From the Queen to the Cowboy: A double dose of PRIMUS

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Primus
Memphis & Dallas
May 20 & 25, 2011


The new incarnation of PRIMUS, a much anticipated reuniting of old friends and the rebirth of the greatest cult band of all time. With Jay “Jayski” Lane, Larry “Ler” LaLonde and “Colonel” Leslie Edward Claypool back again for the first time — or second if you include the tour previous to this one — the lineup is solidly intact. With the roster sewn up and a new record in the can and ready to roll (Green Naugahyde, set for release 9/13/11), the future looks ever-so-bright for the legendary avant-garde collective.

PRIMUS’ all-encompassing sound incorporates many different styles and genres. Perhaps the best way to describe it to the uninitiated is to use Claypool’s illustration itself wherein he described the sound as “psychedelic polka.”

Les has made a reputation for himself as being a real-life cartoon character. Through his quirky lyrics and unconventional vocals, his various bands are unto themselves in style. But PRIMUS is what we are talking about here and its sound that possesses an uncanny ability to go from dark and gloomy to childish and funny without a broken stride… making it absolutely brilliant and enduring.

The mighty trio has set out to tour extensively this summer, and in turn, give the folks a little taste of the first PRIMUS LP since 1999’s Antipop, an album that Claypool admits was not an album of which he was proud; and seems to be expressing repentance for with Naugahyde.

Primus with Dirtfoot
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
May 20, 2011

It was around 4:30 on a Friday afternoon at Minglewood Hall. Four fans were already waiting in line, or rather waiting in the area where a line would eventually form. The smell of cheese was in the air. It was “PRIMUS Day” in Memphis and an exciting time for local fans due to the fact that the band hasn’t played there in years.

i-2q7jsJ2-M.jpgHowever, it also unfortunately happened to be “Motörhead and Foo Fighters at The FedEx Forum Day” as well. Needless to say, many would-be-Minglewood attendees were at the Forum and this made for an unusually small turnout for a band that has diehard fans that span two decades.

Minglewood filled out nicely, but had the mainstream festivities not taken place on the same night, this event probably would have sold out.

As show time drew closer, the lobby filled with people and all sorts of strange characters showed up. There were old folks, young folks, bass-enthusiasts, metal-heads and copious amounts of hippies. The doors finally opened and with that, the first wave of fans raced madly for the barricade with some trying to save spots for friends who were stocking up on drinks and merchandise. These people, and of course, the band deserve all of the credit for making the night what it was. Then there were the rest of them…

The evening began with a solid performance from the Louisiana-based act Dirtfoot, a talented group of guys with an unusual sound somewhat similar to North Mississippi Allstars. They’ve quite liberally described themselves as a “Front Porch, Whiskey Swillin’, Foot Stomping, Gypsy, Punk, Country, Grumble, Boogie band” and came complete with a unique mixture of acoustic guitars, saxophone, banjo, upright bass and some odd instruments of percussive origin. The ensemble (with its degrees of weirdness) was a perfect fit for the tour.

i-rmpmd3b-M.jpgAnxiety filled the establishment as the stage was prepped for the main attraction. One crew member taped lyric sheets to Les’ monitor next to the set list. New material means new lyrics and Les needed them in front of him. Once the crew was done hustling about the stage, it was finally show time.

Buzz and Neil, the two beloved inflatable astronauts, stood tall, mighty and ready to display projections of random trippy imagery and a barrage of various music videos. As the lights dimmed, the traditional Pee Wee’s Big Adventure-esque introduction music came blaring out of the speakers and shortly, the legendary trio emerged from the darkness to join the giant space explorers on stage. The elephants had entered the room and it was officially “Pudding Time”….literally.

Wasting no time, the band launched into the Frizzle Fry number, an unexpected yet explosive opener. Les was strapped with his beautiful new custom bass guitar. His outfit consisted of the usual black thick-framed circular glasses, derby hat and PRIMUS t-shirt. On the average night, Les is always the best dressed of the three, but this was not the average night. This is not to say that Lane and LaLonde were in their Sunday best (LaLonde wore a striped long sleeve shirt with beads around his neck and wrist and Lane was sporting a “Sam Adato’s Drum Shop” T-shirt and a “just got out of bed” hair style).

