Tag Archives: Primus

PRIMUS at Tower Theater, 10/1/11

Standard

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

Standard

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.

All Good Music Festival and Campout Review

Standard

This July 14th to 18th celebrated the 15th anniversary of the All Good Music Festival and Campoutheld on Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown, West Virginia. Yes, that is in the middle of nowhere and does mean hiking up and down a mountain. Not a hill, but a mountain. After that weekend I felt fitter, more musically fulfilled, and with a much larger group of friends than I have all summer.

Once I got to the festival, the artists on stage kept referring to what a beautiful family we were, how the love was just resonating out from the crowds. To their credit, the feeling on Marvin’s Mountaintop was something to be remembered. As with most music festivals, the people are very friendly, and after All Good’s somewhat troubled history (problems with drugs, illegal vending, some deaths), to have a year as bright and bubbly as this one was a true joy.

Thursday Night

While it’s my opinion that Hot Buttered Rumgot a little shafted with playing the first set of the festival, they still managed to get the small crowd dancing early in the day.Sound Tribe Sector 9 blew the late night crowd away with the kind of well-played set that STS9 fans haven’t been treated to in a while. Highlights included a “Circus” set opener, a really ragin’ “Grizzly” and the encore, a delicious “The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature”/”Inspire Strikes Back” sandwich. The Thursday line-up was short and sweet, allowing people to get in, get settled, and check out the show.

Friday Morning and Afternoon

Friday was when the real festivities began, kicking off early with two bands on the campground stage, aptly called The Grassroots Stage. Dangermuffin came on second, bringing their bluegrass heat in a way that definitely drew people out of their tents, perhaps more so than the hot weather.Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad opened the main stage, followed by stellar sets from The Infamous StringdustersGalactic, and Keller Williams.

Beside Toubab Krewe and Big Gigantic, who are both festival staples, the Friday night highlight on the smaller Crane Stage was a new artist called That 1 Guy, who plays songs with a homemade, upright instrument – what he calls his magic pipe. It’s amazing to watch sounds emanate from this seven-foot-tall steel pipe that’s been rigged with low note strings that had different effects. He takes bass-driven music to parts unknown, sounding like a hybrid between Frank Zappa and a dance party.

Friday Night

Furthur, featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead was the headliner Friday night and with the exception of a flat, new Bobby tune (“Spin the Wheel”), they played a well-thought out set both with energy and integrity. The way they cover Dead songs is sometimes questionable but always moving and nostalgic, providing Dead fans both young and old with as close an experience to the real thing as they’re going to get. They also treated the audience to a full “Terrapin Station Suite,” a saga rarely played when Jerry Garcia was alive which has become even more infrequent since his death.

Other Friday appearances that I unfortunately missed included Warren Haynes (of The Allman Brothers Band), Dana Fuchs (from the Beatles movie Across The Universe and the off-Broadway play Love, Janis, where she played Janis Joplin), the Everyone Orchestra (featuring Hot Buttered Rum, That 1 Guy, and others) and an all-star jam on the Grassroots Stage with Keller Williams, members of Toubab and members of Umphrey’s McGee, who played the late night set after Furthur.

Saturday Day

Saturday was all about posting up at the concert field, which had turned into a basin for vendors and music. An energetic and groovy Zach Deputy opened the larger Dragon Stage, drawing a pretty sizeable crowd for the first act of the day. His set was calm but danceable – a perfect way to start the day. Then again, the last time I saw Zach, he was raging a 1 am set for 4 straight hours, so I guess he’s good any time of day.

He was followed by up-and-coming jam band The Werks, who did a good job advertising at the festival by posting stickers reading “Werk it!” all over the place to make their presence felt. Marco Benevento tore it up, though we did not see a guest appearance by Joe Russo (the drummer from Furthur), which I think many fans expected considering their extensive playing history together (check out the Benevento Russo Duo).

