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November 28, 2006
On a Saturday night earlier this month, fronting a new greatest hits album - They Can't All Be Zingers - prog/pork-rock progenitors Primus hosted a sold-out, all-ages, no-holds-barred, over-hyphenated show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. In true form, the evening's performance was part-jam session, part-hit buffet, but when it was all said and done the set was a faithful representation of the ultra-eccentric live persona that the Californian trio has established itself as over the course of the last two decades.

To anyone familiar with the band it should come as no surprise that the crowd was a strange one; young dreadlocked hippies, alternative rockers that reminded me of 1994, frat boys, energetic teenagers, drunk 30 year olds, cute dancing girls and parents all milled about. Most of the audience was there to enjoy the band's mix of high intensity, technicality, and humor, but a few of those in attendance had other ideas; near the end of the band's regular set frontman and bassist Les Claypool commented that he was randomly catching glimpses of middle fingers aimed in his direction. The gesture brought on a short Claypoolian rant which eventually ended in his offering of an alteration for the hand formation into a peace sign.

Primus's set was marked by staple tunes that the original and current lineup - Claypool, guitarist Larry "Ler" Lalonde, and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander - had written throughout the 1980s and '90s. The setlist included:

To Defy the Laws of Tradition
Groundhog's Day
Mr. Knowitall
American Life
Seas of Cheese
Mr. Krinkle
De Anza Jig
Spaghetti Western
My Name is Mud
Jerry Was a Racecar Driver
Harold of the Rocks
Winona's Big Brown Beaver (encore)

Clearly absent from the night's performance was material from the Brian "Brain" Mantia period of drumming and, for that matter, any music more recent than 1995's Tales From the Punchbowl. The vibe was appropriately nostalgic (who didn't love "My Name is Mud"??), but also somewhat stagnant. With the trio on the road hawking a best of album and delivering such a loaded set list there was a palpable feeling of pandering to the masses; play all the old hits, make sure everyone has a good time. Sure, die hard fans of any band are usually the last to embrace new material as tightly as the old, but mixing things up a bit more at least gives the impression that the musicians are still moving forward. Primus went back to their sweet spot during this visit to the Aragon, and what such a Rearward, Ho! attitude translates into for the band's future is anyone's guess.

For the present, Primus still rocks the fuck out. During "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" they improvised on a good 10-minute tangent before returning to the conventional song form. There were several similar extended jams in the middle of songs, some of which were cool and others that could have been less drawn out. Lalonde pulled out a blues solo at the beginning of "Groundhog's Day" that showed his range and Alexander flexed his chops and consistency during the repetitive but funky tom-tom/hi-hat action of "Spaghetti Western."

One of the highlights of the show was Claypool's banter with the audience. During "Seas of Cheese," which requires an upright bass and waltz meter, the crowd incorrectly began clapping a disorienting 4/4 pattern. Halfway through the tune Claypool abruptly stopped and explained to the audience how to clap, "it goes like this: 1-2-3, 1-2-3." When Alexander tried to help out by exhibiting the pattern on drums, Claypool quipped, "no cheating, Herb." The audience laughed at themselves and the lead man's brazen honesty, dutifully picked up the 3/4 beat, and Claypool started up again.

Moments like this were all about the fans, as is presumably this tour (and perhaps Primus' career in general), and much of the rest of the night was done in a similar fashion. The only exception was at the show's end when the band came out for an unfulfilling encore, a rushed version of their most popular hit, "Winona's Big Brown Beaver." Immediately after finishing the song, the stage lights were doused and techies flooded the performance area to remove instruments. Some fans booed, most of them accepted the quick ending, and all of them departed having been able to witness a solid set from one of the quirkiest and tightest groups of all time.

SEE ALSO: www.primusville.com
SEE ALSO: www.primuslive.com

Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.



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