Primus, Brooklyn Waterfront, Brooklyn, NY – 7/30
Primus the next night at the Vibes – photo by Chris Paul
The first time I ever heard Primus was in 1989, when a friend of mine played me his copy of the Bay Area trio’s classic debut EP Suck On This on the community boom box at our high school. As someone who was already listening to Faith No More and the Red Hot Chili Peppers religiously, I was instantly hooked by Les Claypool’s untouchable bass playing and the quirky character studies in his songwriting, Larry “Ler” LaLonde’s fearless, thrash-prog guitar playing and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander’s tight, multi-tentacled approach to the drum kit. 20-plus years later, I still get the same rush from hearing the seaworthy funk-metal as I did the first time I heard the opening strains of “John the Fisherman,” regardless of how long it’s been since I broke out one of their records to listen to. And from the capacity crowd who packed onto the concrete slab at the Brooklyn Waterfront in Williamsburg on one of the most gorgeous nights of this summer, I certainly wasn’t the only one completely amped to catch these inglorious bastards play New York City for the first time since their Radio City Music Hall gig during the group’s triumphant-yet-short-lived reunion tour with drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander in 2004.
Thanks to Les’s varied solo offshoots over the course of the last ten years, Primus may be enjoying a second life as jamband royalty, especially given the case that original drummer Jay Lane is back in the fold, having left a two-year run playing alongside Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in the Grateful Dead supergroup Furthur to rejoin his old group in lieu of Alexander’s second departure. But as the massive pit that opened up shortly after the trio entered stage left and started digging into the opening strains of the Frizzle Fry classic “Pudding Time” had shown, Primus belonged to the punkers and the headbangers first. Their set might have been truncated due to them sharing the bill with Gogol Bordello, but Les, Ler and Jay certainly made every second of their 90 minutes on the Brooklyn Waterfront stage count and clearly catering to the old school cats in the audience by playing well over half of their immortal major label debut Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Kinetic renditions of “Here Come The Bastards”, “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers”, “Sgt. Baker” and “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” had scores of aging kids moshing and circling like it was 1991 all over again, while extended jams on “American Life” and “Eleven” created the perfect improvisational atmosphere for the mellower heads in the crowd to blaze up and phase out.
Surprising was the complete absence of any material from 1993’s Pork Soda or anything from Frizzle Fry beyond “Pudding” and a downright epic version of “Harold of the Rocks” (complete with a totally Zappa-channeling guitar solo from LaLonde), especially when you check out the stuff they played at Gathering of the Vibes the following night. However, appreciators of Tales From The Punchbowl were treated to a trio of deep tracks from Primus’ underrated 1995 gem in “Over the Falls,” “Over the Electric Grapevine” (which was excellently followed by a massive drum solo from Lane augmented by a Dubya-masked Claypool getting down on the custom-made “whamola” bar on his stand-up bass) and a lengthy jam through “Southbound Pachyderm” during the brief but fulfilling encore.
Would it have been cooler to hear Primus do “Groundhog’s Day”, “Bob” or the cover of The Police’s Zenyattà Mondatta nugget “Behind the Camel” they’ve been breaking out on this tour rather than “Golden Boy” from The Brown Album? You bet. But for a guy who has been going to see these guys do their thing for almost twenty years now, this was without a doubt the best Primus show I have seen yet. Or at least since catching them open for that Anthrax/PE show I got kicked out of in high school.