Primus: Congress Theatre, 10.02.10

Mon Oct 04 2010

Another Chicago show, another mile-long line to get into the venue, and staff who give you wrong information about where you need to go (added bonus: it‘s raining).  I guess Wisconsin promoters are just universally better staffed and organized, or just actually give a shit about the fans.  My excitement about the show NOT being at the Aragon was pretty much unfounded, but the Oddity Faire cheered me up once I got inside, courtesy of the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLLAW, duh).  Then, Portugal. The Man (Dumbest inside-joke punctuation usage in a band name ever?  Other contenders besides moe.?) came out and rocked the house like The Mars Volta with enhanced shoegaze properties and the opening sequence of “Heart Of The Sunrise” as its go-to jam template.  Prog tooth satisfied, ready for Primus 4.0.* Q: How would Jay Lane fill the shoes of departed quintessential Primus drummer Tim Alexander?  Only one other person (Brain, 1996-2001ish) had previously sat in the drum chair, and this period resulted in a somewhat confounding stylistic shift in the Primus sound.  However, Lane was technically the original drummer for the embryonic late-80s version of the band (only bassist Les Claypool has been in every incarnation), and he has worked with Claypool in other projects over the years as well, so the transition ought to be smooth.

The result: Lane is more methodical than Alexander or Brain.  His precision/creativity index tops either of them.  He doesn’t have the power of Brain or the finesse and intuition of Alexander, but his years of experience in the jammy world (Frog Brigade, Ratdog) mesh perfectly with the modern Claypool oeuvre.  Jay added some remarkable new flavor to the old tunes, particularly “Spegetti Western”, and played a drum solo that was—dare I say it—shorter than it should’ve been; he’s one of maybe four living drummers whose solo you can look forward to.  Bottom line: there was no sense that he’s some mid-season replacement, even though he has no choice but to spend time mimicking the man who truly created the Primus drum sound.

Q: Will Les ever start mixing up the setlists?  Unusually for Primus, setlists have gotten more predictable as this tour has gone on.  Prior to playing “lost” Brown Album track “Golden Boy”, Les got the crowd jazzed up by telling us the band was about to play something that hadn’t been played in a very long time.  Um, you’ve played it 20 times so far this year, including two nights ago; maybe you don’t realize that we can find Primus setlists as they happen via The Internet

The result: lots of great tracks on Brown, but it’s the same four in the rotation every night, and from Tales From The Punchbowl and Pork Soda, the same TWO.  The band has not played anything from its most recent EP, 2003’s Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People, since 2004.  Claypool’s idea of setlist variation is not playing staples “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” or “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers”, so I guess we’ll just sigh and move on.  At least we got “Coattails Of A Dead Man”.

Q: How was the show?  (Oh, yeah…)  You know you’re going to get the absolute best performing bass player in the world.  You’re going to get a style of music that is its own unique genre, period.  Since punk, metal, funk and jazz can’t ever actually meet in the same place, the cross-section mutates into something not any of these, so you can only compare a Primus show to other Primus shows.  And if this is a style of music you like, you’re just not likely to be too disappointed by the band, because they almost always play it incredibly well.

The result: Communication was immaculate all night, with the band trained on Les’s cues for where the improv was going at any given point.  Nothing terribly risky or especially exploratory, just concentrated blasts of powerful bass-led jamming—i.e., perfect Primus.  One of the greatest “Southbound Pachyderm” jams I’ve ever heard, not terribly long but building to a monstrously heavy climax.   “Over The Electric Grapevine” and “Spegetti” were both astounding, as usual.  Guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde was not flashy; Les singled him out for a snazzy, Gilmour-esque solo at the end of “Fisticuffs”, and he was again splendid on “Coattails”, sounding like nobody other than his incomparable self, but overall he wasn’t interested in being the center of attention.  Lucky thing, because the sound guy should be smacked in the head for burying Ler so far down in the mix.

Bottom line: Primus is one of the most consistently amazing live bands around.  This wasn’t one of my favorite Primus shows, but it was unquestionably a great show.  You could hear Ler well enough to immerse yourself in virtuosic group improv and the twists and turns of intricate, peculiar compositions that you can’t get anywhere else.  It’s easy to nitpick the setlist and the sound, but musically, this trio shows no signs of slowing down.

*Primus 1.0: Les Claypool, Todd Huth, Jay Lane
Primus 2.0: Claypool, Larry LaLonde, Tim Alexander
Primus 3.0: Claypool, LaLonde, Brain
Primus 4.0: Claypool, LaLonde, Lane


To Defy The Laws Of Tradition
Sgt. Baker
Southbound Pachyderm
Over the Falls
Coattails Of A Dead Man
Sathington Willoughby
Spegetti Western
Drums/Whamola jam
My Name Is Mud
Over The Electric Grapevine
Golden Boy
Tommy The Cat
Harold Of The Rocks

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