Avant-garde band Primus has existed in some form or another for over thirty years, and according to their fans they still suck, though that didn’t seem to deter them from loving every minute of their show at New Orleans historic Civic Theatre. Their sound is nigh unclassifiable, led by the percussive bass playing and oddball vocal style of Les Claypool, with a shrieking, guitar shredding style that Larry “Ler” LaLalonde uses to cut through the rhythm section’s intensity, underscored by the pulsing madness of Tim Alexander. Mixing humor into music is a difficult task, but with songs about the effects of soda on the nations health, the proliferation of puppies and, of course, creating the theme song to South Park, Primus has shown themselves to be the kings of their own genre of comedy metal.
For the last several months, they’ve taken their love of irreverence, costumes and video shenanigans to a new height, with an album and a tour based on the songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Their stage show has taken on the look of the factory floor, as seen in the film, with giant candy mushrooms and lollipops adorning the drum risers and backdrops, cavorting “Ooompa Loompas” and a special “Fungi Ensemble” featuring percussionist Mike Dillon and saxophonist Skerik this night. The band couldn’t have chosen a better time to bring their phenomenal road show to the Crescent City than Jazz Fest, and getting to put their craziness on at the oldest theater in the city was a perfect blend of the past and present, traditional and post modern.
The band opened the evening with a set of their material, to thunderous applause from their faithful. Without fail, the “Primus Sucks” chant went up, bringing a smile to Claypool’s face. He took a quick survey of the crowd to test his theory that most of the crowd was from out of town, and seemed pleasantly surprised to find that a majority were, indeed, locals. Citing the sheer number of awesome shows the attendees had to choose from, he offered that everyone stay for the next song, then go ahead and leave so that they could get to another, presumably less sucky show, before launching into “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” a fan favorite.
After an hour and fifteen some odd minutes the curtain dropped and a costume change brought them back out, day glo attire and all for their reworking of the movies tunes. From “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket,” to the various “Oompa Loompa” judgment pieces, the band made a soundtrack that would have blown the minds of the film’s original audience. Mike Dillon’s flamboyant and amazing xylophone solos added a punchiness to Primus’s sound, while Skerik’s smokey notes and passionate peels teased what a wonderful orchestra could be made with the pieces assembled.
Sadly, all things must end, but before they let us out of their musical clutches, Primus gave us a three song encore, highlighted by a droning and menacing “Here Come The Bastards” before finally ending the night with a truly epic rendition of “Southbound Pachydrm,” complete with crazed solos from Skerik and Dillon, and the songs trademark mixture of explosiveness and menace. With over fifty shows going on all around the city at the same time, it was nice to know that there was at least one concert where crowd surfing, moshing and feverish head banging was inspired…even if Primus does, in fact still suck. At least they’re still working on it though…