Primus: live review

Primus
live review
Manchester Academy
July 2011

There was an interesting article on Louder than War the other day ”“ provocatively titled “Is It Only Bassists that Love Primus?” ”“ which of course went on to say that, nope, but there are a lot of bass players who DO love them. OK, time to fess up ”“ I’m a bass player. But I went to this gig with two long time friends who are both guitarists, so as far as I’m concerned, bassists were in a minority.

I first saw Primus in 1991, and this was by accident ”“ we’d gone to see the mighty Jane’s Addiction at the Academy and Primus were support. We’d never heard of Primus; one of our number thought they might be an Indie Band (he almost spat the words out with contempt). As we were younger and more foolish in those days, we positioned ourselves in front of the crush barrier right in front of Les Claypool’s stack; they opened with “To Defy The Laws of Tradition”, and it was clear after about 30
seconds that this was no indie band. What amazed me most was that everyone else in the room knew who they were, and knew all their songs; the crowd spent most of the night shouting “PUPPIES!!” in imploring fashion, until Primus obliged and played “Too Many Puppies”, and consequently placed the entire room into one huge primordial jelly of ecstasy.

I bought Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese soon after, and fell deeply in love with Primus for a long time; however, I drifted apart from them around Pork Soda, when I felt they were becoming quite self indulgent (which, when you think about it, is like saying you don’t like Barcelona because they pass the ball a bit too much and score too many goals).

Anyway, when I heard that they’d reformed and were coming back to Manchester, I quickly snapped up some tickets for myself and like-minded friends in the expectation of enjoying a greatest hits set culled from their glory days of the earlier albums. But of course”¦”¦.this is Primus. What we got was a stunning set of music, during which very little leeway was given in the name of conformity, and the perceptions of the audience members were challenged before the night finishes in triumph.

It all starts with familiar territory, as they open with Pudding Time from early album Frizzle Fry, and the scene is set for a night of nostalgia. The first impression is that the bass is too loud”¦”¦.which, I know, is like saying that some of the colours on the ceiling in the Cistine Chapel are a bit too vivid. But what use is a band when you can’t hear the guitars or drums properly? Especially when the other guys in Primus are as talented and important to the sound as Larry Lalonde and original sticks man Jay Lane. Fortunately, the sound engineer soon got his act together and brought the mix onto a more even keel.

The second song showed how Primus were going to push the boundaries, with “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread”, from the Brown Album. It’s in 7/8 time. It was, typically, immaculately performed.

Over the course of the evening, Primus would play a number of songs from their new album, which on the strength of tonight’s hearing will be eagerly awaited by most in the crowd, and certainly by myself; songs such as “The Eyes of the Squirrel” and “Tragedy’s A-Comin’”, which feature Claypool playing using a wah-wah bass sound reminiscent of Parliament/Funkadelic era Bootsy Collins; “Green Ranger”, with a challenging time signature which almost sounds jazz-like; and one stand out track for me, called “Jilly’s on Smack”. This particular track brought to mind blissed out dance music, and the light show which Primus used ”“ which showed little in the way of normal rock convention, preferring to light the band from behind to create an effective system of showing the band in silhouette, which makes people concentrate on the music rather than on the technical side of the playing ”“ emphasised the dance nature of this track. It felt for a moment like Primus were nodding towards the importance of dance music in Manchester”¦”¦.probably coincidence but it was certainly something that I personally appreciated.

In all, Primus probably played 6 songs (out of a set of around 16) which I recognised. I know sometimes people prefer to turn up to watch a band playing songs they know”¦”¦but every now and again isn’t it nice to enjoy the thrill of hearing new material, especially if those songs are played with such purpose and intensity? Songs such as “My Name Is Mud”, “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver”, “Frizzle Fry” and a raucous finale of “John The Fisherman” were wheeled out to keep old fans such as myself interested. But it is always refreshing to see a band such as

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  1. Great article, and very much agree with everything you’ve said. I was initially wishing there’d have been more songs i knew..but at the same time, it was a flawless set..and it was nice to watch live music in its purest form, performed by 3 heavyweights of their craft. Met Les & Jay afterwards too! What a night!!!

  2. I too first encountered Primus on that Jane’s Addiction tour when they came to Rock City in Nottingham. Yeah, we rolled into the venue just as they played the last note of the last song, however I noted that the singer was wearing those white underwear overalls (long johns?) & that along with the tiny snippet of tune I heard made sure I checked them out. Bought ‘Seven Seas of Cheese’ soon after & been a fan ever since. Hope they play near me soon because apart from that brief encounter 20 years ago (TWENTY YEARS!!!) I’ve never seen them live.

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