Stuck in a two-block line of people waiting to get into Primus’s sold-out show at the Fox Theatre, a guy in his mid-twenties told a friend incredulously, “My cousin said he’s never heard of Primus. He didn’t even know fucking ‘John the Fisherman!’”
Yes, some youngsters might not realize that 25 years ago – around the time the Fox Theatre opened – an eccentric Northern California band became an MTV staple and a household name thanks to the dark tale of Alowishus Devadander Abercrombie (long for Mud). Back then, the trio packed arenas and cracked the Billboard Top Ten. That would be like Animal Collective doing the same today.
Inside the Fox, three men wearing A Perfect Circle T-shirts discussed the dietary habits of each member of Tool. A customary “Primus sucks!” chant filled the theater, reminding me of when I was a twelve-year-old Catholic-school boy wearing a “Primus Sucks” shirt and ridiculed by kids who genuinely thought Primus sucked. Last night, I felt anticipation and excitement seeing, for the first time, one of my favorite childhood bands take the stage.
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The title track from Frizzle Fry, Primus’s 1990 studio debut, started the night off good and weird, evoking what was so appealing about the trio when I first heard it in junior high. The three members of Primus – which formed in the East Bay over thirty years ago – are as musically talented as Rush, but the group’s twisted humor and love for both funk and thrash-metal make it far more enjoyable, to this day, than classic progressive-rock bands that shun irony almost as a rule.
“So this is Red Rocks,” bassist and singer Les Claypool quipped to the crowd, lucky to see Primus at the 600-capacity Fox the night before the band’s return to the legendary 9,500-capacity Red Rocks just thirty minutes south. “It’s a lot smaller than I remember, and not as red or rocky.”
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“I have nothing witty or philosophical to say, and maybe that’s witty and philosophical in itself,” Claypool added before continuing Primus’s deep, dark first set, which threw back to mellifluous, eerie early-’90s cuts like “Groundhog’s Day,” “Here Come the Bastards” and “American Life.” All of the aforementioned Primus staples are quirky on the surface level while lending themselves to moshing and – especially with the warped video clips projected behind the band at the Fox – teetering on the edge of madness.
There was indeed actual moshing – another ’90s throwback – and a set-break Popeye cartoon, along with the heroic, Billy Cobham-esque drumming of Tim “Herb” Alexander, with his signature overalls and expressions as stoic as those of a Buckingham Palace guard. Primus is far too tasteful and eclectic to be a jamband, but its three musical heavyweights (Claypool, Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde) improvised and executed musically without the executing part ceasing, something today's jam bands should pay careful attention to.
It was a bucket-list experience watching Claypool play “Tommy The Cat” on a six-string fretless bass. However, the evening peaked with the evil psychedelia of the rollicking 1995 tune “Over the Electric Grapevine,” with lyrics detailing the hysteria of an adolescent car trip and motion-sick music that could aptly accompany the most terrifying scenes from Moby Dick. Let’s hope those headed to Red Rocks to see Primus tonight can keep a sense of humor as keen as Claypool and company, because with rain expected in Morrison, a nautical theme is sure to emerge.
Primus, with the Claypool-Lennon Delirium, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, $39.95-$45.50, 720-865-2494.