The Rex Jam was a fun tribute to the Grateful Dead featuring many different artists who were performing throughout the weekend but during that set, I couldn’t contain my excitement for Yonder Mountain String Band. I’ve seen YMSB a few times and I knew there show was going to high energy and impressive, so the anticipation was killing me. Like Hot Buttered Rum, YMSB was slightly undercut with a 7 pm set as opposed to their amazing late night set last year, but they still brought the heat. Adam, Jeff, Ben, and Dave served up the steamiest plate of electrified bluegrass, spoon-feeding us every pulsing bass note and mandolin riff so it dripped sweetly and gently down into our souls. As they said in the All Good program, “If you don’t love bluegrass before the show, you will afterward.” No doubt.

Saturday Night

Then there was moe., which in my opinion was just…okay. Don’t get me wrong here, moe. knows how to throw down, but this show was mediocre at best. There was a lack of excitement, a feeling that they were just pushing out the songs. I left their set early to prepare more fully for the headliner of the night, Les Claypool’s highly anticipated come-back project, PRIMUS. When I came back, Claypool came on stage holding a long wooden instrument and donning a pig mask – as he is known to do – but it was a while before they started their set. Yes, much preparation was needed for this show, but once Claypool got going on his bass, I was worried the speakers were going to fall right off the rig. Drummer Jay Lane and guitarist Larry LaLonde were hardly an afterthought, supporting Claypool’s funk with their own wild and crazy mud music. To close out their set, Primus had the second biggest fireworks show I’ve seen all summer (the first being at Phish’s Superball IX). Like the two hours of music that preceded it, the fireworks were explosive, intoxicating and downright awe-inspiring. I didn’t think that the festival would put on a show quite like this one.

The display continued into the beginning of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, which was the greatest example of big band jazz that I had seen all weekend. It was so captivating that I hardly noticed the massive pyramid they were building for Pretty Lights on the Dragon Stage. Alas, a slight turn to the left and you couldn’t miss it. Here’s all I’ll say about Pretty Lights: the cover of “West Virginia” was a nice little tribute to the land, but Pretty Lights is not Schpongle, will never be Schpongle, and should really stop trying. Especially with the rip-off Schpongletron. Still, Saturday was easily the best day of music, with PRIMUS being the unquestionable kings of the festival.

Sunday

Sunday morning was a very sad scene on the Mountaintop. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Nicole Miller –the 20-year-old was run over by a truck at 8:30 a.m. while she and two friends were sleeping in their tent. When attendees hear of these kinds of incidents, it can be hard to continue with festivities, but there is so little anyone can do. At Gathering of the Vibes in 2009, an attendee was killed with a nitrous tank and festival-goers revolted by sweeping through the campsites and dragging anyone who was selling nitrous to the cops, or worse. That was a situation where attendees could take action, but on that Sunday there was little else to do here but mourn the loss of Ms. Miller and wish her family the best.

The show went on, and because the majority of people didn’t find out about the accident until the drive home Monday morning, festival-goers were still very much in party mode.

The first major act on Sunday was Toots and the Maytals. Now, I know Toots is getting old and he and the Maytals have been playing together since 1962, but he could use a little hop in his step. The show was unfortunately a flat, simple deliverance of tunes, and the whole band seemed a little uninterested in this affair. Granted, I don’t think they were used to playing at a festival but it was still fun to see (somewhat of) a living legend.

Their set was followed by the supposed last show at All Good from The Bridge. This talented group has been playing for over 10 years with minimal success, so they’ve decided to call it quits. It certainly didn’t seem like their last performance as they played with plenty of energy and spirit that made me hope this wouldn’t be the last I’d be seeing of them.

Closing out the music early was Dark Star Orchestra. I guess someone has to play the day sets, but like Hot Buttered Rum and Yonder, this band should have been scheduled after sunset. At last year’s event, the mountains were vibrating from the music Dark Star was making, and they simply couldn’t have that effect at five in the afternoon. Like Furthur, they played mostly Grateful Dead covers, recreating them spot on, note for note, and all-in-all very successfully. It was a poignant end to a musically rich weekend.

Big thanks go out to All Good Presents, Work Exchange Team, Clean Vibes, and everyone else who made the festival possible. I’m sure you know what a gift you have given to us. See ya in 2012!