Trying to describe a Primus show to someone unfamiliar with Les Claypool is about as easy as trying to explain Bitcoins to someone who’s been stuck in the 18th century. Frank Imburgia takes a pretty good stab at it in his All Good Music Festival review and breaks it down as “part stand-up comedy, part theater, and all kick-ass rock n’ roll.” He’s right; it’s more than just music. A Primus show is a visual and sonic experience, complete with psychedelic stage adornments, carnivalesque costumes and comical onstage banter.
To top it all off, Les Claypool is arguably the best bassist still active on the music scene today, and definitely the most out-there. His trademark slap-bass style and distinct twangy voice create an inimitable sound that pushes the boundaries of funk and psychedelic rock, while flirting with the tamer side of metal. His quirky onstage antics and amusing, yet brilliant lyrics help fill a post-Zappa void, while carving out a new niche of weird.
While Claypool is undoubtedly the conductor of the musical and theatrical madness that is Primus, the band isn’t complete without original members, Larry “Ler” LaLonde and Tim “Herb” Alexander. The three-man circus, fresh off an extensive national tour performing Primus & The Chocolate Factory, took to the inflatable mushroom flanked stage for a sold-out Monday night show at the Fillmore Charlotte.
Alexander, who rejoined the band just three months after undergoing open-heart surgery, wasted no time jumping into his signature polyrhythmic style to complement LaLonde’s tight and technical guitar work and Claypool’s commanding bass lines with an electric “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” opener from the 1991 album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese.
Following a particularly groovy “Moron TV,” the audience was treated to its first batch of onstage repartee. Claypool complimented the “character” and “pizzazz” of the crowd, citing the ironic juxtaposition of a spiked green mohawk-clad fan, a kid hanging from the drainpipes, and even a few females commandeering the front row. While Charlotte isn’t typically recognized as being an eclectic city, if any band is going to bring weird out in the Queen City, there’s no doubt it’ll be Primus.
The expansive set list covered more than two decades of Primus discography, appealing to both longtime Primus veterans and curious adventure-seekers alike. Throbbing funk-metal favorites like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Eleven,” sent the crowd spiraling into energetic-yet-friendly mosh pits while other numbers gave Claypool the opportunity to showcase Primus’ theatrical eccentricities.
Donning his signature pig mask, Claypool eerily crept onto the stage to meet his upright six-string bass and bow to deliver the fan favorite Pork Soda (1993) sing-along, “Mr. Krinkle.” The emotional and raw, “Jilly’s on Smack” and the bouncing ditty, “Lee Van Cleef “ followed and came to a mesmerizing peak just as Claypool appeared on stage with the much-anticipated Whamola (a self-titled instrument that consists of large metal stick and a single bass string). During the Whamola and drum jam, Claypool sported his customary monkey mask, bouncing side-to-side in an appropriate primal and trance-like dance.
The end of the set featured additional early-era crowd favorites, “My Name is Mud,” “The Toys Go Winding Down” and “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” with a “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride” tease from Primus & Chocolate Factory sandwiched in-between. “My Name is Mud” gave way to a particularly memorable drum and bass interplay, putting Claypool’s mind-blowing bass-thumping hand dexterity and Alexander’s tribal-esque drumming at the forefront.
Without fail, the boisterous sold-out crowd chanted the band’s famed mantra, “Primus Sucks!” until the trio re-emerged for a two-song encore. As the pulsating introductory notes of “Southbound Pachyderm” erupted, a curious display of white glowing elephants jumping on trampolines illuminated the backdrop. “Is It Luck?” filled the final slot of the night for one more display of face-melting, brain twisting musical madness from all three members.
Monday night’s show epitomized the collective creativity, oddity and sheer musical talent that keep its devout fan base coming back for more. If you’ve never been to a Primus concert, do yourself a favor and go see them. I won’t promise you’ll like it, but it’ll certainly be a hell of an experience.