Primus | 10.30.03 | Warfield Theater | San Francisco, CA

As if Halloween is not already enough of a riotous affair in the city of San Francisco, longtime locals Primus returned home this year to intoxicate us with their own particular blend of monster mash. Yes, the ever-eccentric 3-man juggernaut returned with their original lineup for two sold-out nights showcasing a wealth of their best material.

Opening with the fierce tug of Frizzle Fry’s "John the Fisherman," Primus kicked off the first of two awesome evenings of masterful musicianship, sublime storytelling, and all the unapologetic weirdness that makes the band the exquisite anomaly that it is.

After reeling in the Fisherman's final notes, guitarist Larry LaLonde soon launched into the huge opening chords of Pink Floyd's "In the Flesh," with Les stepping in to sound all-too-perfect in singing the classic Roger Water lyrics - "So Ya/ Thought 'cha/ Might like toooooo..../Go to the show." Indeed, that very 'Space Cadet Glow' began to quickly fill the Warfield Theater early on in this nearly three-hour performance.

And very well it should... After all, we were witnessing the original Primus line-up stomp through their old stomping ground. Tim "Herb" Alexander (out of the fold since 1997) sat tall behind his drum kit in an all-white suit (complete with top hat) as he alternated between perfectly timed backbeats and entirely explosive bouts of bludgeoning. Meanwhile on the six-string, the ever-underestimated Larry 'Ler' LaLonde looked far too clean-cut and inconspicuous for all of the furious squawks, screeches, and myriad eruptions coming from his side of the stage. Finally, of course, was Colonel Claypool himself, the prolific genius of many a twisted tale, roaring riff, and other assorted acts of aberrant intellect.

Together, the trio appeared perfectly calibrated as they worked through an engaging 8-song opening set that featured a pair of Tales From the Punchbowl in the form of a lively "Southbound Pachyderm" and a phenomenal extended jam on "Over the Electric Grapevine." In addition, the band debuted two new tracks from the band's recent DVD/EP Animals Should Not Act Like People. These included a hyped-up (and hard to decipher) "Pilcher's Squad" as well as an increasingly eerie "Mary the Ice Cube" (complete with tweaked-out film clips projected on huge white balloons above the stage).

Though it seemed time for a sip of Pork Soda, the band instead went back to Frizzle Fry to close out this early set, first, with a highly excursionary "The Toys Go Winding Down," a song which (much like "Grapevine" early in the set) exhibited the band's expertise in expanding three or four minute album tracks into elaborate and beautifully woven jam sessions. The set then peaked with a rambunctious "Mr. Know It All" that cast the dancefloor into a buoyant frenzy.

Yet despite the many helping of Frizzle Fry and frequent trips to the Punch Bowl, all in attendance were well aware that the main course was Cheese. Yes, much to the utter delight of the 3,000-plus packed into the Warfield, Claypool and his cohorts soon returned from a short break to navigate through their 1991 masterpiece Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Dressed in a red and white gondolier shirt, Claypool called all hands to deck with the slow grinding crunch of bowstring on his upright bass, and quickly expanded the album's 42-second intro into a 5-minute raise-the-hatches and man-the-decks castoff.

What followed was nothing short of pure ecstasy for anyone who truly knows just how much Primus sucks. The compelling stomp of "Here Come the Bastards" escalated into monstrous stomp under the weight of Claypool's huge bass line and Herb's rugged backbeat.

Next came a timely pair which resonated with particular relevance just as they had 13 years ago. First, the band marched through the dizzying start-and-stop cadence of "Sgt. Baker" (and his megalomaniacal thoughts on "the game of warfare") with daunting, entirely seamless precision. Then came the grim journey of "American Life," a song which highlighted not only Ler's talent, but his brilliant ability to shake out a deft and unusual complement to Claypool's heavy thump and ravings. In fact, for all of Les' many side projects and high-profile collaborations, Lalonde's sonic assaults and shimmering soundscapes on "American Life" were a testament to just how immaculate the chemistry is in this original Primus outfit.

A tidy havoc quickly ensued as the revved-up grind of "Jerry Was a Racecar Driver" (the song that put Primus on the map over a decade ago), left many a Warfield usher with a worrisome look on his face as the dancefloor heaved with a frantic bounce. Lucky for security the band soon shifted gears into "Eleven," leaving Herb to ensure everyone of his return as he punched through a hypnotic 20-minute drum solo.

The latter half of Seas included a tight version of "Tommy the Cat" and a phenomenal journey through "Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)." At this point in the evening the sheer volume of Primus' sound was continually coaxing the decibel level higher and higher, often shaking the floorboards under our feet.

The band eventually cast anchor with "Los Bastardos," as Les stalked around the stage wearing illuminated goggles around his eyes and banged away the "Here They Come" march on an electric drum.

