Primus fired up Philly's Tower Theater with their own special blend of fury, funk and fish. Les and the boys took the stage after the equally strange Rasputina primed the crowd. The riffs were flying and audience was wild ... but nothing compared to when Primus left the stage!
Primus: Live With Rasputina
By Simon Burger
Photos by Donna Rickles
The announcement of a new Primus tour must have spawned excitement in metal and jam band fanatics alike. Primus
hasn't toured since 2004, and hasn't released an album since 1999, but fans are still as strong as ever. The release of a new greatest hits disc has Les Claypool and the gang touring again in between the myriad of projects that Claypool undertakes at any given time. Les is a virtuoso funk-bass player that surrounded himself for Primus with a guitarist content to lay dissonant jams over top of his crazy riffs and a drummer that would slam in between it all. Add to that
Les' bizarre, dark, hilarious sense of humor and lyrics and you've got one of the most unique, most
creative and best bands of the nineties.
I was able to take in the November 10th show at the Tower Theater in West Philadelphia. The venue
wasn't a good one for a Primus show. It's big and spacious, which is great for opera, say, but not so much for the
world's premier funk-metal band. There are also chairs, which make the moshing
you'd expect at a Primus show damn near impossible. It is big though, and the place was packed with fans, but the while the sound was clear it
wasn't near as loud as it should have been.
Primus had a suitably weird opener ... a band called Rasputina. Rasputina proves the old adage that pretty much anything will sound awesome with distortion on
it. The band is made up of just two plugged-in lady cellist/vocalists and a drummer. The band knocked out a money eight song set, intermixing hilarious stage banter with their epic riff-fueled cello rock.
How does Primus make any money with a band like Rasputina opening? Simple: 9,000 a night, no girl on girl, and just a *little* bit of
The band rocked songs about cannibalism, Osama bin Laden, and 9/11. The drummer was tight, weaving his pounding beats around the alternating solos of the cellos, and the girls had good voices and good harmonies. Before the fifth song, the singer told us how rock music was just to pay the bills, and classical music was their true love. The collective audience groan was met with
"Barracuda" by Heart. Nice. It's not classical, but it's classic.
A short break ensued where a giant baby and a space suit were blown up, then Primus hit the
stage ... Les wearing his trademark pig mask. The band played a tune-up jam and then laid straight into
"Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers." "Tweekers" got the place super-pumped, as the basic framework of the song led into some machine-gun drum and bass, then a jazzy, percussive solo out of
Les' virtuoso-style bass. After the "Tweekers" left us, "Here Come the Bastards" announced the arrival of an even more classic Primus song. This one really had the whole place moving and going
nuts and Primus stopped playing so the crowd could chant "Here they come!" before a
slammin' funk jam to round it out.
"The Toys Go Winding Down" is one of the most staggering songs you'll ever hear. To hear it on the album is one
thing ... nice echo effect on the bass, you think. You're wrong ... he's playing that note in triplicate, and
it's one of the craziest, fastest things you'll ever see. This one is all about Les'
riff, but guitarist Larry Lalonde lays down one of his sweetest guitar noise jams over top. The jam for this one turned reggae, then had some Floydian-esque guitar soloing, then back to the chorus, which emitted a huge roar from the
crowd ... there's nothing like coming back after a truly inspired jam. Les took off his pig mask and grabbed a fretless bass for
"My Name Is Mud," an overrated Primus song that was fortunately done more justice
live ... some nasty guitar tapping saved this one for me.
"Jerry was a Racecar Driver" totally redeemed this set list; however, as it's Primus in total package. The funk is danceable, the dissonant riffs are ridiculously sweet, and the chorus is catchy as hell. The jam was as short and sweet as it is on the record, but only because it
"Jerry" was recorded perfectly. "Hamburger Train" is as close to an entirely free form jam as Primus comes on disc, and was just the same here: no lyrics, just awesome. Some more funk got us moving as the jam started, and each member took his time with some crazy soloing. Then Les left the stage briefly to put on a monkey mask and grab a one string bass. Raising his arms to the cheering crowd, he proceeded to jam out his unique instrument before yanking the whammy bar into what sounded like a monkey screeching? if that monkey had perfect musical time and wanted to get your ass dancing.
The place was going wild, banging their heads as best they could in the constraining Theater. This went on for twelve glorious minutes, when Les disappeared off the stage. Suddenly, the drummer started tapping the cymbals to initiate another of
Primus's best, "Too Many Puppies." Less reappeared with his regular five string funk apparatus and started riffing away at this classic anti-war song? the kind made during Bush the first and just as true now.
"Too Many Puppies/Being shot in the dark/Too many puppies are trained not to bark/At the sight of blood that must be spilled so that/We maintain our oil
fields..." This is Primus at its hardest, its most head banging, its most awesome. The guitar solo on this song is something
else ... one of the most memorable works of metal you'll ever hear. Primus segued the middle of this jam into
"Master of Puppets" and then back into "Puppies" for the conclusion of the song.
Don't think Primus didn't nail "Puppets," either ... a childhood friend of James Hatfield, Claypool was rejected from Metallica for
"being too good."
At the end of "Too Many Puppies" Primus left the stage, but returned to encore with
"Pudding Time." Before long they were jamming the song, and made it an extended one, lasting for a good seven minutes. Les really hammed it up for this one, dancing around on stage and kicking his feet. At some point, the band teased a little of a
moe song, but before I could figure out which it disappeared in a swirl of jam. Primus then finished with what would be the best jam of the night:
"Groundhog's Day." I knew the lyrics were hilarious, like pretty much all Primus lyrics, but I
couldn't hear them at all, and I realized that most of the singing all show had been pretty muddled. They jammed
"Groundhog's Day" for another seven minutes and then finished, the crowd going nuts from the dance-fest they had just experienced.
Unfortunately, that would be it. Primus did not return to the stage after "Groundhog," and as the crowd realized that no amount of chanting or cheering would stop the props from being deflated, the chants of
"Primus sucks!" turned from a personal joke with the band to anger. Fans were throwing drinks and flipping out, but they were few enough that nothing arose and eventually everyone left. The tour manager explained to me after the show that Les had the flu and that was why the show was short. Les came back briefly backstage to say hi and sign stuff, and I would have to say it was no lie? he looked in real bad shape. Nevertheless, the shortened set was still an hour and a half long? Primus fans are just spoiled by the days when every show was three hours long.
The real point is that it was a great set list ... every song was money and every song was jammed out, an experience much better than
you'll ever get at home. Any amount of Primus is just not enough; they could play for three hours and
you'd still want more ... they're just that good, and their catalogue is just that deep. The show was great and the jamming was phenomenal, and if
Les' voice could barely be heard ... well, then go home and get the albums, get the greatest hits, get something, and listen as hard as you fucking can. Les Claypool is like Mitch Hedburg on slap
bass and Primus is as addictive as heroin and ten times as danceable.