Primus turns up the loud at Ruth Eckerd Hall

A review, photos and video from Tuesday night's show in Clearwater

click to enlarge Primus turns up the loud at Ruth Eckerd Hall - Phil Bardi
Phil Bardi
Primus turns up the loud at Ruth Eckerd Hall

"Winona's Big Brown Beaver" rode the fringes of my musical existence at a time when I was full of angst and too damn pissed off at life to really give the weirdo humor and overall sonic aesthetic of Primus a chance. Perhaps if I hadn't been so caught up in my personal own dramas and wasn't using music to stoke my righteous rage or calm my unsettled nerves (a teenager is nothing if not contrary), I might have dug into the Primus catalog. As it stands, a decade later – after discovering one band after another, getting turned onto to still others by association to those I liked or via recommendation from friends who shared my likes, figuring out what really moved me, realizing it was most things, depending on my mood – I was able to re-visit Primus with an appreciation for absurdity in music (thanks to Phish, Frank Zappa and Ween) and mind wide open to the trio's heavy brew of thrash-funk and progressive alt metal.

While I expected to enjoy the Primus show at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday night, I wasn't as invested in its quality as the fans who showed up with long-term and deeply entrenched love for the band. And I had misgivings. Was such a distinguished, seated hall an appropriate setting for Primus? Would the band rock softer because of it? Would the fans? Would they be turned up loud enough?

All my fears were laid to rest as the night played out. The male-heavy crowd ranged in age from mid-20s to late 40s, with a noticeable number of father and son concert initiation combos, the young aspiring music lovers absorbing it all with wide open eyes and aloof expressions that didn't quite mask their refreshing eagerness. (I had a few newbs around me and boy, they were cute!) Women were scattered sporadically around the hall, but it had to be a 70/30 male-female ratio. And with such a high level of testosterone in the air, the crowd was rather well-behaved; no one seemed to be holding back back, because they cheered with voracious spirit after every song, some shouting requests much to my chagrin (yes, I hate that shit), nor did they seem disinterested, as eyes were glued to the stage all over the near-capacity room and most everyone was standing, if not held rapt in a static gaze, then bobbing their heads and singing along, or outright spastic dancing.

Primus began their 90-minute set with a lack of ceremony and delivered what I think might've been the best show I've seen at Ruth Eckerd. The band was flanked on either side by two giant inflated spacemen whose visor windows glowed with ever-changing animated images, everything bathed in brightly saturated constantly moving and changing lights. (When did Primus get such a great light show and all that extra dazzle?)

Claypool was decked out in his dapper gentleman’s attire – vest and tie, black derby hat, round black spectacles, neatly groomed goatee (for a dude on the road). Guitarist Larry LaLonde was casual in a dark long-sleeved striped shirt, and drummer Jay Lane was a merely a flying head of hair behind his giant drumkit.

The band drew most heavily from Frizzle Fry (1990) and Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991), though songs from almost all of the other albums made an appearance, and they also performed five new numbers that showed great potential for where this band is going and made me excited about the forthcoming Green Naugahyde (out this September), especially the high-larious "Jilly's on Smack." [Video below.]

My favorite moment, however, came three songs in during "American Life," and set the tone for the rest of the night as the three musicians worked together to get dark and loud and heavy and weird, their chemistry apparent as they expanded the song into a menacing, chunky, chugging jam. Claypool brought his usual elevated style of experimental fat-string prowess and his bag-o-bass tricks, like the Whamola, which he played with dramatic flourish in his familiar ape mask during an extended improvised instrumental. Lalonde built and looped dissonant and warped layers of sound, laying down screeching solos or Zappa, turning up the reverb at key points while Lane kept the back-beat with intense precision and tightly-controlled aggression. [Video below.]

Early into the show, during one of his several chats with the crowd, Claypool questioned whether the seats up front were the most expensive ones, then pointed out that at the very least, they must be the most comfortable ones because the people in them were the only ones in the room sitting down. Later, as Primus played a favorite and the final song of the set "Tommy the Cat," he paused a minute in to politely chastise the people in the front rows again. "This is 'Tommy the Cat,' you're gonna sit there for 'Tommy the Cat'? You're kidding me, right?" Then motioned for them to get to their feet, which they did, because who disobeys Claypool in his own territory? "Thank you very much," he said graciously, adding, "It makes me feel better, I will play this song much better now. Otherwise, I was gonna have to get a chair and sit with you. Because I was a little jealous. It's not that I'm upset or disappointed or mad. I'm envious of your comfort." [Video of the full song below, speech included.]

So, yeah, Primus made my Tuesday night a stellar one, and turned out to be far more awesome live than I expected — and I expected to be wowed. Trio also proved you can turn it up and get loud at Ruth Eckerd Hall Hall while still managing to get your fans home by 11:30 p.m. Prognosis: utter and complete success. I am so doing this again when they come back. Just putting it out there, so the universe (and perhaps the band) will oblige...

COMPLETE SETLIST

Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers

Pie in the Sky [new]

American Life

Frizzle Fry

The Last Salmon Man (Fisherman's Chronicles, Part 4) [NEW]

Over The Falls

Lee Van Cleef [NEW]

John the Fisherman

Over the Electric Grapevine

Drum and Whamola Jam

My Name Is Mud

Jilly's on Smack [NEW]

The Green Ranger [NEW]

Jerry Was A Race Car Driver

Tommy The Cat

E: Groundhog's Day

Some videos of the show I found on YouTube:

"American Life"

"Jilly's On Smack"

"Tommy the Cat"

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