Primus, Roseland Ballroom, NYC – 9/30
A bit later on tour – photo by Rex Thomson
The doors to the Roseland Ballroom still hadn’t opened and the line was already stretching around the block. It has been said that “music breaks barriers” and based upon the diversity of the people in that line, I can see where the truth comes from in that statement. With the opening of the doors the mop-tops and baldheads mixed with the mohawks and dreadlocks to the sound of big top circus music as two giant inflatable astronauts flanked the stage. This time around, Primus consisted of Les Claypool on bass, Larry “Ler” LaLonde on guitar and Jay Lane back behind the kit. The sound of a squealing train whistle kicked things off as “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers” stormed on. Like an earthquake, the mosh pit that formed a few feet out from center stage sent shockwaves all about the venue. The stage set up featured a big screen that displayed various graphics and videos to go along with what ever song was being played. A very trippy cartoon was being played as the band took “Tweekers” into a dark exploratory jam. Keeping the intensity level up was no problem as Les, Ler and Jay absolutely nailed “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” all the while a large pair of beaver teeth were up on the big screen chomping away at pieces wood.
The next sequence of “Pressman” and “Groundhogs Day” represented the early years of the entity that is Primus and really put the group’s cohesiveness on display. Ler stepped up during “Pressman” and took a very tight and focused solo while Jay worked on getting deep tones out of his drums as he played a trance like rhythm. With “Groundhogs Day” all it took were the opening notes and the crowd went berserk. The laid back riffs and rhythm that opened the song soon gave way to the heavy popping bass lines and fervent guitar work by Les and Ler respectively. Just as the intensity of the music varied so too did the crowd’s enthusiasm as simple swaying turned into moshing and moshing turned into crowd surfing.
Approaching the microphone during “Over the Falls,” Les, like a cartoon character that he could so easily be, apologized in so many words for failing to say hello. He then encouraged the crowd, particularly the men, to ease down a little with the moshing because he had noticed women leaving the prime areas upfront because they were not enjoying the elbows and constant hip checks. Then as if his fingers were about to fall off if something didn’t happen, the instant Les stopped talking Ler went off and tore up the entire fret board. Next, beginning with a spacey intro and an animated elephant jumping on a trampoline (on the screen), “Southbound Pachyderm” was played by the book until Jay took things way down and kick started a thick experimental jam with Les and Ler following his lead. The main theme of the song continued to be stated just as it would in a traditional jazz tune, but in no time the riff was buried deep down under distorted guitar parts, raging drums and unbelievable bass work. During the improvisational sections, especially later in the song, Les really loosened up and starting dropping jaws with his mastery of the bass. Following “Southbound Pachyderm” came one of the most entertaining set breaks ever as Popeye cartoons took over the big screen. In a matter of seconds a couple hundred boozed up raucous Primus fanatics transformed into giddy children as if they were gazing at the television on a Sunday morning.
If the first set proved that the band could still tackle their early catalogue with precision and passion then the second set was all about the current state of Primus, and an exciting state it is to say the least. “The Last Salmon Man,” part four of the Fisherman Chronicles begins with a very fun bouncing rhythm that slowly works itself into a more structured song with serious overtones. The main groove of the song develops and dissipates a couple times before being reinstated one final time for a song closing jam. It would be interesting to hear all four parts of the chronicles played sequentially or at least throughout a particular show but whether or not that will happen is yet to be seen. On another tune off the recently released Green Naugahyde, “Eternal Consumption Engine” (one of two new songs written by Ler), Les brought out his electric upright bass and used the bow to create long eerie droning sounds which filled in the spaces between the jungle beats that Jay was pounding out from behind the kit.
Before going into “Lee Van Cleef,” one of the funkier Primus tracks in existence, Les explained that the name of the new album draws reference from the interior of his father’s old pick up truck which is cited in the songs lyrics when he sings: “A yellow Studebaker with a 302, I see the green naugahyde.” Breaking out his Bass Banjo and playing Primus-esque bluegrass type riffs while high stepping around the stage, it was clear that Les really enjoyed playing the new tune. Unfortunately the song was halted midway. As Les went onto to explain, “a small penis individual” had thrown a beer bottle at Jay which naturally caused a bit of a distraction. Like true professionals, the band put the distractions behind them and closed out the song like nothing ever happened. The second Ler composition to appear on the new album, “Hoinfodaman,” was full of raw energy and jumped out of the gate full throttle. Opening with a deep distorted guitar part and featuring several fun breakdowns the tune was absolutely a fan favorite. Whereas most of the newer material possessed a funkier feel when compared to other Primus tracks, most “Hoinfodaman” contains the grittiness of the band at an earlier time. On one of the last songs of the night the intricacies of each band members playing were on display. Jay provided steady yet complex drum parts focusing on the deeper tones of the floor toms and bass drum, while Ler painted the composition with so many layers of sound that you could easily be fooled into thinking that he was sharing guitar duties. The interplay between Les, Ler and Jay appeared to be telepathic. As the rhythm, texture and tempos were constantly being toyed with, there didn’t appear to be any sign of communication signaling the changes.
While the band headed off stage a huge “Primus Sucks” chant filled the venue and enticed the guys back out for an encore or two. The classic “Mr. Knowitall” was completely on fire. The guitar and bass lines were spot on point and the drumming, while it didn’t offer much in terms of bringing something new to the song, was definitely focused and more than dependable. For the final song of the night, Les decided to let the fans participate by having a vote. The song got the loudest cheers would be played while the others would have to wait. Narrowly beating out “Tommy the Cat” was “Harold of the Rocks” which could quite possibly contain the best song ending riff to play at the end of a concert. Les confessed that he was hoping “Harold” would win because he loves the bluesy solo that Ler plays in the song. Well, Les was dead on. During the entire song, and concert, Ler was a mad man and didn’t miss a beat.
Watching the three musicians interact with one another and tip toe to the side when the time called for it was very special. There are too many bands out there that rely on the talent of one member to provide that “wow” factor. One of the great things about Primus is that the “wow” factor often comes from witnessing the interplay amongst the three musicians as they become one entity rather than blindly staring at just one person.