By Bill Adams
When Primus announced that they’d be hitting the road this year for the band’s first full headlining tour in years, fans got excited, but they couldn’t have known what to expect; and the band must have known that if they were going to hit the road, they’d better bring something special after such a long time away or risk the wrath of their fans. It was a precarious position to be in – particularly with no definite announcement of a new album made [rumors have flown, but that’s all so far –ed] – and the skepticism ran as high as the excitement. The band quieted some of the skeptics on July 18 with their first date back at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, but anybody could have one good night. In Toronto for the full tour kick-off, Primus still had something to prove.
Happily, the band brought its’ best game to the Sound Academy, and supplied all the proof that anyone could need – Primus is indeed back.
After East Coast Canadian headcases Tom Fun Orchestra loosened the crowd up and got their juices flowing with a forty-ish minute set of Maritim-in’ Tom Waits flavor, Primus methodically ignited the stage and, to quote the band itself, “The sight was beyond belief.” With giant astronauts flanking the band on stage, bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and newly recruited drummer Jay Lane [who also plays in, um, Bob Weir’s Ratdog –ed] easily overtook the eager crowd with its’ pushing-two-hours-long set but, unlike so many other Nineties bands that have reappeared of late, this wasn’t a nostalgic, greatest hits affair. While avoiding the bookend records (Suck On This and Antipop) completely, Primus pulled together a set tailor-made to please the devout and focused on fan favorites like “Eleven,” “Pudding Time,” “Golden Boy” and “Southbound Pachyderm” rather than reaching for any “Wynona” or “My Name Is Mud”-sized brass rings (“Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” represented the only bonafide hit in the set) or throwing any curiosity-seeker that may have been in attendance a bone.
It worked too; at the turn of each song, Claypool invariably had a gang-sized chorus supplied by the crowd as they rough-housed before him (my count was two broken noses for the night, but no injuries more serious than that). At the same time, the band regularly stretched its’ instrumental chops to jam and improvise some baroque hilarity (the cover of The Police’s “Behind My Camel” was a nice touch) without ever languishing or dragging its’ feet. In addition to a fantastic performance, the band provided an incredible sight for those at the show as, dressed in mock-formal attire, LaLonde seemed to seethe the whole set through and Claypool stomped out an authoritative march during instrumental breaks. It was an infectious presentation that no one in attendance could resist; even those in the second floor VIP seating were up and moving (no bumps or bruises to report though) from the beginning of “Pudding Time” until “Harold Of The Rocks” faded out to close the set.
Of course, as riotous and successful as the set had been, Primus did not forget itself in its’ encore. The crowd positively erupted when the band broke into “Tommy The Cat” to finish the night. It was an orgiastic conclusion to a great show; as they walked away from the venue, those that were there knew what they had just seen and it was exciting; they had just witnessed a band confident enough to not pander to anyone and still win over at audience that may have been a bit skeptical initially. Talk among the crowd as it left wondered if a new album might indeed be in the works and that was the proof that Primus’ status is secure; if they choose to unleash more music on the world, they’ll have an eager audience.
Bill Adams is the editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com