When it comes to keeping music weird, few successful bands have a lock on the process. For around thirty years, Primus has maintained a respectable balance of silliness, virtuoso performance, and integrity. Lead singer / bassist Les Claypool has said before that when performing with Primus is no longer fun, he will stop doing it. During the band’s lifetime, it has, indeed, gone on hiatus, experienced some variation in its lineup (drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander has left and returned a couple of times), and definitely pushed its own stylistic boundaries. Last night, the band’s current tour (in support of its latest album The Desaturating Seven) had the trio of Claypool, Alexander, and guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde bring a fresh batch of delightful weirdness to SoCal audiences with a stop at the Greek Theatre, in Los Angeles.
The progressive metal band Mastodon shared the billing with Primus, but before they went on, Jjuujjuu opened. The oddly named psychedelic band, from LA, seems to have grown in size since they opened for Claypool’s umpteenth side project The Claypool Lennon Delirium (featuring Sean Lennon) back in Fall of 2016. At that show, which was held in OC, down at the Observatory, the three-piece Jjuujjuu demonstrated that they were a band worthy of note in the psychedelic music arena. For last night’s show, the group consisted of four members (led by Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone), and their sound was still smoking. Their six song set consisted mostly of material from the band’s recent, first, full album, Zionic Mud. We’re going to have to keep our eyes on these boys.
Mastodon was up next. This sludge / stoner metal outfit possesses a strong following of its own. During its hour and a half-ish set, the band tore through over a dozen intense tunes, including: “Crystal Skull,” “Megalodon,” “Black Tongue,” “Divinations,” “Show Yourself,” and “Bladecatcher.” While the band shares many hardcore metal fans with Primus (which totally isn’t harcore metal but has routinely appealed to fans of such), Mastodon also shares a compositional tendency with the headliner; that is, both bands have adapted literary works into concept albums. Mastodon’s Leviathan is based on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. After the band was done thrashing out its insane and catchy melodies — performed while throwing some extreme rock faces — a small chunk of the audience left the venue. However, the Greek was still plenty full when Primus greeted the crowd, at 9:30 pm, for their own hour and a half set.
After the intermission lights went down and fans who didn’t get the memo [that this chant was passe] started affectionately shouting, “Primus sucks!” Danny Elfman’s “Clown Dream,” from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure heralded the start of Primus’s set. They started off the show with “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” which was followed by a “Too Many Puppies” / “Sgt. Baker” medley and then “The Heckler.” Next came “Eyes of the Squirrel,” and then they played the new album in its entirety.
The Desaturating Seven is based on Ul de Rico’s children’s book The Rainbow Goblins. Evidently, Claypool had become so enamoured with the book, as he repeatedly read it to his son, that he decided to adapt it for a musical project. The result conjures a theatrical, psychedelic, fantasy realm, which features some nice classical guitar bits, a variety of monstrous-sounding delay loops, and, of course, a mind-blowing showcase of Claypool’s trademark percussive / harmonic bass slapping. While the set’s excursion into the land of the rainbow goblins (featuring projected images presumably originating from the storybook) did not keep the legions of metalheads on their feet, with heads thrashing, it successfully lulled them into a hypnotic trance. One hardcore-looking dude, wearing a Slayer shirt with the sleeves torn off, hoisted his child into the air; the child proceeded to wave his arms about as if he were conducting the music.
Following The Desaturating Seven, drummers Danny Carey (Tool) and Brann Dailor (Mastodon) joined Primus for a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Intruder.” After that, they played a frustratingly abridged collection of songs, which consisted of: “Welcome To This World,” “Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats,” “My Name Is Mud,” and “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver.” Claypool then joked that the band had been planning on playing Rush’s album Hemispheres in its entirety, but pointed out that there was a strict curfew in effect at the Greek. With that, they closed with “Tommy The Cat.”
As colorful and jam-packed as this evening was, the Greek’s policy of allowing the residents of Griffith Park to get to bed at 11:00 pm cut short what likely would have been an even better show, as it seemed Primus increased the tempo on the last few numbers to squeeze them all in. Still, it was a terrific show, and metalheads, psychedelic music fans, and children of all ages had a great time with this eclectic showcase of powerful bands.