Apparently Les wasn’t entirely comfortable with his garb and after a surprising performance of “GroundHog’s Day,” he walked off stage to put on his fancy shirt. While he was getting dressed, LaLonde began the whiny introduction to “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers.” This went on for a solid minute before Les reappeared; this time in full costume. As the song progressed, a mosh pit formed towards the front of the venue and battle lines were drawn with those close to the stage being pretty damn rowdy, and those behind them barely moving at all. Even during the most intense moments of the evening, much of the crowd just stood there. While those who were raising a ruckus felt out of place amongst the drab majority, the flipside was that those who weren’t participating in the rumpus seemed irritated by any sudden movement, often scowling in an effort to show disdain.

i-ktxT6ML-M.jpg“The Last Salmon Man” was the first glimpse of the new material. It is the fourth installment of “The Fisherman’s Chronicles” (Parts one, two and three being: “John the Fisherman,” “Fish On” and “The Ol’ Diamondback Sturgeon”). The new song sounded like a mixture of two PRIMUS classics, “Here Come the Bastards” and “Fisticuffs” with a hint of “Sir George Martin” in certain parts of Les’ vocal work. It was bouncy number about the declining salmon fishing industry in northern California.

A fantastic performance of “Over the Falls” was followed by another new song, supposedly titled “Hennepin Crawler” (also referred to as “Pie in the Sky”).  It carried a catchy composition that, at first, could easily be mistaken for “Over the Electric Grapevine.” This one is sure to be a future classic. Up next was the legendary, “Frizzle Fry” followed by drums and eventually a brief Whamola jam.

Lane pounded the hell out of his sparkly orange drum kit during his gut-busting solo; serving as an impressive feat of precision and an accurate testament to his prowess. Les soon reappeared in fashioning a monkey mask with Whamola in hand for a short yet sweet moment of maniacal monkey business. Then it was time for some more new jams.

First up, “Jilly’s on Smack” (a playfully dark song that Les plays with use of a bow on the upright bass with an infectious jam, comparable to “My Friend Fats”). The lyrics tell the tale of a woman named “Jilly” and her troubles with heroin. She subsequently “won’t be comin’ back for the holidays.” There was a laptop being utilized off stage to create the fading effect heard during the guitar introduction. The fourth and final new song was “Green Ranger,” a tribute to the most badass of all the Power Rangers. The song featured very low, dragging bass notes and sparing use of the guitar that was completely owned by Lane.

Everyone who attended the previous tour knows what Jay can do with old PRIMUS songs. It’s astounding to see/hear what he brings to the table without having to replicate (former drummer) Tim “Herb” Alexander’s  drum parts.

Lane adds funkiness to the band’s sound that has never been achieved before. He encompasses all the power of Tim Alexander, with all the technicality and jam aspects of Brian Mantia. While doing so, he also manages to incorporate his own style within everything he does. Les could not have called upon a more qualified musician to fill Herb’s gigantic shoes.

003 i-zRkhNTc-M.jpgClaypool seemed a bit perturbed towards the latter part of the set. While it is pure speculation, there simply seemed to be a lack of enjoyment coming from the front man who spent a significant portion of the set with his back to the crowd, seemingly more interested in the projections displayed on one of the astronaut’s helmets. Perhaps it was an indication of the energy coming from a large portion of the crowd or from the flashbulbs that were repeatedly going off in his face.

The end of the set brought such hits as “My Name is Mud” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” which caused the biggest reaction amongst the people on the floor. The encore was “Southbound Pachyderm,” a celebrated cut from Tales From the Punchbowl, but also a tune that brought quite an anti-climactic ending.

