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Published: 2015/07/20
by Alex Baker

Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON- 7/11-12

On July 11 and 12, Les Claypool and the carnival of the macabre that is Primus and the Chocolate Factory rolled into Toronto for a weekend run at the Danforth Music Hall. It was quite a spectacle as the Fungi Ensemble brought the whole spectrum of Primus fans, from jam-fans to prog rockers to metal heads, out for the trippy event.

Both shows featured a full set of Primus songs followed by the Chocolate Factory main event – a pairing that is a perfect match from the first notes. Primus’ take on the Chocolate Factory and its familiar score is at times sinister, fantastic and even aggressive, but is also filled with whimsy and lightness.

From the ominous marching notes of the golden ticket to the hostile and frightening introduction of Willy Wonka, it almost feels like the band is psychoanalyzing the film, bringing all its neuroses to light and expressing them through a twisted version of its own score.

There are also the light and fun moments of the Oompa Loompas and their lovable theme song, dispersed and repeated throughout the set. The giant heads and characters on stage, flanked by huge mushrooms, are a cool thing to see live and definitely the highlight of the show. Scenes from the film, stuttered and skipped and distorted like effects from the old Winamp player, play in the background to add to the surreal events.

Saturday night’s first set really rocked, with Les Claypool, Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander and Larry ‘Ler’ Lalonde laying down a funky wall of sound. The way Claypool plays, his wibbly-wobbly, bass-ey wass-ey grooves seem both meandering and hammering, a deeper answer to the chittering of Ler’s quitar, like a conversation between a woodpecker and a squirrel.

Primus songs are almost like musical pointillism, with so many rapid, frenzied notes that together make up a full piece. Songs like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” “Frizzle Fry,” “My Name is Mud,” and “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” bring the crowd from the depths of the ocean to the devils door to floating through space, and the added percussion and cello of Mike Dillon and Sam Bass during the encore sets give their atmospheric music further ambience and depth. The highlight of the show for me was first-night set-closer “Southbound Pachyderm,” the tempo changes and swings rocking us like the most upbeat demonic possession.

The lighter, trippier Sunday show was more psychedelic and trance-y, but in another example of Canadian manners, incredibly polite mosh pits ruled the middle-floor both nights. Claypool made sure to acknowledge his surroundings, saying that once during a tour with Rush, “Even Geddy Lee told me, ‘Les, you play in a dude band.’” He also teased Yes in an homage to Chris Squire, their pioneering bassist who recently died.

The two night run was a fantastic musical experiment and sensory overload was had by all, so pretty much a good days work for Primus. The only disappointment might have been no “Tommy the Cat”!

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