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Published: 2003/11/21
by Jesse Jarnow

Primus, Roseland Ballroom, NYC- 11/14

NYC ROLL-TOP: Sailing The Seas of Cheese

The last time one of my friends saw Primus at Roseland, back in high school,
he smoked pot for the first time and lost his shoe in the mosh pit, riding
the train back to Long Island in his socks — one of those
rock-concert-as-rite-of-passage experiences that one can't help but smile to
think about. That was a long time ago. That was 10 years ago. He's about to
get married now. And, now, Primus is back, after a lay off of… well, who
can say when it ended, really? Original drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander was
jettisoned before 1997's The Brown Album, and the band continued to
tour into 2000. But facts are facts: the line stretching outside of Roseland
on Friday night was there to see a reunion tour. And if that doesn't
make one feel old, well, little will.

Inside the venerable ballroom, it was hard to get a gauge on the crowd —
mostly because it's difficult at first glance to tell the difference between
a 20something checking out Primus out of a sense of nostalgia, and a teen
that has discovered Primus in the past few years (maybe via leader Les
Claypool's various jamband-oriented projects). And it's especially hard when
all them when they're all flailing about in a mosh pit, flipping over each
other in a crowd-surfing frenzy like a massive flashback hallucination to
the early '90s — which happened as soon as the band kicked into "To Defy
The Laws of Tradition," a song from which another friend drew his senior
yearbook quote. It'd be nice to think that Primus might etch themselves that
kind of place in rock's canon: a too-smart-for-their-own-good band o'
misfits who might appeal to the same latent anti-authoritarians as the late
Frank Zappa.

I'd love to see the band achieve that kind of stature. But, well, it's not
likely. At least, not yet, 'cause beyond being a reunion tour, the band also
promised well in advance that the second set of each show would be a
complete rendering of their 1991 masterwork Sailing The Seas of
Cheese. And while, goddamn, this was great to know (a reassurance that
the band wouldn't be treading the same middling waters as the latter-day,
post-Alexander Antipop), and even cooler to hear, one couldn't help
but feel that the entire proceedings were a bit, um, dated. The material
itself holds up — relentlessly throbbing cartoon-like odes to bizarre Tom
Waits-meets-Looney Tunes characters with music to match. In a season where
another early '90s superstar, director/writer Quentin Tarantino, has found
success at the box office, it's a flashback to an earlier sensibility. But
does that speak to a modern teen?

The (relatively) short 'n' punchy tunes of Cheese were expanded to
truly arena rock proportions – including a dementedly bombastic solo by
Alexander before "Eleven" – with some occasional Residents-like
theatricality to bolster it. Throughout the evening, Claypool was literally
a man of many hats, changing head gear every few numbers with obvious glee.
Above the band hovered two giant balloons on which a stream of surreal
images (including two highly effective eyeballs) were shown, as well as
videos of the band in their heyday (surprising to compare to the more aged
cats onstage). In places, the band jammed, really listening to each other
and expanding on ideas, but – just as frequently – the jams lapsed into
straight-up showboat soloing. Which is fine, as well. Les Claypool is a
showman to the core of his being, and the show was never anything less than
entirely entertaining.

The mosh pit moshed, Les Claypool slapped, and people had a grand time.
After the show, I got a call from my friend — the one who quoted Les in our
yearbook. "I lost my glasses in the pit!" he said. "Could you come down here
and help me look for them?" I made my way to the floor and found him looking
somewhat helpless amidst the wreckage of shoes, nitrous cartridges, and
tee-shirts. We found his lenses (scratched, though intact) and the
supposedly indestructible frames (horribly mangled). Somehow, in that little
bit of irreversible action of his glasses breaking, the same way you can't
unstir milk from a cup of tea, the Primus show proved its worth: still a
seething factory of experience and surreality. I led my friend into the
glare of Times Square, into the subway, and home, from a night we will both

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