Concert review: Primus puts on proficient but lackluster performance at the Pageant, Sunday, May 29
Opening the show was the Dead Kenny G’s, a three-piece outfit based out of Seattle. The trio consists of Garage-A-Trois and Les Claypool’s Fancy Band alumni Skerik (tenor sax and keyboards) and Mike Dillon (drums, percussion, tabla and vibraphone), joined by former New Bohemian Brad Houser on bass and baritone sax. Taking the stage in teased out Kenny G wigs, the band played a raucous set that started out strange and became increasingly more bizarre as the clock ticked away.
The group started out sounding like the music box for a broken merry-go-round inside a haunted house that abruptly gave way to a bombastic Led Zeppelin-style rocker. Over the course of its 45 minutes on stage, the band mashed elements of free jazz, punk rock, lounge, Middle Eastern and classic rock into a series of songs that were more performance art than music. Its set is best described as a wild, sometimes violent roller coaster ride with a soundtrack provided by Morphine and Captain Beefheart.
Mike Dillon really stole the show with the varied parts he played. Slamming out drum licks harder than John Bonham one second and jumping to calypso the next, playing the drum kit and vibraphone simultaneously and busting out the wildest vibraphone solo I’ve ever seen, Dillon was at the top of his game tonight. Brad Houser was stellar as well, throwing down bass riffs that would make Jaco Pastorius weep and blending with Skerik so well in the horn duets that it was hard to tell who was playing what. Skerik was in excellent form as always, honking and squealing all through the night and playing his sax and keys simultaneously at times.
The highlight of the set was the band’s rendition of the Dead Kennedy’s classic “Kill the Poor,” with Skerik covering East Bay Ray’s guitar parts with equal parts precision and disregard for style. It felt as if the band had played a lot longer than 45 minutes when it finally finished its last song, and that is most definitely a good thing.
Primus took the stage shortly after nine to a recording of the theme from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and immediately jumped into “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” and “Here Come the Bastards” from the 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Throughout the evening, the band played a roughly 50/50 mix of fan favorites and new tunes, which caught me off guard. With Jay Lane returning to the group, I was expecting to hear more of the classic songs from Suck on This and Frizzle Fry but the older tunes covered were primarily from Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda.
Judging from the crowd reaction, I think quite a few folks were in the same boat as I was. Applause was heavy throughout the night, but was noticeably lighter after the new tunes while the crowd was much more active and its sound levels were close to unbearable when old favorites like “Tommy the Cat” and “My Name is Mud” were played.
Les Claypool has always been on the forefront of new techniques and technologies when it comes to his music, but it seemed that he was spending more time playing with pedals and other gadgets making whale sounds and other odd effects between songs than he was displaying his usual banter with the crowd. I also found that the vocal effects he was using made understanding him difficult when he was speaking to the fans. Larry LaLonde was fantastic as usual in his guitar wrangling, but his playing was hard to hear through most of the evening, buried under the combination of Jay’s frenetic drumming and Les’ thumping bass.
Although the band was in top form there seemed to be something missing from the show, as if there was no energy flowing between the band and the audience. The highlight of the set was hearing Jay Lane rip through a fantastic drum solo right before Les jumped in to beat the living daylights out of his Whamola, the modern equivalent of the old washtub bass.
Primus is known for its fantastic live performances, but this evening’s show left me disappointed. Although the band was playing well together and were technically proficient, I feel that the overabundance of new, unheard material combined with the lack of energy in the room ultimately took its toll on the set.