Primus should never be as big as they are. How did this happen? In the era of anything-goes radio back in the early ’90s, Primus was just weird enough to fit in amongst the grunge, ska, nu-metal, and swing revival music being played on alternative radio. They were elevated from fringe weirdos to cult icons just like that. Thirty-plus years later, here they are, Grammy-nominated oddballs still making weird noises and still drawing crowds.
Saturday night, the three men from the Bay Area (Claypool – bass/vocals/keys, Larry “Ler” LaLonde – guitars, Tim “Herb” Alexander – drums/percussion) made their first trip to Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards. As lead man, Les Claypool mentioned upon hitting the stage, “Hello, apple orchard! This is the first time I’ve ever played in an apple orchard.” The adoring crowd responded with a rousing chant of, “Primus sucks!”
For the uninitiated, the origin story of the “Primus sucks” chant began in the band’s formative stages. Legend has it that at one of their first gigs, they introduced themselves and someone in the crowd responded with, “Primus sucks!” Claypool ran with it and from then on, he introduced the band saying, “We’re Primus and we suck.” And it’s stayed with them for over 30 years. Now a term of endearment.
This particular show had been previously scheduled for the summer of 2020 but due to the pandemic, was canceled. A rescheduling of the tour in 2021 left the orchard in Lafayette out of the mix, but DSP Shows was able to get them to reschedule for this past week.
The tour is called A Tribute to Kings. The band is paying tribute to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists Rush and their 1977 album A Farewell to Kings. What, to some, may seem a questionable Rush album to pay tribute to, for Claypool, it was a no-brainer. The bass maestro’s first-ever concert was for Rush’s Hemispheres tour when he was 14 years old. The first Rush album he had heard was Farewell. It was then that he developed his love for Rush.
Primus fans are a varied bunch. It’s not uncommon to encounter headbangers, prog-heads, skate punks, hooping Deadheads, and classic rockers in the lot. These are the people Primus attracts. And they did so in droves Saturday night at Beak & Skiff.
The cartoonish jazz of Raymond Scott played between bands, setting the stage for the characters that would inhabit the stage shortly thereafter.
LaLonde opened the first set with the repeating alarm-sounding riffs of Sailing the Seas of Cheese’s “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” sending the fans into a frenzy. “Tweekers” morphed into “Laquer Head” from the band’s 1999 “comeback” album Antipop and back into a “Tweekers” reprise, keeping the band in Cheeseland with Claypool donning a pig mask while bowing his standup bass for “Seas of Cheese” that led directly into “Mr. Krinkle” from the band’s hit 1993 album Pork Soda.
A quick trip through the early and mid-90s Primus closed the first set with the band visiting Frizzle Fry, Tales From the Punchbowl, and The Brown Album, much to the delight of the faithful.
A very quick set break, one that almost made this reviewer miss the opening of the Farewell tribute as he was shoving a delicious Beak & Skiff burger down his throat, led to what brought this tour to fruition — Primus’s tribute to Rush’s A Farewell to Kings album.
Now, Claypool has one of the most distinctive and unusual voices in the rock pantheon, as does Rush’s Geddy Lee. And while both could be considered nasally in their delivery, Lee tends to the higher register of the vocal scale, while Claypool does not. And he’d be the first to tell you so. Upon introducing “Closer to the Heart” he recognized that his voice is not sufficient to carry the high notes Lee brings to that classic and requested the audience’s help. They responded. Because that’s what Primus fans do.
But while Claypool may have had difficulty with the Lee vocals, the band as a whole proved wholesale that this was not an album they took lightly. The musicianship present throughout the Farewell run-through was top-notch and one that the members of Rush would be proud of, especially Alexander’s drumming skills and LaLonde’s riffing and solos. Spare the vocals, you’d think you were at a Rush show circa 1978. Primus crushed it.
Following the Rush tribute, the band ran through a quick greatest-hits set of four songs to close the show with “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” “Welcome to This World,” “My Name is Mud,” and a truncated “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.”
Also of note in this show was the inclusion of Primus’s latest single, “Conspiranoia,” a politically-charged 11+ minute epic released just last month as part of the band’s Conspiranoid EP.
Primus is still firing on all cylinders more than 30 years in and shows no signs of slowing down. While the stage antics aren’t what they were back in the day, the musicianship they’ve always exhibited more than carries the show. Definitely check out this tour if you get the chance. Or any Primus show for that matter.
Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
(Interlude With Blue Collar Tweekers Reprise)
Seas of Cheese
Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats
Del Davis Tree Farm
Shake Hands With Beef
Set 2 (A Farewell to Kings):
A Farewell to Kings (Rush cover)
Xanadu (Rush cover)
Closer to the Heart (Rush cover)
Cinderella Man (Rush cover)
Madrigal (Rush cover)
Cygnus X-1 (Rush cover)
Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
Welcome to This World
My Name Is Mud
Jerry Was a Race Car Driver (Partial)