With that, Les simply tipped his hat to the crowd and walked away. It was all over, and many people stated their distaste for the abrupt ending. The band did have to play a show at the Hangout Music Festivalin Alabama the next afternoon. Hence, they were in a hurry to get on the road and wasted no time doing so.

The audience can make or break the concert experience. With a lame crowd, the entire show can be tainted. Luckily this is not the case with PRIMUS. Despite the crowd situation, they put on one hell of a show. It did lack some of the typical ‘off-the-cuff’ commentary from Les, but musically and visually, it was sublime. This said, this concert was, for lack of a better EMINEM lyric, “One Excedrin tablet short of a full medicine cabinet.” Some fans left awe-struck, some fans left disappointed. When all is said and done, “It’s just a matter of opinion.”

Primus
The Palladium
Dallas, TX
May 25, 2011

PRIMUS’ performance in Dallas was fucking awesome, plain and simple…no fancy wordage necessary. The Palladium Ballroom was packed and the crowd was relentless with everyone on the floor pushing towards the front, crushing the living shit out of each other. This was a PRIMUS crowd if there ever was one; mosh pits, crowd surfing, “Minds numbed by THC,” the whole nine yards. It was pure madness and exactly what one should expect at a show of this magnitude.

001 i-XH7LzNf-M.jpgThe trio began their set in typical PRIMUS fashion, opening with “To Defy the Laws of Tradition,” the opening track to their debut studio LP, Frizzle Fry. The first few notes of the intricately mesmerizing bass introduction received a thunderous response from the audience. As the song began, the raunchy bass, screeching guitar and feel-it-in-your-chest drum licks shook the ballroom as participants raged in spastic celebration.

Offering the new tune, “The Last Salmon Man” which was played by Les on his Dobro bass on this night in Dallas as opposed to with his new custom bass as was done five nights previous in Memphis. Not even 10 seconds into the performance, Les messed up the introduction and immediately stopped playing, yelling “Jayski” into the mic…informing Jay Lane to cease playing. It was rather funny and was the first mistake of the night. But it wouldn’t be the last.

Les Claypool’s funky, innovative playing style incorporates the use of a tremolo (whammy bar), flamenco-ish strumming techniques, tapping, and of course, plenty of slapping. He has mixed these different styles, among many others, to create a sound that is completely his own. His signature “wiggly” bass tone is one of the many elements that distinguishes amongst his percussive peers.  Typically, in live concert situations, it’s difficult for first-timers to comprehend how he’s able to do what he does. Most just stare in amazement. His hand seems to glide up and down the neck of his bass effortlessly, yet his fingers move so quickly it often makes him appear superhuman.

i-RhCfp9G-M.jpgThe Colonel has made sure to say some kind words about guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde during all of their more recent live performances. This humorous banter tends to always segue into a tasty guitar solo from the original Bastardo himself. This routine has been a staple in their live shows since they re-formed and toured extensively last year (usually taking place during “Over the Falls” as was the case on this night) and Ler never fails to amaze during his allotted time to shine.

LaLonde is a mad scientist with a Stratocaster. His nonsensically brilliant guitar work is the one thing that distinctly separates PRIMUS from all other Claypool projects. No one can play the guitar quite like Ler, he’s in a class all by himself. On this night Claypool introduced and described his comrade in fine fashion…”That there’s Ler LaLonde, in the flesh. In the flesh, in the pink. The real McCoy. No filler, no imitation. Sliced, diced and juliet. Ladies and gentlemen of Dallas Texas, I give you… exactly what you need, and that is… a firm and fiery, and… semi-intoxicating dose of Mr. Ler LaLonde.”

Next in line was a new jig, entitled “New Isley,” a tune that is reminiscent of Frog Brigade’s “D’s Diner” but with an  exorbitant amount of funk interspersed throughout the crunchy groove; a nice one two punch that collectively made for a lively piece of music that almost no one in attendance had ever heard before.

