Show Review: An Evening with Primus at the Great American Music Hall, 7/18/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on July 19, 2010

those damn blue-collar tweekers.

those damn blue-collar tweekers. (photo by Sassy Monkey Media)

In today’s concerting world, most shows are focused more firmly on spectacle than on musicianship. We expect the bands to be at the top of their game, of course, but in case they aren’t, we’ve got pretty lights, soaring lasers, mystifying fog, and, sometimes, hurricanes of confetti to wow us and give us something to rave to our friends about. While the spectacle can be rather fantastic from time to time, it’s always refreshing to see the band pack up their light show, deflate the floating spacemen, and dismantle the fog machines, in favor of a rock-solid performance that focuses on what a concert is, truly, about: the music. The bands that are able to take all of these steps, cast off the grandeur, pack themselves — and several hundred feral fans — into a club, and rock the foundations as hard as they would in an arena, are truly wonderful to behold, and tonight’s performance by Bay Area native titans Primus was certainly no exception.

Just before 8:30PM, the rotating background music clicked off, with a symphony fanfare taking its place as the men of Primus marched onto the stage. Without so much as a nod or a wave, the band immediately kicked off the set with “Pudding Time”, and the crowd was instantly on its feet in celebration. The trio of Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and new(or old?)comer Jay Lane were in high spirits and full form; Les bounced around the stage in his characteristic strut, while Larry kept his eyes to the ground as he churned out noodling riffs that washed over the crowd. Jay, playing his first live performance with Primus since as early as 1989, shifted back into the mold almost effortlessly; the midsections of “Pudding Time” and following song “Here Come The Bastards” were both filled with impressive, intricate solos, rolls, and other percussive meanderings that tied in well with Larry’s wild riffs and Les’ over-the-top, jam-tastic bass grooves.

The first two songs weren’t the only ones to get a bit of a step-up, however. Nearly every song in the set featured an extended bridge, with Larry usually contributing a small solo or just a background section while Les and Jay dueled it out in thundering solos. The pace of the improvisations gave the impression of a jam band that was eager to move on to the next part of the song; rather than any number of 30-minute-odd jams that can be seen at your average Dead show, Les and Jay would bang out a few solos, impressive in depth but pleasing in brevity, before returning to the “regular” end of the piece. Songs that received a dramatic makeover in this fashion included “Ground Hog’s Day”, “Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers”, and “Eleven” — at least, for the first half of the set.

After a short break around the 9:30 mark, Primus kicked off their second set with “To Defy The Laws Of Tradition”, the opener to their debut album Frizzle Fry. The titular track from that record would also find its way into the set later on in the night, but not before a blistering performance of “Tommy The Cat”, which brought the already-forceful mosh pit in the club to a raging frenzy. With the club itself holding just around 600 people, this proved to be utter pandemonium for the remainder of the set, especially when the band launched into extended, jam-filled versions of “American Life”, “Sgt. Baker”, and their most well-known single “My Name Is Mud”. The band reacted slightly to the churning chaos around them, but, for the most part, remained highly focused on their performances, which seemed to be one-upping itself with each successive song.

Always known for his dialogue — it’s what powers most of his songs, after all — Les Claypool was definitely in a conversational mood for this evening. He thanked the crowd, on a few occasions, for coming and filling up the club at such short notice, and remarked on the importance of “playing in a room full of people, as opposed to playing in a room with no other people”. His earlier comment of “an evening full of Primus” was an apt description; with two sets spanning nearly 3 hours, the band managed to hit every one of their records during the set (except for their final studio effort, Antipop), including squeezing Tales From The Punchbowl in with a jaunty performance of “De Anza Jig” during the first set. The Brown Album also saw a great deal of coverage, while Sailing The Seas Of Cheese and Frizzle Fry garnered the greatest crowd response. Primus closed the second set with a long, rollicking version of “Harold Of The Rocks”, before knocking out two more Frizzle Fry numbers — “John The Fisherman” and “Too Many Puppies” — before Les thanked the crowd again, and departed from the stage with his bandmates.

After so many performances by huge bands who focus more on “how big of a show can we pack into this stadium”, or smaller acts who are still somewhat unsure of their onstage footing, it was fantastic to see a band that is still at the top of their game and absolutely rock-solid in their musicianship. The extended jams and solos showed that Primus is still in love with the songs they have written, and are eager to bring them new life and to give them a new perspective to the next generation of their fans. Les Claypool, known for his eccentricity and as the backbone of the band, did not dominate the entire performance, instead taking a backseat to Larry and, more often, Jay Lane; the latter also accepted the seat that had been warmed up for him by former drummer Tim Alexander and kept it at just as hot of a performance. While it may be ages before we see Primus again in such an intimate setting, it was an opportunity I am terribly glad to have witnessed, for it is really the music that drew me to them in the first place, and it is the music that was the centerpiece tonight.

Primus' setlists, with art by Les Claypool

Primus' setlists, with art by Les Claypool

Set 1:

  1. Pudding Time
  2. Here Come The Bastards
  3. Ground Hog’s Day
  4. Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
  5. Duchess And The Proverbial Mind Spread
  6. De Anza Jig
  7. Seas of Cheese
  8. Mr. Krinkle
  9. Eleven
  10. Bob
  11. Jerry Was A Race Car Driver

Set 2:

  1. To Defy The Laws Of Tradition
  2. Tommy the Cat
  3. Sgt. Baker
  4. Frizzle Fry
  5. Golden Boy
  6. American Life
  7. Over the Falls
  8. My Name Is Mud
  9. Kalamazoo
  10. Harold of the Rocks

Encore:

  1. John the Fisherman
  2. Too Many Puppies

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Big Boog July 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

Primus=not a jamband! save that nonsense for phish tour

They made an album after Antipop

wish I was there. couple pics of the show would be nice

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Gordon Elgart July 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

I’m also curious about the jam band thing. I’ve heard very little that I would qualify as a jam in their entire career. Primus does not equal Les Claypool’s other projects.

While solos may go off in slightly different directions than they did on the album, the song structure stayed solid throughout. No “jams.”

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Justin July 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Primus has definitely begun jamming with song intros, plus improvising with some mid-sections and solo cues above and beyond what they recorded years ago. Some would say, aptly, that this makes them a “jamband.”

I tend to agree with that. Last few times I’ve seen them, I’ve definitely witnessed some improv led by either Les or Larry. It doesn’t mean their “noodling,” it just means they’re leaving some of it on the stage and making some of it up on the spot. What’s not to love about that…. :)

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Dakin Hardwick July 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I also believe that fiddling with the arrangements does not make one a “jam band.” Sleater-Kinney, in their final few years before splitting up did much the same as Primus did, stretching out the intros and outros to the songs. It wasn’t jamming because it was arranged.

As for the Anti-Pop comment, they have released a compilation record and an ep that accompanied a DVD, but Anti-Pop was, in fact, their last proper album.

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Bad Press July 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Nice write up! Here is another review with an image from the show ~ http://bit.ly/PrimusGAMH

Reply

Dick Taco July 21, 2010 at 11:22 am

Eureka!!! found some pix from Great American show ~ http://bit.ly/PrimusPix !!!!!!!

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