October 14th, 2011
I believe the last time Primus were here in Madison was back in 1998 and Les Claypool’s fingers had barely gotten a workout on last night’s opening number, “Here Come the Bastards”, before clouds of pot smoke wafted into my face. Thirteen years on and everything seemed normal.
Primus are back. Instead of doing a nostalgia tour as they had been doing over the past 10 years, they have returned supporting a new album, Green Naugahyde, released last month, and with a new drummer, who is actually an old one. Jay Lane was last with the band in 1988 just prior to Primus to recording their first album.
The crowd was definitely on the younger side with few silver heads to be seen. And it seemed that a goodly chunk of them were barely out of diapers back when I first became a fan in 1991. A lot of the younger folks crowded into the standing area in front of the stage and there was plenty of jumping and dancing. The first set leaned heavily on Sailing the Seas of Cheese, which drew an enthusiastic response. When Claypool’s percussive bass, Ler’s slashing chords, and Lane’s thundering drums kicked in for the first time during “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” (“…they’re running this here town…”), the crowd went apeshit. You could feel the electricity in the air as cheers went up and bodies starting moving. I am shocked that no mosh pit started down on the floor. Whether this was because of the security or because they were too stoned, I don’t know.
“Fisticuffs” was heartily welcomed by my friend Buke because Brown Album is his favorite Primus album. A huge smile broke out on his face when that bass line started. I’d last seen the band in 1994 so I was excited to hear any post-Pork Soda material. I’d been secretly pining for “Mrs. Blaileen” and they delivered. Tales From the Punchbowl is an underrated album, in my opinion. “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” gets the attention but Tales is full of gems. The other song from it that they played was “Over the Electric Grapevine”. Claypool did a bass solo every song and, while some featured a bit too much noodling dissonance, the one here was fantastic. It was fuzzy and noisy yet it kept that melodic riff going that seems to trail behind the drums, never quite catching up.
The show was full of surprises for me. One happened when that farty bass line got “My Name is Mud” started. Again the crowd roared and bodies flailed. I guess I just saw too many Pantera shirts because I figured most people wanted to hear the harder, faster material from the first couple albums yet this song that basically plods along while Ler does some of his most pointed and dissonant guitar work drove the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. Another surprise was the paucity of material from Frizzle Fry. Considering that Lane demoed most of the album before he left the band, I thought they’d play more than the title track.
Having heard the band’s 1988 “Sausage” demo, I was not totally unfamiliar with Jay Lane’s drumming style. Herb basically copied his parts for much of Frizzle Fry. Their drumming styles aren’t dramatically different and I appreciate how they each get the most out of their hi-hats. Lane seemed right at home doing “Mrs. Blaileen”. But I think he’s funkier than Herb. A little more emphasis on the bass drum. Something like Bill Bruford vs. Alan White.
After a break during which the audience was treated to some very early Popeye cartoons on the big screen, the band returned and proceeded to play all of Green Naugahyde excepting the short coda, “Salmon Men”, which closes it out. It was yet another surprise that the crowd really responded to the new material. About halfway through the set Claypool said as much. I have to question the wisdom of confining the new material to its own set. While I take it that the band is confident enough about their new songs to play all but one, I think the material is generally strong enough to hold its own against the old stuff. “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’” is probably one of the funkiest things the band has ever done, lyrics excepted. And “The Last Salmon Man” is a latter day classic with its insistent, throbbing bass and some almost Pete Townshend-like soloing. “Lee Van Cleef” is another favorite of mine off the new album and I have to say that these songs can hold their own when paired with the old classics.
Encores were “Golden Boy” and a killer “American Life” which was 10+ minutes. It was nice to hear another song from Brown Album and the closer just rocked the house.