Most everyone is familiar with the rumor that has circulated for years that an alien spacecraft crashed in a remote area of New Mexico in the ‘50s. But what few people know is that the space invader’s ship was equipped with the complete Primus catalog. Seems the extraterrestrial headbanger was a fan of psychedelic polka.
The experimental rockers – bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane – brought their 3D tour to Tucson’s Rialto Theatre to treat the fans to a bit of otherworldly music, focusing on “Green Naugahyde,” their most recent, ahem, vinyl. And based on the crowd’s response to the band’s funked-up jazz-rock, let’s just say that the experiment was a success.
With a tight set on the Rialto stage, the “perfessers” surely scored a gaggle of new fans. But notwithstanding the “helpful” insights provided by the extra dimension – or perhaps because of them – the handful of first-time Claypoolers at the show probably needed more than just special specs to wrap their heads around the special music. Particularly since before the trio hit the stage, the rest of the multitudes serenaded the band with a hale and hearty chorus of “Primus sucks!”
And “suck” they did, opening up with a nod to the Old Pueblo’s Mexican heritage – and any curmudgeons that may have infiltrated the spirited crowd – with a rip-roaring “Los Bastardos.” From there Primus served up “Last Salmon Man,” the first of five cuts from “Green Naugahyde,” including the seemingly “autobiographical” “Eternal Combustion Engine,” “Hennepin Crawler,” and a fantastically country-flavored “Lee Van Cleef.”
Claypool is the rare musician that plays lead guitar – on bass. But with a playing style that mixes tapping, flamenco-like strumming, whammy bar bends, and slapping, labeling Claypool as a mere bandleader is doing him an injustice.
He is simply put the best rock bassist in the universe. And that noise you heard in the background was an affirming “amen” from our friend in Roswell – in some strange alien tongue of course. Claypool even busted out his bow to regale the masses with a little “electric bass violin” on a couple of numbers, most notably “Jilly’s On Smack.”
Claypool, LaLonde, and Lane laid down a number of their celebrated philosophical numbers – as evidenced by the scholarly titles – for the approving audience, including “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver,” “Southbound Pachyderm,” – accompanied by a euphoric three-dimensional fluorescent elephant – “Frizzle Fry” and the best of the highbrow tunes, “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.”
But Primus neophytes shouldn’t make the mistake of focusing too intently on the humorous titles and missing the brilliantly nuanced meaning behind the songs. Claypool shared some of those songwriting subtleties in a prior interview.
“There’s these very colorful characters that are very tragic and I would say 80% of the lyrical content in Primus and in Les Claypool material is very tragic. I’m exorcising a lot of demons through these characters. There’s been a lot of substance abuse in my family, a lot of tragedy in that way. And they’re reflected in these characters.”
Primus closed the show with another outstanding example of that musical wit, “Tommy The Cat.” And after Claypool wrapped things up by singing, “Tommy the Cat had many a story to tell / But it was a rare occasion such as this that he did,” the crowd nodded in agreement knowing that they’d been lucky to witness one of those occasions.
Over the years, Primus’ music has been described – alternatively – as alternative rock, alternative metal, funk metal, and progressive metal. Even the inimitable Claypool strained to explain the band’s work in the earlier interview.
“I have a very difficult time describing my music,” he confessed. “Because I run into people in the hardware store and they go, ‘Oh, you’re a musician. So what kind of music do you play?’ And I go, ‘Uh, I’ve been doin’ this for many years – I don’t know what to call it.’”
The fans at the Rialto knew exactly what to call it…unbelievable!
Here is the complete setlist:
“Last Salmon Man”
“Lee Van Cleef”
“Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver”
“Jerry Was A Racecar Driver”
“Eternal Consumption Engine”
“Jilly’s On Smack”
“Tommy The Cat”