Primus, The Blue Loon, Fairbanks, AK- 6/21
So much for playing until the sun goes down.
With 22 hours 49 minutes of daylight on this true summer solstice in Fairbanks, Alaska, Primus could have uttered the line most solstice show performers feel obligated to state: “We’ll play until it gets dark.” Yet, Primus frontman Les Claypool is not your typical performer and wisely shied away from that line, still playing a 2 hour, 20 minute, two-set show under the midnight sun.
Flanked by giant inflatable astronauts, Primus—Claypool on bass and vocals, Larry LaLonde on guitar, and original drummer Jay Lane back in the fold—began the rousing first set with, after a little intro jam, “Tweekers.” The thumping opening number set the stage for what was to come while accurately labeling The Blue Loon Solstice Party crowd. “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread” followed before Claypool brought up one Alaska’s more controversial subjects—salmon fishing. Discussing his relationship with California anglers, he introduced “Last Salmon Man” from Green Naugahyde, Primus’ most recent release, and first album in 11 years. With thundering bass, staccato to screaming guitars, and rolling-like-thunder drum fills, the music was filled with all the urgency the lyrics demanded as Claypool chronicled the difficulties of surviving as a commercial fisherman, something many Alaskans can relate too.
It was the first of many songs from the recent album filling the two sets, including a hauntingly dark, rumbling “Jilly’s on Smack,” the quirky “Lee Van Cleef,” Claypool’s ode to the recently passed character actor, and LaLonde’s wild guitar work up “HOINFODAMAN,” which unleashed the encore.
Somehow, it was inevitable that even Claypool found it necessary to reference the eternal summer daylight: “So, Ler (LaLonde), are you wearing your sunglasses because it is 10 minutes until 9 in Fairbanks, Alaska, or because you’re one cool sums of a bitch?” he pondered. LaLonde then removed his shades—at Claypool’s behest—and launched into a more than satisfying guitar-centric “Over the Falls.”
Sadly, the sound was somewhat muddled much of the evening and Claypool’s lyrics didn’t always make it through, frequently drowned by a bass-heavy mix. In fact, “My Name is Mud” sounded, well, quite muddy among the howitzer shots coming off the Claypool’s custom bass. The crowd didn’t care much—either that or they knew the material inside and out—getting up for almost every number with “John the Fisherman” and the first-set closing “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” garnering the most recognition and reward. It was the solstice after all, and probably Fairbanks’ biggest musical event of the summer, so why worry about some sound issues?
The second set opened with the long, meandering jam of “Here Come The Bastards.” Claypool swapped slap-funk bursts with LaLonde’s sonic ambiance as Lane deftly filled the gaps and pushed the tension. It was this way for much of the night, going back and forth with LaLonde offering up seemingly impossible riffs and leads over Claypool’s ever-changing bass styles and Lanes incessant pounding—and the energy shifted across the stage and through the crowd. One would think the constant long stoner prog jams and instrumental experimentation would eventually get monotonous—and there were brief moments when the band held a groove too long—but this above-talented threesome managed to mostly keep the playing fresh and inspired all night.
Much of this inspiration, Claypool explained in an earlier interview, stems from Lane leaving Further to rejoining the band. Primus’ original drummer, Lane actually opted out of the band before the release of Frizzle Fry, though he contributed drum parts on subsequent albums and played in many Claypool projects over the years.
Claypool switched to upright bass and pig mask for “Eternal Consumption Engine.” With bow in hand, Claypool struck some deep sonic shots—and lyrical ones too—as the song built into overload. “This is like a bad acid trip,” a weaving, but smiling, guy nearby blurted out. Seemed like a good trip for most everyone else.
Bad acid? How about the stuffed animals that adorn Alaska’s airports? Claypool talked about seeing giant halibut in Anchorage, and bears and wolves in Fairbanks. “But then I saw the most amazing thing,” he told the attentive crowd: “An albino beaver. So this next song’s called ‘Alaska’s Got Themselves An Albino Beaver’.” Quickly, the driving, thunderous bass runs and crazed guitar licks of the Grammy-nominated “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” sent the crowd into a frenzy even as it signaled the end was near. The crowd was in full swing as this number carried brilliantly into set closer “Harold On The Rocks.”
After LaLonde’s “HOINFODAMAN” got the encore underway and crowd entranced, Claypool stepped up with a signature tune, one that introduced the band’s unmistakable plucky style to the world: “Too Many Puppies.”
And with a tip of Claypool’s bowler hat, Primus was gone, the sun still shinning bright overhead.