Western." Larry's intense soloing reached Zappa-esque territory during the lengthy instrumental opening of the tune. The first song module progressed through "To Defy the Laws of Tradition," "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers" and finally culminated in "Over the Electric Grapevine," from last year's Tales From the Punch Bowl. Few bands would have the confidence in the adulation of their audience to open a show with over 20 minutes of such skin-crawling music.
Adding to the stark quality of the show was the near-total lack of stage set; in contrast to last year's elaborate living room set, this tour featured a black curtain backdrop and one meager prop (one of the toy faces from the Punchbowl cover). These guys give a whole new meaning to the phrase "getting down."
Oh sure, there were upbeat songs to balance the dour; the obligatory "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," the jazz-cum-blues jam of "Harold of the Rocks," and the final encore of "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver." But Primus' dark side was on display, cropping up in oldies like "The Heckler" and newer songs like "Mrs. Blaileen" (a tale of classroom torture) and "Southbound Pachyderm." The trio even gave a nod to the kings of creepy pop, the Residents, by seamlessly segueing into "Hello Skinny" from the middle section of "Nature Boy." Again, Larry's guitar playing, this time freely recalling the late great Snakefinger, created a deliciously moody ambience.
I guess it's nice that Primus can make a good living thanks to their rowdy, oddly excitable audience. It seems totally beside the point of the music; a reaction as superfluous to the art as it is essential to the commerce of the music business. Just another contradiction in the world of Primus.
De Anza Jig