Primus is once again back to doing what it does best — challenging its audience.
Bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane stormed a packed Palace Theatre Tuesday night, performing for three hours over the course of two sets. And that’s where the challenge comes in — while Set 1 featured the usual hits, Set 2 was a performance of the band’s new album, “Green Naugahyde,” in its entirety.
In the past decade, there’s been a rash of bands performing their “classic” albums front to back on tour (even Primus did this in the mid-2000s). Not many bands of Primus’ age have the stones to play their entire new record start to finish live. But Primus isn’t most bands. And after 12 years without a studio album, touring behind their back catalog, it was refreshing to hear Primus shed its recent nostalgic image and sink its teeth into some new material.
Of course, it helps that the band has a recognizable sound that doesn’t change much between albums — which isn’t a knock by any means — the trio is very good at what it does. “Prelude to a Crawl” into “Hennepin Crawler,” which kicks off “Green Naugahyde” and thus kicked off the second set, is a classic Primus album, all rubbery bass riffing and pounding drums. The audience reaction seemed cool, especially coming off the hits of the first set, but the crowd soon warmed up as the band launched into “Salmon Man” and the ethereal, shrieking “Eternal Consumption Engine.”
Hearing the material in this way allowed fans to truly experience the new album, with all of its peaks and valleys. And “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” track 5 on the record, was certainly a peak, kicking off with a short drum solo before launching into the pummeling main riff. LaLonde was all over this one, weaving strangulated guitar lines into passages both disturbing and beautiful.
Throughout, the energy remained high. Further highlights included “HOINFODAMAN,” track 11, with its constantly shifting rhythms; and the almost cheery (for Primus, anyway) “Moron TV,” track 9. Track 6, “Eyes of the Squirrel,” was another strong point, starting off with a surprisingly standard sounding blues groove before shifting into more standard Primus territory (read: weird, spaced out jam).
Before launching into “Green Naugahyde,” the band offered up a set of its classics, taking extended jams on a small handful of songs from the early ’80s and ’90s. This was where Claypool, LaLonde and Lane really got to stretch, proving that they haven’t lost a single beat or odd-sounding bass effect over their 30-plus years.
Of the early set, which lasted roughly 45 minutes, “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” off 1991’s “Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” was a clear highlight. Here, LaLonde and Claypool wove in and out of each other — Claypool’s rapid-fire slapping offering up a twisted skeleton on which LaLonde hung sheets of dissonant noise, all while Lane pounded away at the bass drum with fierce precision. “Over the Falls,” which appeared mid-set, was another strong point.
Individual songs blended together, though, taking a backseat to the band’s epic jamming. Claypool didn’t disappoint, pulling out just about every expected sound from raunchy distortion to funky wah-wah, as the other two gamely kept up.
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