The pivotal Sailing the Seas of Cheese track “Sgt. Baker” caused some pandemonium shortly after the unheard-of song. Later in the night, after a lot of new material, came a song that everyone knows. “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” quite possibly the bands most penetrating live song that is definitely a crowd pleaser and a guaranteed way to make things get a little violent.

i-LR5H9Vh-L.jpgPost “Jerry,” the trio wasted no time getting into the set closer, “Harold of the Rocks,” providing a flawless performance of the old fan favorite. They extended the number, adding an exceptionally crazy improvised jam toward the end before abruptly abandoning their posts and leaving the stage. The exhausted, sweaty mass of freaks in the crowd began to chant the band’s unlikely term of endearment “PRIMUS SUCKS!” and after a minute or so, the bastards returned to their instruments for one last ditty.

According to Les, he does not “fuck up.” Rather, he refers to what the rest of us refer to as “fucking up” as “abstract improvisation.” And it was this “abstract improvisation” reared its ugly, funny and special head during the first verse of the night capping number, “Tommy the Cat,” when Les abstractly improvised-up the lyrics. He accidentally skipped the last sentence of the first verse. The line “Tommy the Cat had many a story to tell, but it was a rare occasion such as this that he did.” was instead replaced with “Such a multitude of masculinity could only be found in one place… And that was O’Malley’s Alley.”

Les immediately realized what he had done, and the song came to an immediate halt. Wasting no time Claypool said “I fucked it all up.” Just as the audience was, Les was smiling ear-to-ear as he looked to Ler and struggled to find the words to explain his lyrical mishap. Though far from a musical highlight, it did serve as a truly special moment; a clear indication that Claypool, as superhuman as he appears to be, is actually human. As unbelievably talented as the man is, he makes mistakes from time to time like everyone else.

Once the initial laughter wore thin, Les went on to say (to the chagrin of his admiring throng) “I can’t remember it Ler… the Alzheimers is kickin’ my ass! Only kidding, Alzheimers is nothing to joke about. Unless you’re Ler LaLonde, you can get away with anything. You ought to see some of the shit he says.”

As crew did their job and tried to save the day, Claypool’s bass tech soon came to the rescue with a printout of the song’s lyrics. He tried taping it to Les’ monitor, but Les dismissingly said “I don’t need that, come on” before promptly taking the sheet of paper from his associate and delivering it to a very lucky fan.

The hilarity subsequently continued as the band recuperated and began playing the rest of the song from the top of the second verse. Somewhere in the middle of all the craziness, they broke out into a cover of The Reddings’ “The Awakening” before eventually turning back into “Tommy the Cat.” The remainder of the performance was stellar and provided a truly perfect ending to a wonderfully imperfect PRIMUS concert.

Fans left exhausted, sweaty and completely dumbfounded but painfully satisfied. It was safe to say that Dallas had witnessed something phenomenal; a glorious spectacle that will forever be ingrained in the minds of those who were lucky enough to attend. After all these years, PRIMUS still sucks, and they aren’t apt to change that any time soon… let’s hope not.

Memphis Setlist

Pudding Time, GroundHog’s Day, Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers, *The Last Salmon Man (Fisherman’s Chronicles, Part 4), Over the Falls, *Hennepin Crawler, Frizzle Fry, Drum and Whamola Jam, *Jilly’s on Smack, *Green Ranger, My Name is Mud, Over the Electric Grapevine, Jerry Was a Race Car Driver

Encore: Southbound Pachyderm

Dallas Setlist

To Defy the Laws of Tradition, *Hennepin Crawler, Fisticuffs, Southbound Pachyderm, *The Last Salmon Man (Fisherman’s Chronicle’s, Part 4), Over the Falls, *New Isley, Sgt. Baker, Drum and Whamola Jam, *Jilly’s on Smack, *Green Ranger, Over the Electric Grapevine, Jerry Was a Race Car Driver, Harold of the Rocks

Encore: Tommy the Cat > The Awakening (The Reddings cover) > Tommy the Cat

NOTE: Photos (by Brad Kuntz) used in this are not from these shows. Rather, they were taken in Charlotte on 6/1/11.  

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