[Images provided by Finn Turnbull]

Story Time with Primus

08:12 November 20, 2017
By: Finn Turnbull

Curators of creepy and master musicians, Primus, visited New Orleans’ Civic Theatre on Monday, November 13th. The current tour, the “Ambushing the Storm Tour,” is for their newest record, The Desaturating Seven. The Desaturating Seven is a concept album with a narrative about seven rainbow goblins that consume the world’s color for greedy purposes. It is Primus’s ninth studio album and a perfectly good excuse for them to return to NOLA, the city of many colors.

Primus is a three-piece rock band from California known for their unabashed, darkly comedic take on music. The leader of the group is Les Claypool, the bassist and main vocalist. Claypool is one of the greatest bass players alive today, with easily the most unique combination of playing style and instrument tone. In the music he writes, his voice takes on a high-pitched, cartoon hick impression while he slaps the most rhythmic, machine-like bass lines with a crunchy, punchy sound. Primus’ first album, Frizzle Fry from 1990, was recorded with guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander. Though, from 2000 to 2011, the band went on hiatus for Claypool’s myriad involvements in side-projects, this core trio recorded the first four albums together, then Tim’s role shifted between himself and two other drummers until about 2014, when Primus released Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. Since then, Alexander has been the band’s permanent drummer again. 

To defy the laws of tradition, there was no opening act at the Civic on Monday, only Primus. The evening with Primus allowed them to play two separate sets, the first being a collection of songs from their past, and the second dedicated entirely to playing their new record from end to end. Primus’ sound is slightly like that of grunge, seeing as they emerged with that scene, but really they don’t sound like anyone but themselves. If you had to put it into words, Primus sounds like disturbing hillbilly circus metal. Even just the three members manage to get a big sound with Les and Tim’s unmatched rhythm and Ler’s menacing and nightmarish style of shredding. They’ve also surrounded their music with a trippy, and just downright weird aesthetic of masks, claymation, and freakish imagery. Just about anything they put out has an air of unpleasantness, but at the same time, it rocks. This must be why Trey Parker and Matt Stone chose them to do the theme song for the TV show South Park.

The first set of the night was stacked with Primus’ top tracks. They started with “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers,” followed by “Too Many Puppies” into “Sgt. Baker” and back into “Too Many Puppies.” They have a stimulating stage setup with large monitors playing clips from their music videos and an array of colorful lights that shot beams of psychedelic colors in every direction, similar to that of jam bands. Primus is sort of like Ween in the sense that they are not a jam band, but their following includes many jam band addicts and festival-hoppers. However, Primus live does tend to enjoy a decent amount of improvising and embellishment of their songs, which gives the fans a new way to experience their favorites every time. 

The impressive part is how the band stayed perfectly in sync with the music video clips behind them, no matter what direction they took the music in. The rest of the first set contained more hits such as “Mr. Krinkle” and “My Name is Mud,” as well as their cover of “Candy Man” from Primus & The Chocolate Factory. Current NOLA resident, Mike Dillon, who is a friend of Claypool’s and recorded/toured with the Fungi Ensemble, actually made an appearance to play vibes during “Candy Man.”

For set number two, Les, Tim, and Ler all came out in mysterious costumes. Claypool adorned a large set of ram horns, giving him an uncanny resemblance to Tim from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. With their new, eerie outfits, Primus took the crowd on a journey to the Valley of the Rainbow for the terrifying tale of The Desaturating Seven. They played through each track with delicious precision and the light show was exactly as hypnotizing as you would imagine a story themed to rainbows would be. From start to finish, it was better than the recording, which left the fans wanting a little more, to which Primus obliged. They encored with the three classic Primus tunes “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread,” “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” and “Southbound Pachyderm.” Primus has been to New Orleans at least five times in the last five years, so it’s safe to say they enjoy the vibe of our city, which is not surprising at all considering their equally strange “southern” charm and melting pot of circus freak songs. Upon the next tour, we will of course welcome them back with double-jointed arms and lobster hands.

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