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Primus, Britt Fest, Jacksonville, OR – 6/11

Official Britt Fest Primus poster – art by MARS-1

There are some shows you can attend and remember who you are and what you have to do tomorrow. This was not one of them. I wish I could tell you more but the land upon which the music of Primus was lain has slept far too long within the polyamorous embrace of crafted musical psychosis, deep, heavy drops of Les Claypool’s convoluted bass and a cosmic joke, to submit to words now. I fear the only way to effectively relay their unique soup is to delve into it myself…

The music reached up and grabbed a hold of the outdoor, proper venue, and encased it in a heavy metal Tom Waitts hallucinated nightmare. Claypool’s powerful, wicked bass wound the motor of this musical beast. Jay Lane on the drums and Larry LaLonde on the guitar skillfully created a bed for the bass to roam free, adding appropriately skilled and weird flavors of their own in unique time signatures that followed the distorted gait, that is Primus.

There are commas, dashes and ellipses in Les Claypool’s verbal gait speckled about where they have no business landing, but break the line into something far more interesting than the words alone could have mustered in a straight course. Primus’ music follows this altered gait of metal poetry squeezed through the psychedelic gateway of a musical Clockwork Orange.

The music was artfully, delightfully, and quite intentionally designed to tear back your eyelids and expose you through altered musical latitudes to another side. Repeating patterns of musical debauchery collaborated with graphics to tell a story, grab the mind and churn it into an experience that alters the core of your being–then spits you out, wandering the streets pulsing this thing from your center. The deep bass rhythm of a resounding underwater heartbeat dropped my knees out from behind me. Drums swept my feet out from under me and the guitar squeezed the mass of my body through a tight space to shoot out like a rocket into a brick wall. Claypool talked sounds into the audience like the hidden tracks of pigs being slaughtered in the minute spaces of a shadow. I found myself shaking the metal walls in my mind trying to get out of this thing; if only I weren’t under water and wearing a scuba mask, sucking Jell-O, I would have made a run for it. I would have stretched my arms out and screamed, but the soup was too thick for that and the men in the giant inflated spacesuits were watching me.

Visual effects and images played on a large screen behind the trio, intricately and intimately timed with the music. Beavers cutting trees with their teeth played in glitchy loops in time with the bites of the music during “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.” It flashed distorted loops of old cowboy flicks, cartoon spacemen, the Abraham Lincoln memorial with its head cut off moving slowly toward a mirror image of itself. Each visual stream played to the music; jibbering cartoon mouths synched with Claypool’s stretched and distorted lyrics; jazzy drunken animated cats fell to red-eyed stupors in time with percussion hand grenades.

Returning for the second set, after an episode of Popeye the Sailorman played in its entirety during the break, eery echoed sounds circled the stage. Surrounding the unique outdoor venue and quaint, historic Southern Oregon town, they seeped into the newly acquired backdrop of darkness, and built into “Southbound Pachyderm.” Claypool walked in wearing a mask, regaling a bow and howled at the room. A dramatic deconstruction of sound and entertainment, the second set was looser, more free and open. Songs stretched and wove into a cohesive body of music with the edges of individual songs playfully sutured to one another.

The venue was altered by this music. The open air tasted differently than the streets outside, still untouched, or only half laden, with the sprinkled carcass of bass. The music didn’t coat and surround the audience, work in through the ears or pleasantly rock and massage. It jumped right inside and possessed your motor (I wonder how many people leave a Primus concert and have an alien emerge from their abdomen the next day?) It then ran that thing from the inside until people left convulsing and stepping to the rhythm of its mercy. It was not merciful, but had a stellar musicality, deep, profound sound trenches and a great sense of humor.

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