The first concert I saw after moving to Stanford, in the Bay Area in Sunny California, was at the Bottom of the Hill Club in San Francisco. I was fortunate that I was going to see one of my favourite bands of all time: Primus. And they didn't disappoint: the band put on one of the best shows I had seen, and are the epitome of what a fun show should be.
Beanpole opened. There is a lot of history associated with the band, but the most relevant bit is that Primus guitar Larry "Ler" LaLonde was playing on the banjo. They opened with My Name is Beanpole and went on to play songs like Sponge Boy and Chicken Boy from their unreleased album, Next of Kin. They were fun and were an appropriate warm-up for Primus, though sometimes I thought the gimmicks went a bit too far. The highlight of their performance was a song that highlighted Ler's banjo playing.
The voice of Screamin' Jay Hawkins introduced Primus, who went on to open with Tommy the Cat. Right from the start, it was apparent that this show was going to be different from a "typical" Primus show. The band was experimenting and in the opening song, there were extended jams featuring a guest DJ. Frontman Les Claypool likened the DJ they had (whose name I don't recall) to Jimi Hendrix; After hearing an array of processed record scratching (to the background of Tommy the Cat), it was clear why this was the case.
Most of the songs they played were from the new album, which included Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread, Puddin' Taine, Bob's Party Time Lounge, Fisticuffs, The Chastising of Renegade, and Camelback Cinema. All of these songs went over well, though I think Camelback Cinema should be dropped from the set. My favourites live were Fisticuffs and Puddin' Taine.
A lot of old tunes were played to compensate for the crowd which seemed to be largely unfamiliar with the new material (according to a calculation done by Les, about half the people in the audience owned the new album). These included the above referenced Tommy the Cat, Frizzle Fry (where Les explained the reference to Barrington, a co-op in Berkeley whose residents were known for spreading minds; eventually it was dismantled due to conflicts with neighbours), Jerry was a Race Car Driver, Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers, and My Name is Mud.
This was the first time I was seeing Brain drum with Primus. While some people may not like this observation, I couldn't tell one bit of a difference between him and former drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander at a casual level. In fact, the old songs had the same feel to them, and the newer stuff simply ripped. The drumming was far more crisper than on the album. All this simply enhanced how Brain fit in, and as I said, I noticed no difference.
Ler's guitar work was particularly on the spot, and his solos recreated everything we've heard before in the album quite well. I do think he needs to wander off the beaten path more with the newer stuff though.
The Bottom of the Hill is in a location suggested by the name, but going to the top (which is where we parked) you get to see a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The club is really small, and the atmosphere reminded me of the dungeon-like 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. The acoustics were surprisingly good for a club of that size, and the overall mix was decent, except for Les' vocals.
One of the most entertainment moments was when the band played Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers. Here Les managed to take a dig at Bass Player Magazine, who have in the past accused him of sloppy playing. When he finished the interlude after the third verse in perfect timing with Brain (at least to my ears), he commented about his "sloppy" playing to which Ler agreed (with great sarcasm, in case you're missing the point here). Then the band went on to play a bit of Another One Bites the Dust, where Les then took a few pot shots at Queen regarding the poppiness of that song, and finally remarked how similar the riff in Another Brick in the Wall was to the Queen tune. He, however, failed to mention that one of his own songs from the Highball with the Devil solo effort, Carolina Rig, also has a bass riff very reminiscent of Another One Bites the Dust. Details, details, right? The second line in the last verse "my eyes are growing weary as I shit upon this song" was the highlight of this amusing digression.
This is just a small example of what the band was like throughout the show. There were other interludes, including Stairway to Heaven, Les saying he didn't mind pictures being taken, and complimenting someone's grandmother for her bass playing skills. It was great to see Primus having fun, playing in a small club, and my advice to you is to be sure to catch them on their tour!