The chants of "Primus sucks!" were audible from the crowds gathered on the stairs in front of the Peabody Opera House on a Sunday night. With a certain amount of arrogance, the crowds loudly touted their resume of shows they've attended, t-shirts they've collected and the depth of their discographies of various formats. Everybody wanted to prove their worth as a dedicated fan and most could boast well beyond twenty years of pious support for the celebrated trio. In the lobby, the lines at the bars were dwarfed by the mob that swarmed the merchandise table as patrons eagerly grabbed at the newest shirts and posters for their collection. While it may not have been the first Primus concert for many, the anticipation shook the room as the crowds slowly filled the seats.
The lights faded and the band entered the stage almost unseen to a recorded selection from Primus and the Chocolate Factory. Front man and bassist Les Claypool started the show with repetitive eighth notes that left even the dedicated fans guessing which song would lead off the set. As the song developed, it was soon apparent that the show would start with the same selection as their studio discography, "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" from the 1990 release Frizzle Fry. The early releases highlighted the early set, including two more selections from the same album and including an excursion into "Sgt. Baker," from the trio's second release Sailing the Seas of Cheese.
After starting with some of the early favorites, Primus took a leap from their roots to the more recent era with "HOINFODAMAN," from 2011's Green Naugahyde, the first album released after the band took more than a decade hiatus from creating new music. It was a only a brief excursion however as they returned to the '90s for the entirety of the remaining set, dabbling with tracks from all five of their earliest releases, with only a short jaunt into "Candyman" from their relatively recent theme album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. While the middle of the set ventured more into the experimental and psychedelic selections, they brought the energy back to a peak with one of their most popular songs of all time, "My Name is Mud," from the 1993 release "Pork Soda" for the set finale, leaving the crowd in an uproar as they rather abruptly dropped the curtain and left the stage.
The intermission was far from short, giving the crowds ample time to take care of any needs, purchase more merchandise, and sadly, lose some of the fervor that the previous set had built. The stage production of the first set blended both simplicity and technology, leaving the stage largely barren with five LED panels and a few basic lights at the rear of the stage. The panels offered video displays, each catered to the song they accompanied and featured footage from the music videos when possible. With the lighting also dominant at the rear, the band largely appeared as shadows and silhouettes, favoring the the production and music over any direct attention on the musicians.
The rising curtain at the start of the second set revealed a significantly more developed stage, highlighted by an enormous woodlands backdrop with a fantasy style. The LED panels that once seemed opaque suddenly became translucent, offering a clear view of the background scene whenever not illuminated. Across the stage, the various mic stands, instrument racks and other structures were lined with leaves and vines, adding depth to the décor and absorbing the band into the visual composition. Once simple lighting now incorporated smoke and lasers, all set-up to encapsulate the experience of the second set.
While the first set featured fan favorites and other hand-picked selections, the second set had a much more deliberate and cohesive intent. At the end of September, the band released The Desaturating Seven, a theme album based on Italian author's Ul de Rico's The Rainbow Goblins, inspired not only by the children's book's story but by the artwork that was the base of much of the stage production. Claypool and company presented the new album in it's sequential entirety, joined by videos of animated goblins and other characters dancing across the translucent panels. The album carried a distinctive style, far more passive and psychedelic than their earlier works. It was a substantial change of energy, but certainly an artistic journey for both eyes and ears.
The set closed to a standing ovation from a crowd that was both appreciative and eager for more, leading into a lengthy encore that combined the sounds of old with the fuller stage production of the second set. Dipping into the relatively unpopular Brown Album for the second time, the encore opened with "Fisticuffs," a playful narrative that was well backed with old, bare-knuckle footage. It was followed with one of the most successful singles, "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," accompanied by an arrangement from the official video in the background. The final selection was a fan favorite, "Southbound Pachyderm," with the extra treat of blending into the only song of the night that was never released on a Primus album, "La Villa Strangiato," a 1978 favorite from Rush, the progressive rock trio that Claypool has regularly credited as an immense influence on the group.
The performances largely favored reproducing the studio releases without many solos, jams or other excursions that allowed the musicians to demonstrate the depth of their talent, but that was certainly not a necessity for Les Claypool, Ler LaLonde and the return of the popular drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, who have long endeared themselves to the dedicated fans that filled the venue. With a focus on the old as well as a demonstration of the new, the show celebrated the energy, creativity and artistic insanity that makes Primus the band they've been for decades.
Set 1: To Defy the Laws of Tradition (Frizzle Fry); Pudding Time (Frizzle Fry) ? Sgt. Baker (Sailing the Seas of Cheese); Too Many Puppies (Frizzle Fry); HOINFODAMAN (Green Naugahyde); Golden Boy (The Brown Album); American Life (Sailing the Seas of Cheese); Candy Man (Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble); Nature Boy (Pork Soda); Welcome to This World (Pork Soda) ? Mrs. Blaileen (Tales From the Punchbowl); My Name is Mud (Pork Soda)
Set 2: The Desaturating Seven played in full
Encore: Fisticuffs (The Brown Album); Wynona's Big Brown Beaver (Tales From the Punchbowl); Southbound Pachyderm (Pork Soda) ? La Villa Strangiato (Rush cover from Hemispheres)