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The crowd in motion for
"Wynona's Big Brown Beaver"
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There's a certain amount of drama before any headlining band takes the stage, but when the band is Primus and the stage is in their home town of San Francisco, things can get a bit out of hand. Even on a Tuesday night, the band managed to pack the house at the Bill Graham Civic Center -- no small feat for a trio of self-confessed computer geeks.
The electronic element was alive and well at last night's show. "And for you computer types out there," frontman Les Claypool explained during the intro to "Sailing the Seas of Cheese," "This show is being netcast. That means the performance is being spewed out across the planet." (the show was broadcast by MediaCast. Relive the magic at their site where you'll find photos, video and a RealAudio recording of Primus in action.) He then promised that guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde would drop his drawers before the night was out.
Openers Weapon of Choice, an outfit from Los Angeles, started the night with a blend of old-style funk and imitation Hendrix guitars. Despite their attempts to engage the crowd with catchy chants, disco- style bass guitar and a trombonist who thought he was Bootsy Collins, the band didn't come through. It was as if they were behind a Plexiglas wall; we could see that they were having a good time up there, but their batch of mediocre tunes weren't much fun for anyone else.
Meanwhile, Primus' enormous roundeaded sailor-toy bobbed in the background, promising better things to come.
"Fuck LA" ... "It's not so bad."
Next, Goldfinger hopped aboard. Their frontman looked out over the crowd and said, "Wow, there are a lotta people here. This is the most people we've ever fucking played in front of." They played a set of heavy pop-punk and ska, including what their vocalist described as "a love song" which began as a 50's surfer tune and ended in a blaze of speed- punk. Later came a cover of Duran Duran's "Rio" -- which ended with "Her name is Rio/It's really Dio/Ronnie James Dio" -- and a brief foray into Joan Osborne's "One of Us."
After telling several insulting jokes about Michael Jackson and Courtney Love, the band launched into "Fuck LA," a song which blended loud, angry, frenetic moments with slower, jazzy ones. The closing verse named off Bad Religion, NOFX, Pennywise and Offspring and then grumped, "they all think they own this city." Goldfinger's humor and quick pace involved the audience -- as did their frequent stage diving. "Hey! Security guards!" One of the band shouted out. "I just talked to your boss! You guys can go home now!"
"Watch out for space robots"
After allowing everyone to sway to a carnivalesque orchestral piece, Primus finally came to the stage. Chants of "you suck, you suck" died away as the opening bars of "Too Many Puppies" sent the floor into fits of glee. Already a mosh pit was taking shape, including a small eye in the center of the storm of whirling bodies. Moshing to Primus is like that; aggressive, but friendly.
Next the band worked through "The Pressman." Both it and "Puppies" included extended midsections, the latter loping along in its eerie melody like a newsman sneaking down a dark alley. But it wasn't until "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" that the audience really came alive. Suddenly the crowd rippled and bounced, and a second pit formed on the right side of the stage.
Ler took his usual stance, his hair in his eyes and his eyes to the floor, letting his guitar do all the talking. Les, in a rust-orange t-shirt and brown highwater pants, was his typical self, if a bit subdued. Herb remained quiet, disguised by his expansive drum set. The band took fewer verbal shots at one another than usual, but their performance was tight and clean -- if a bit straightforward. But Primus is still Primus, and so they had their moments.
"People ask me if we do covers," Les commented. "Sure, we do covers. What I'd like to do now is play our version of 'Wonderwall.'" He and Herb then moved into the intro of "My Name is Mud." Later, as Ler plucked at a banjo, Les asked the crowd if they'd ever heard of El Sobrante, California. A surprising number howled and clapped their hands, and Primus played a rollicking version of "De Anza Jig," as if to comment on the town's backwater nature. Meanwhile, the mosh pit resembled a square dance.
The band performed "Pork Soda," "Over the Electric Grapevine" and "The Heckler" (by way of "Stairway to Heaven") before getting to "Harold of the Rocks," one of their most entertaining live numbers. Here it is obvious that Les is a born storyteller, rattling off the tale of a coke junkie who went along for a night on the town, giving it the same wit it had when Primus was first starting out. Ler's moment came in the middle of the tune, effecting a breathtaking bluesy solo which left everyone in awe.
Encores included "Southbound Pachyderm," "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats" and "John the Fisherman," which is always a delight. While the crowd bounced playfully to the infectious melody, Les sang, "When I grow up I want to be one of the harvesters of the sea/I think before my days are done, I want to be a fisherman." The message is that Primus is still a bunch of kids having a good time, and that any dream of the future is all right by them.
Les croons about
QuickTime 2.6MB, 38sec Make sure to take a hop over and read Addicted To Noise's Music News Of The World Section, which not only ran this piece, but also runs a wide variety of other reports daily.
ATN Correspondent Beth Winegarner - May 7th, 1996