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Published: 2003/11/17
by Phil Esposito

Primus, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, 11/7

To Defy The Laws Of Tradition

Les Claypool has made a career of being a bit more elaborate than your typical musician. He has played a lead role in six various bands (Primus, Sausage, Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, Frog Brigade & Bucket of Bernie’s Brain’s), changed playing bass into a lead instrument, and endorses fishing, claymation and cartoons as primary sources of enjoyment. Fortunately my Les/Primus introduction was on the ’91 fall tour with them opening for Fishbone promoting Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. That night they blew the roof off the "Riv" upstaging Fishbone with their innovative style, one that truly doesn’t fit into any particular musical genre. The band has not stopped blowing the roof off of venues, mediating its originality, while taking a few detours along the way.

Primus took the stage this Friday evening to a sold-out crowd that consisted of newbie fans acquired from the jamband scene and their typical cult-like Primus fans from the past. Les wore a stylish top hat and suit vest, dressed prominently in black. Larry LaLonde sported his basic guitar garb, wearing a solid colored t-shirt and jeans. Tim "Herb" Alexander looked dapper in a white suit while playing with the band for the first time since the Tales From The Punchbowl Tour. In recent times he has enjoyed a stint in the popular Blue Man Group ensemble. Throughout the first set, and for the encore, the band only pulled selections from their repertoire of albums with "Herb" as the drummer; Frizzle Fry (1990), Pork Soda (1993), Tales From The Punchbowl (1995), Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People (2003) and of course Sailing The Seas Of Cheese (1991). Leading up to the show I felt a lot of excitement, mixed with apprehension and uncertainty. Was the band going to be the "old" Primus fans grew to love during the first decade? Is the chemistry started years ago still within the trio? What influence will the four-year hiatus Les took from the band have? To be honest with you, all these questions were answered in the first set and solidified throughout the exceptional performance put on by the band. They really pulled it off…a modified sound, terrific claymation videos and live footage on two cylindrical screens, and Sailing The Seas Of Cheese in its entirety. The Tour de Fromage was truly a "multimedia theatrical stage production" as promoted by Les.

The band played a feverish first set which began with longtime fan favorite "To Defy The Laws Of Tradition." The set also contained an outstanding cover of Pink Floyd’s "In The Flesh", along with some favorable Pork Soda ditties including "Mr. Krinkle", "Ol’ Diamondback Sturgeon", and "My Name Is Mud". Also contained in the set were two likable new songs and "Southbound Pachyderm". The chemistry was there, and far as the traditional Primus vs. "new" Primus, there has definitely been an acquired influence and change in the band, but it all worked so well and sounded terrific, like an upgrade of sorts. Typically Les stomps around the stage during Primus shows between singing while playing a multitude of bass instruments. Instead, this show saw Les standing more while performing intricate solos throughout many of the songs. Don’t get me wrong, Les still moved around and did his march, just not like past shows. He truly captivated the crowd with his comical stage presence and thick bass playing. As a band, IT was different, but the karma and dynamics were business as usual.

During the second set the band charged into the entire Cheese album from start to finish, tossing a few gems in along the way. As a band, the trio played an album created a dozen years ago during a grunge influx almost as if it were a modern piece of jamband work- it was one for the senses. Highlights of the set included multiple masked people taking the stage on "Sathington Waltz", a "YYZ" drum solo pulled off during "Is It Luck", a "Whamola" type solo, and favorites "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver" and "Tommy The Kat." To complete the show, the band played "Too Many Puppies" which included the Resident’s cover "Hello Skinny". Once again, the solos Les played were unlike any previous Primus shows leading up to, and including, 1999’s Anti-Pop Tour. Most knowledgeable music lovers appreciate Les as one of the premier bass aficionados in the world, even if they aren’t drawn to his sound or bizarre bearing. Les not only reinforced both tendencies.

Going in, I didn't know if the band would be able to appeal to dual crowd personalities. After the show I had no doubt they did just that. Watching the old-school fans sing along every song while stomping was just like it used to be. Seeing all the wide-eyed new kids who were attracted to this concert because of the Frog Brigade and Les' four-year escapade was really great in itself. The band played as confident and compelling as ever. Most likely with the band will travel the Southeast during the new year and decide from there the next progression. Primus may have a difficult time bettering this complete album reunion tour. But, Primus proved that it is one band that can capably "Defy The Laws Of Tradition."

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