Primus, Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY- 6/22
Primus plays surprisingly well on a leash. Defined by the free-form rants and bass heavy alt-funk of Les Claypool, the confined structures of Primus' current set might seem a bit restricting, especially nine months into the trio's well documented reunion tour.
With half his show dedicated to a complete reading of Frizzle Fry, Claypool seemed to cut out his wiggle-room while designing his latest musical revue. Yet, hiding on Radio City Music Hall's historic stage, Primus decided to embrace nostalgia on their own bizarre terms.
The fall edition of Tour De Fromage, which reunited the classic lineup of Claypool, guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander for the first time in almost a decade, drew a mixture of longhaired metal-heads and urban hippies, many of whom were virgin to the live Primus experience. After three years of side-projects and super group experiments, Claypool shepherded a slew of jamband fans into his Primus cult, introducing a new generation to his dark, heavy bass improvisations. A success on all accounts, Primus' fall run packed two nights at Roseland Ballroom alone, proving that the trio could survive outside of the alternative rock-era.
Six months later, Primus' return to Manhattan flew relatively low under the radar. A choice spot for bands too big for ballrooms and too small for arenas, Radio City Music Hall has become a favorite stop for many rock acts in recent years. Though far from empty, Primus' performance lacked the grandeur that often accompanies rock acts making their debut in the historic venue.
But despite its polished marquee and strict set times, Radio City is actually a welcome addition to Primus' tour schedule. A modern-day Frank Zappa, Claypool is a brilliant storyteller, equally comfortable rambling with his mouth or his bass. Throughout his three-hour spot, Claypool allotted equal time for explanation and performance, recounting his compositions origins as if they too were performance pieces. Hidden in a sea of dark lights, Claypool narrated his show in Our Town fashion, cluing visitors into the workings of his stage show. "This is a professional region of the country," Claypool joked at the start of his set. "There is a window. You play from 8-11, no starting later, no ending early."
True to his word, Claypool plucked his first bass note ten minutes past eight and continued to offer his vaudeville act for close to three hours. Throughout their first set, Primus unleashed gems drawn from their ten-year recording career. During the deeply ironic "American Life," vintage Americana-images flickered back and forth on screen, struggling to lip sync along with Claypool. Though primarily a rhythm player, LaLonde layered a series of dark, jungle-influenced licks between "Grapevine" and "Rapscallinon." Closing the first portion of their set with "Jerry was a Race Car Driver," Primus' hit-single in waiting, the trio were greeted with an enthusiastic barrage of "Primus Sucks."
Lauded for their reworking on Sailing the Sea of Cheese, this time out Primus dipped back even further, offering a take on their debut disc Frizzle Fry. Somewhat loose and linear when compared to their later, darker experiments, Frizzle Fry unfolded like a stadium band revisiting their garage-rock youth, though augmented by a series of omni-present video eyeballs.
Adding to this sense of cinematic excitement, Primus played a series of vintage drug educational ads between sets, earning the evening's largest cheers. Straddling the line between bizarre and brilliant, this series of shorts poked fun at the crowd, while also fueling their collective energy for the second set. Thinking back, the spectacle was reminiscent of Claypool's Gathering of the Vibes gig from 2000, at which time the bassist joked about jam-nation's anything goes mentality. "That's what I like about you," Claypool said. "If I rambled at a Primus show, people would throw bottles at me."
Almost four years later, he's still rambling, and while this may be a reflection of the venue more than anything else, Claypool rarely had to duck.