The encore consisted of (yet another) classic Frizzle Fry gem, "Harold of the Rocks," officially leaving little else to be asked for in way of their performance.

As the crowd happily filtered out through the halls of the Warfield enthusiastically recounting their favorite songs and moments, it was little surprise that these shows proved to be amongst the hardest tickets of the season to acquire. After all, it is not often that you get the chance to sail "The Seas" with such worthy gents as the Colonel and his clever crew.

So keep an eye out. If the boat pulls onto your shores in the coming weeks, waste no time... And just climb aboard.

Words and Images by: Charlie Russo
JamBase | California
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Primus | 10.31.03 | Warfield Theater | San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is known for having a celebration of freaks wearing all sorts of costumes and overflowing into the streets of the Castro and surrounding areas. This scene is the perfect backdrop for a show at the Warfield Theater with Primus on Halloween. I drove up to the city with my best friend and a great co-worker of mine with three front row balcony tickets in my hand. We caught a spark before the show and got our "minds set to hit them streets!" We were lucky enough to catch a cab to the Warfield, as the freaks were already out on the town in abundance. There were transvestites selling themselves in the middle of the chaos, as strange costumes flittered through the night, not to mention all sorts of shady business going on in the open, and it was only 7:30! I was already getting excited to rock out to some freaky tunes from one of my favorite bands. It had been over a decade and I was really banking on the fact that they would come back with a vengeance...

Primus is a band that was always near and dear to my heart since the early nineties when I was finishing up high school and looking for a sound in music that was different than all the mainstream pop, rap, and grunge rock.

One thing about Primus is that they don't really sound like anyone except themselves. They have a sort of slap-bass grinding-guitar eccentric rock sound that sets a great tone for Claypool's absolutely insanity-dripped lyrics.

As we walked in the door of the Warfield, we were already seeing some crazy Halloween costumes. I think there were about ten Buckethead's in the crowd. Also saw a dude dressed up with a melted face for a head, like the cover of Frizzle Fry. That eclectic sound began tumbling from the stage just at that moment. We hurried to our awesome seats right away to hear the first tune, "Mr. Kringle." Les had the same pig head on that he wears in the video. The Warfield was PACKED, but not too much to have a great time. They segued into "Pork Soda," and already sounded very tight up there. One thing is for sure; Larry LaLonde has NOT lost a lick on that geetar. He was painting textures of sound around Les' dripping bass lines like it was 1990 and they were playing to make a statement.

Some of the other highlights in the first set included a "Nature Boy" sandwich with "Hello Skinny" in the middle. This part of the show was top notch. I love the grinding chorus to "Nature Boy," and they segued into the meat of the sandwich with ferocious psychedelia. Actually, they really drew out many of the jams into a psychedelic mix quite well. Even more so than in years past. The set ended on a "Frizzle Fry," which not only is a song I was really hoping for, but also described my state of mind at this point.

At set break, we went out and got a drink of some good ol' liquor, and the crowd was absolutely awesome. The freaks were flying high, that's for sure. My favorite costume was this huge plastic Sumo wrestler that had his butt-crack towel shoved way up... The best part of set break, though: A George W. Bush character got up on stage and made some pretty funny jokes. I don't remember the whole thing, but I remember laughing really hard...

The second set: What can I say but "Hell fucking YEAH!" The whole Seas of Cheese album was played, and done so with a fervor that I haven't seen in Les Claypool since back in the early days of this band. He looked SO happy playing tunes like "Sgt. Baker," "Is it Luck?," "Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers," and "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver." The mosh pit during "Jerry" was off the hook. People and limbs were flying everywhere. Part of me wanted to get down there and run around, but part of me also really liked being able to look directly down at a huge mass of writhing freaks jumping over each other and surfing on top of the whole thing. At the end of the set, George W. was out playing Claypool's bass while Les and some other freaks were prancing around stage during the outro of "Los Bastardos." Larry was in on the mix too, of course.

"Too Many Puppies" was a rowdy encore, and there was no lack of raging Primus intensity here. The whole place was going off, and I left the venue with a huge smile satisfied that they had come back in such awesome form. We were released on to the streets of San Fran, which we walked for miles to get back to our place instead of cabbing, because the chaos outside was just too perfect of a scene for us after Primus tore the roof off.

I'd say the MVP goes to Larry, because I'm partial to him and he STEPPED UP on the guitar. That cat can wail like no other, and he compliments Les' playing perfectly. He's like the little mosquito that's prancing around the Captain of Cheese as they sail into the Wild Brown Yonder.


Brian Sharpe
JamBase | California
Go See Live Music

[Published on: 11/13/03]

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