Primus, Saturday 10/1/11 Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
If you can say that you don’t know anything about Primus, at least you probably know that they are a strange band, these three wildly talented and creative individuals. You may not know Les Claypool and his unique take on bass driven music, his ability to transcend genres from funk to metal to jam, and his ear for the oddly fascinating. Leading the band since the mid-80’s, Claypool has gone through a number of changes in line-up for his primary project but with guitarist Larry ‘Ler’ LaLonde and drumming god Jay Lane, he seems to have gotten the sound just right.
Upper Darby, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, is not the friendliest neighborhood in PA, but on October 1, Primus fans, who are mostly white males about 18 to 35, came out in droves to see the long-anticipated return of one of the ‘90’s greatest hard rock bands. They were packed inside the historic looking venue, pressed against the golden-papered walls with their $8 micro-brews, and scurrying between the rows of seats to find their friends, a good viewing spot, or escape the usher.
The stage was set just the way Les has liked it since their triumphant return in 2009, with two massive, blow-up astronauts standing on either side of the stage, an old man floating in the helmet, looking around in a questioning way. They frame a large screen, which will show interesting, sometimes slightly disturbing scenes that change with each song.
When the lights go down and the blue fog starts to creep across the stage, Les, Ler, and Jay walk slowly to their spots and “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” begins to ring out. For a crowd that would normally jump all over each other to this song, the cushioned seats made them remarkably calm, even during a killer opening selections like this one. By the third song, their renowned “Frizzle Fry,” you could tell that the calmness of the audience was not impacting the band. They were playing as rowdy as we wanted to be, and “Fry” got people into the aisles where there was room to rock.
The imagery Claypool had chosen to accompany his songs during the first set seemed somewhat tame and didn’t distract too much from the music. For songs like “American Life,” he had repetitive subway shots, blips of a television, and more, but the film acted as more of a backdrop than a complimentary addition. “My Name is Mud” and the set closer, “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” were both so explosive and intense that I noticed the video more when it was turned off than when it was playing.
Set break brought a surge of smokers to the streets of Upper Darby and a chattery buzz about the next set. Rumor had gotten around that they would be playing the new album, Green Naugahyde, straight through and after about 20 minutes of anxious waiting, it appeared this was the case. “Prelude to a Crawl” welcomed the band back on stage, Les finally breaking out his classic pig mask. The astronauts were lit up green and the film on screen had become more relevant and creepy, for example during “Eyes of the Squirrel,” when they showed a mutated, two headed squirrel eerily floating in a marsh, very much watching us.
Though they played some of these tracks during summer performances, seeing them in order and filling one set was seeing them for the first time in a new light. I thought it was interesting that Claypool chose to take this route, and that no one in the crowd was displeased with the idea. You can often find an audience like this one at a jam band show, where playing even the same song two shows in a row is damn near blasphemous, never mind the same set all tour. With this band, however, and this tour, it was very welcome and quite awesome. (For my exact feeling on each of these songs, check out the album review.)
The most Primus-y videos came at the end, in my easily freaked-out opinion. We got an in depth look at the albums cover art, an old timey bicycling boy, fallen and decrepit, missing an eye. There was footage of a squirming baby, which was cute at first, but got weird and intimidatingly quirky. And the album was concluded before you could blink; even in listening to it now, it seems short and sweet, the way they wanted it.
In Claypoolian brilliance, he never let the music die between the “Salmon Men” closer and the encore. Kicking the last hurrah off with “Here Come the Bastards” and keeping the energy all the way through “Puddin’ Time” got the crowd response that he, LaLonde, and Lane truly deserve for their music. PRIMUS SUCKS!
Picture to come!