Primus music review (Enmore Theatre, Sydney)

1995 was a big year for me. I attended my first festival, The Big Day Out, in January and my second, Alternative Nation, in April.

Alternative Nation was headlined by Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More. Other acts included Tool, Ice T & Body Count, L7 and a couple of others that didn’t quite fit in; Lou Reed (who was booed) and Primus.

Primus incorporate hard rock element; Hot Metal magazine once said its sound “could loosely be described as funky hard rock” with its author adding “I have no idea how they construct their songs”.

Indeed. Primus is beloved by musicians (especially bass players) but they divide opinion. The band cite prog rockers Rush and King Crimson as major influences as well as rtists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Residents, Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen – none of whom sound like Primus.

Primus is centred around its bass player and vocalist Les Claypool (pictured above) with guitarist Larry ‘Ler’ Lalonde and drummer Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander rounding out the trio. Their popularity slowly built in the ’90s via albums Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Pork Sodaand Tales from the Punchbowl (which featured the hit Winona’s Big Brown Beaver), before receding somewhat and disbanding in 1999.

They returned with a new album, Green Naugahyde in 2011 and are back in Australia in support of their most eclectic album yet, The Desaturating Seven. It is a concept album in seven tracks inspired by Ul de Rico’s children’s book The Rainbow Goblins. (Claypool read it to his children and has an affection for). It tells the story of a band of seven greedy, gluttonous and selfish goblins who stalk the land draining it of colour. Aside from the The Seven and The Scheme, which sound like “regular” Primus tracks, the album is populated with epic, prog rock soundscapes and includes more acoustic guitar than Primus has used before.

In the States, Primus’ latest shows have been divided into two sets. One is a greatest hits package, the other is The Desaturating Seven in full. Disappointingly, this is not what we got, although we did get the groovy video displays behind the band.

Even so, the band was in top form last night. They were highly energised, not a sour note was plucked, the PA was crystal clear and the audience gave it back to them.

The set consisted of many old favourites; some more obscure album tracks and medleys of classic numbers spliced with improvised jams. Some of these were jaw-droppingly good. Perhaps because I have seen Primus many times I really enjoyed the new songs. The accompanying video featuring goblin deviousness worked well too. They played The Seven and the proggy masterpiece The Storm from The Desaturating Seven.

Of the medleys, the best were Too Many Puppies and Sgt Baker which share a common theme. The first is anti-war and anti-US imperialism (“Too Many puppies have been trained not to bark at the site of blood that must be spilled so that we can maintain our oil fields”) and Sgt Baker is anti-military in general.

Claypool amusingly and repeatedly referred to the audience as “Sydney, California” and called us “a fine flab of humanity” before the band launched into their “midlife crisis song”, Groundhog’s Day.

Final song of the night, Here Come the Bastards, was interrupted 30 seconds in when Les remembered that a number of people wanted to hear their first ever single John the Fisherman, so they played that instead. John the Fisherman has got everything that is great about Primus; it’s a toe-tapper despite its awkward rhythm and it being an ode to both social misfits and fishing.

Primus play Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane April 8; Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide April 11; Metro City, Perth April 13; and the Palais Theatre, Melbourne April 15.

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