New Primus sucks just as much as old Primus

by Ryan Snyder

 Primus’ Les Claypol, incognito in monkey mask and pinstripes. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

If there are people whodeny the moon landingsimply because they can’tfully comprehend such anoccurrence, they might aswell say the same about LesClaypool’s bass playing. Theway in which he thumpsand plucks through thrash,funk and metal with sucheffortless precision is simplyunfathomable. Even whenhe dedicated much of thelast few years to his more carnivalesque creationswith his Fancy Band, a somewhat unwieldyproduct of his jam-scene explorations after anearly 2000s hiatus from Primus, his techniquewas breathtaking to behold. Now, the Three Menof Extreme Power are back to rile up the basewith their lengthiest tour in eight years and somecurious new tunes to boot. It has to be noted that optimal enjoyment of aband like Primus comes via the traditional environsof a punk or metal show: The more uncomfortablethe proximity to your neighbor, the better. The oddity of Primus as a shared experienceis at its most effective a visceral one — big, openspaces with ugly, sweaty, possibly mud-coveredpeople all around you that feign epileptic seizurethe moment Larry “Ler” LaLonde squirrelsinto a solo. Les might call Raleigh’s MemorialAuditorium a bit “fancy” for his tastes, with itstiered seating and off-Broadway ambiance. ButPrimus is also a theater of the mind, and amidstrallying cried of “Primus sucks!” their May 31show left plenty to the imagination.Like for instance, how good would Primussound is only they’d turn Ler’s guitar up a littlebit more? Aside from his mind-bending loungepunkbridge in opener “Harold On the Rocks,”one of the most unsung axe-slingers in rockmusic remained just that for much of the show.Primus’ set was heavy on new material fromGreen Naugahyde, their first release since 1999’sAntipop, but having Ler so low in the mix madeit hard to distinguish those songs from some ofClaypool’s solo stuff. “Pie In the Sky” soundeda lot like Claypool’s “Of Fungi and Foe” with itstop-heavy groove, the fidgety vibes on “The LastSalmon Man” riffed on “What Would Sir GeorgeMartin Do,” and even “Jilly’s On Smack” hadLer playing a Buckethead-approved horror flickscore.Still, the show was, in a word, awesome.Openers the Dead Kenny G’s played like theyput Plas Johnson, John Zorn and Fat Mike in ablender and guzzled them down, while splatteringthe result all over their jumpsuits. They paidhomage to both ends of their portmanteau’dnamesake, first with with an ultra cheesy duetbetween frontman Skerik on tenor and bassistBrad Houser on baritone sax, the teased-out wigsthey donned to obscure their faces and a freneticinstrumental cover of the Dead Kennedy’s “Killthe Poor.” Much to the chagrin of most in thehouse, Skerik never made his way out for a jamwith the headliners.This tour marked the return of long-time BobWeir drummer Jay Lane to the skins, a post hehasn’t held for Primus since briefly in 1988 andin a way, the band’s overarching sound seemsto be reaching out to that time. The set list camemosh-pit ready, with a heavy selection of songsfrom the doomier Primus days of Frizzle Frywith spurts of instrumental chaos dotting the titletrack. The redneck dementia of “Sailing the Seasof Cheese” was covered with staples “Jerry Wasa Racecar Driver” and “Those Damned BlueCollar Tweakers,” even breaking out the queasyfunk of rarity “Bob” from Pork Soda. Visually, the stage accoutrement was toneddown from the Hallucino-Genetics tour, withthe giant, peering eyeballs of 2004 replacedwith a pair of astronauts from deep withinMTV’s storage bunker that flickered imagesof Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz during theintro. You had to squint to see the creepy videoclips that including kids playing with Rock‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and vintage MTVVideo Award footage streaming from theirhelmets, but Claypool was plenty unnervingin his monkey mask while bashing on his one-stringedWhamola. Claypool tipped his bowler as he walkedoffstage after “Southbound Pachyderm,” therelatively quick show’s lone encore. It wasstill hugely satisfying for those who’ve waitedpatiently for years for some new Primus, but theshow’s throwback vibe made it feel almost likethe band hadn’t ever gone anywhere.