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PRIMUS at Tower Theater, 10/1/11

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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!

Primus, Green Naugahyde Review

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The 80’s and 90’s produced some of our times’ most interesting music, but nothing is as quirky and fascinating as Primus. The power trio is currently made up of Larry LaLonde, a student of guitar guru Joe Satriani, Jay Lane, and leader of the project, Les Claypool. Their most recent release, Green Naugahyde, is the first with this line-up and while Claypool has had a hard time keeping members in the band, it could be his incredibly advanced way of thinking about music that causes them to leave. Lane’s prowess, as one of the most talented drummers playing right now, combined with LaLonde’s technical ability and Claypool’s wildy creative and exciting style makes Primus one of the most accessible and remarkable live acts touring right now. Primus will be playing this album in its entirety during the second set of shows on this tour.

In a most creepy opening stunt, the first track of Primus’ new album, “Prelude to a Crawler,” is without the man himself, just LaLonde’s eerie, wandering, reverbed-out melody, but on the drop of the next track, “Hennepin Crawler,” we finally hear from Claypool. Pumping a bass that could shatter your rib cage, you almost miss his wild lyrics that serve more as a rhythm section than anything.

The third selection brings us the lighter side of Primus, which is certainly not light by any definition of the word. “Last Salmon Man” chronicles the life of a young farmer and brings us the first great guitar solo of the album. LaLonde also takes back-up vocals on this track, supporting Claypools quirky sound with his own somewhat melodic voice. And finally, we get to joke-y but dead ass serious Primus. The lyrics give the best picture of the feel of this song: “I like it, I really really like it, I think I’m gonna buy it, cuz I really really like it. Eternal consumption engine, here in the USA, eternal consumption engine, we really do like to spend our pay, eternal consumption engine… slingin’ down the slices of American Pie, eternal consumption engine, every time I get a little bit bored, eternal consumption engine, head to the wally-mart store.” Haunting, daunting, and true, with the repeated chorus “Everything’s made in China,” this song is probably the most lyrically stimulating while being musically fascinating at the same time.

Green Naugahyde Album Cover

“Tragedy’s a Comin’” (stream here) was the selected single off the album, and for obvious reasons. It’s radio friendly, not too overwhelmingly heavy, with classic Claypool riffs and enough guitar to make any arena go crazy. The lyrics also make some sense, but they don’t make so much of a statement that they could eliminate listeners.

Taking tempo down a notch, “Eyes of the Squirrel” sounds like a typical Primus song, making a small statement lyrically about American culture and reality TV. They fade into a gargly, drawn out ending that blends with the next track’s synthesized introduction, which builds to a cliff before dropping into LaLonde’s spiky guitar pit and being swallowed by Jay Lane’s erratic, but totally controlled drumming. “Jilly’s on Smack” is the first track that we don’t hear Claypool’s distinct vocals, and rather the focus is on his stand-up bass sound that smoothly undertones the wildness of the drums, until the bridge, when they start what sounds like jamming.

“Lee Van Cleef” delivers the classic dirty bass we all crave when listening to Primus and has the first and only mention of the album title. Similarly, “Moron TV” also best serves as a chance for Les to get muddy on his bass, and for him to attack (again) the lazy and lush American culture, especially with regards to watching TV.

“Green Ranger” is a wild and ghostly little jaunty asking, “Who wants to ride with the Green Ranger,” and again bringing back Claypools powerfully deep stand-up techniques. “HOINFODAMAN” is a skipable track, another critique on culture- this time, advertising, but together these two make a quirky interlude before the explosive closing number, appropriately titled “Extinction Burst.” Dense with sound, technically exciting and exploratory, this second-to-last track is creepy-crawly-funk-rock-metal song that you crave from Les Claypool and Primus.