The Palace Theater in Albany took a trip back to the 60’s last Tuesday night, as Primus brought their psychedelic stage show and unique set list to New York’s capital city. Many knew that the San Francisco-based band was going to perform two sets of music, but no one could have predicted how bizarre, trippy, and ultimately amazing their show would be.
Greeting the audience’s eyes upon entering the theater were two giant inflatable astronauts on either side of the stage; it was a harbinger of the zaniness to come. Primus hit the stage to thunderous applause, and bolted right into one of their oldest songs, “Groundhog’s Day.” Bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane sounded absolutely precise and sharp. And as I had hoped, the band was not content to just play the studio version of the song (or any songs in the first set for that matter) – they fell into a funkified jam that stretched the song out to a good ten minutes or so before the hard-rocking finale. Talk about setting the mood – Primus had the crowd bouncing all over the place and the show had just started. The rest of the 55-minute set (a little too short in my book, but I can’t complain) featured some great older tunes, including three off their lesser-known “Brown Album”: “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread,” “Golden Boy,” and “Over the Falls.” All three tunes featured ridiculously intricate bass playing from Claypool, and while none of the songs are real hard-rockers, they fit into the show’s psychedelic theme perfectly.
During the entire show, multi-colored lights drew abstract, ever-changing shapes and illuminations around the stage and into the theater. Coupled with the creepy old man’s face that graced the front of those astronauts’ helmets and the insane video clips playing behind the band, Primus truly created a wormhole back to the acid houses of the 60’s – if you’ve seen clips of Pink Floyd during the Syd Barrett years, Primus’ show takes that and modernizes it into today’s technology. During many of the instrumental portions of the songs, Claypool would spend a lot of time watching the video screen and eyeing the trippy light patterns splashed throughout the art-deco theater’s interior.
Other tunes from the first set included the impassioned “Pressman,” the dark childhood tale of “Mrs. Blaileen,” and the popular, high-energy “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” The set closed with one of Primus’ absolute best songs “Over the Electric Grapevine.” This song really played into the psychedelic nature of the show, and it was a joy to hear.
Continuing with the insanity, the intermission featured several old Popeye cartoons playing on the video screen. These were the Max Fleischer cartoons from the 30’s – so very strange, yet clever and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny; it was a great way to kill the time waiting for Primus to return.
And return they did. They proceeded to do something that I don’t think has been done very much at all in recent history, apart from a few instances: they played their brand new album, “Green Naugahyde,” in its entirety. The only times I can recall a band doing this would be when Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” came out, and Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime.” Bands have covered albums plenty of times, but unless I’m mistaken, it’s extremely rare for a band to play their new album in full. I reviewed “Green Naugahyde” last week, and in said review I hoped/predicted that playing those new songs live would breathe new life into them, as the album is ok, but seemed constricted and average. Luckily I was correct, and while the band didn’t necessarily “jam out” a lot of the songs as with their first set, playing the album live gave me a new appreciation for it (though some of the songs still rank as mediocre in Primus’ anthology). Claypool brought out the stand-up bass for several of the songs, playing it with a bow as he drew crazy sounds from the effects box the bass was routed through. The highlights of the set were “Last Salmon Man,” which allowed Claypool to really showcase his immense talent as he wailed on the bass for an extended period; “Jilly’s on Smack” features a great little riff from LaLonde over Claypool’s very dark bass groove, with Lane tapping away at his kit. The bouncy “Lee Van Cleef” featured video clips of, well, Lee Van Cleef from his classic western films; for “Green Ranger,” Claypool donned his creepy pig mask as he filled the room with trippy bass grooves. “Extinction Burst,” my favorite from the album, did not disappoint as the band created a sonic convergence of Primus’ old and new sounds. The other notable occurrence was during “Eyes of the Squirrel” – the video kept repeating psychedelic images of squirrels, which were so scary that, had I been more under the influence, would have made me piss myself.
The trio closed the show with two marvelous songs, “Southbound Pachyderm” and “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver.” The former dove into a dark, trippy jam punctuated by the surreal image of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline; they pushed the song out to a good 8 or 9 minutes. And the latter sent the audience home with a spring in their step, so to speak, rocking out the funky tune with tons of energy.
Primus has always been unique, left of center, skewed – people either “get” them or they just think they’re weird and silly (which they are, but so was Frank Zappa). I have been a fan for over 20 years, and seeing them in concert now is so different than seeing them in 1991 or 1994, or even 2004. Claypool has really embraced the impact a show can have – the focus is always on the music, but the entire experience is enhanced by everything else going on around it. Primus fans are avid and overflowing with enthusiasm, and the band is more than happy to reciprocate.
Primus at the Palace gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!