After seeing Primus four times now, I'd agree whole-heartedly. There's a lot of hype in the music media about how unclassifiable their music is, and this is one of those rare cases where it's all true. Touring in support of their new album, Tales from the Punchbowl, it seems that they've taken their non-blending nature to an extreme. They mixed technical perfection, intense weirdness, and a happy-go-lucky attitude to put on a tight and excellent show at the Bender Arena in Washington, DC.
This is clearly epitomised in the anything-goes attitude of the trio. Guitarist Larry Lalonde ("Ler") was the star of the show. This is not a surprise since he features promimently on the new album. In a recent Guitar School interview, Claypool says that he pushed LaLonde "to assert himself a little more on this record." LaLonde's translating this pushing on the stage as well, and his guitar was all over the place, especially in the newer stuff that was played. I really think he has come of his own with this album and proved that he's one of the best guitarists out there today with a truly distinctive style. Alexander's drumming was tight as usual and complemented Claypool's bass playing very well. I didn't think Claypool played the bass very aggressively, but I really liked the vocal lines and the processing of the voice at times, which made their music weirder than usual.
It still amazes me as to how people can groove to a song like Eleven with its weird time signature, and for that matter, Here Come the Bastards. Primus have shown a talent for writing in non-standard time signatures and making them sound "normal". Unlike the older Primus stuff which is highly moshable (there's a slow part when Claypool sings that is quiet and suddenly the music kicks in), the new Primus is less amenable to jumping up and down. This was clearly evident when the crowd stood totally still during songs like De Anza Jig, Southbound Pachyderm, and Over the Electric Grapevine. I personally think this is a good thing.
I thought the stage set up was pretty neat---it was a big veiled tent of sorts and the background had cutouts of the characters from the Punchbowl CD insert. The lights playing on the cutouts made for a nice atmosphere, matching the sound well. I think it's a nice minimalistic way of putting on a nice show. The sound as quite decent, and as usual Primus' performance sounded as good as, if not better than, the stuff on CD.
In a way that almost seems like showing a finger at Beaverites, Primus' set consisted of the weirdest mixture of the old and the new. Although they started off with the popular Wynona's Big Brown Beaver and had all the people moving and grooving, the momentum changed as they played songs like The Toys Go Winding Down, Pudding Time, Hello Skinny (which is a cover of the Residents' tune and was played in the middle of Nature Boy), and a lot of the newer tunes. It was nice, though, to see little kids (ages 8-10) grooving to Wynona's Big Brown Beaver the way they'd groove to Arrested Development.
Claypool had problems with his standup bass and so we didn't get to see any song played using that. When he announced this to the crowd, Alexander stopping drumming, but Claypool went "keep playing Herb, we're professionals!" and went on to play a bunch of other songs. Their set included To Defy the Laws of Tradition, Damned Blue Collar Tweekers, Professor Nuttbutter's House of Treats, Jerry was a Race Car Driver, My Name is Mud, and Del Davis Tree Farm (which, according to Claypool, is the first time it was being played live). For an encore, they did Too Many Puppies, Master of Puppets, and Tommy the Cat (a version which was different than the usual one).
I was supposed to meet the band before the show, but it didn't work out. I did get to speak with them a bit after the show, particularly with Ler. He recognised me ("I saw your picture with the guitar") from the picture on my www page as I introduced myself, which I thought was pretty cool. Apparently Ler's hard at work with the CD+ stuff, and when it comes out, it'll be in both the Mac and the IBM-PC formats (though he did say it'll look better on the Mac). In general, it was cool meeting the band and I'd like to thank David Lefkowitz for this opportunity.
Helmet opened, and put on an incredible show. I thought they were even tighter than Primus. Led by Page Hamilton on guitar and vocals, they are one of the few bands around that put out some great and accurate hardcore thrash. My main acquaintance with the band is with Meantime (I don't own Betty yet), and what struck me the most was the use of the D-tuned E string by Hamilton to slam out riff after riff. I was able to watch this show from sidestage and I thought they were really charged. The crowd response to them was excellent and I'm sure this motivated them to play the long set that consisted of Milquetoast, Rollo, Pure, FBLA II, Tic, Ironhead, Renovation, Give It, Unsung, Turned Out, Wilma's Rainbow, Victim, and In the Meantime. Hamilton said they're in the process of working on their new release, so look for it sometime soon!
Primus sucks. Be sure to check them out when they come to your town, particularly if Helmet opens for them.