Over 25 years after setting sail on the Seas of Cheese, Primus continues to navigate uncharted, musical waters, over running so many younger vessels in a music scene progressively stagnating in the doldrums. This is an act that continues to play music because they love to and it shows.
Les Claypool is a sagely wizard who works magic with a bass in his hands. There is good reason for why he continually appears among the top ten lists for greatest rock bassists and there are few who would dispute his immense skills. He can slap his way through a puzzling number of crazy licks, moving with insane speed, yet every note strikes the ear with crisp, pleasing precision. Les doesn't swim in any muddy water when it comes to his music. It's truly amazing to hear him perform what might seem impossible and the fact that his live performance is just as clean and tight as his studio recordings is only all the more mesmerizing. Les Claypool is a true legend of the bass, it would be hard to argue otherwise, and posterity is very likely to cement his exceptional qualities for decades to come. However, what often seems to be less talked about but is equally worthy of note is a skill he has demonstrated album after album without the extreme dexterity of his figures, but rather the sharp wit and imagination flowing from his mouth and brain.
Along with being an enormously gifted bassist, Claypool is an inspired story teller and creator of characters. So many Primus songs take us into the uniquely warped and beautifully demented world that exists behind Claypool's eyes. His vision of the world is unvarnished and bleakly honest while at the same time fantastically odd and twisted. A prime example is the crowd favorite and introductory song on Pork Soda, "My Name is Mud". As we learn from the lyrics, the character's full name is Alowishus Devadander Abercrombie, but he goes by "Mud" and we meet him at a fairly interesting point in his existence. While the most familiar lyric, "So I kissed him upside the cranium with an aluminum baseball bat..." certainly amps up a rock audience the lyrics in their entirety are worthy of discussion in a literary college course.
From the sparse, almost poetic, lyrics of this song we are presented with a seemingly inferior individual who, while he appears to be aware of his low station in life, simultaneously revels in being an unemployed, poorly dressed, and admittedly dull individual. Still he has his pride, enough so to lead him kill a man with a bat over what he describes as "a common spat," possibly just for having soiled his "patent shoes". He even casually refers to the deceased as "this friend of mine," yet he exhibits no remorse over his lethal actions, just concern over getting him "in the ground before he starts to smell". His name is Mud and with less than two hundred words we are presented with a complicated character and enticing glimpses of a life, world, & personality which intrigue the mind, leaving it to piece together a much larger picture and story.
Claypool does this time and again, offering snap shots of his creations that imply so much more in the shadows of these three dimensional persons. Violence is a common theme in Claypool's lyrics and they often chronicle the underbelly of U.S. society: the forgotten, the lost, the outcasts... the weirdos. He knows these people and their stories, critically and yet also sympathetically introducing us to the dregs of this country, the cruelties they are subjected to, and those they subject upon others. His worlds are not only filled with menace, but wackiness and whimsy as well, giving Claypool's voice a distinctive, dark-side-of-the-funhouse quality that is undeniably his own.
Also interesting to note, Claypool comes to life when he dons a mask, as if possessed by some spirit residing in the veil which rallies him to new levels of animation. During his performance at Marymoor Park it was a pig mask that brought the fire as he summoned the "Candy Man" with his upright electric bass. Puckish and somewhat reminiscent of a charming devil, he cut an engaging figure. Like in many of his music videos, Claypool not only likes creating his characters, but personally portraying them as well. He seems to have an intimate knowledge of the people and worlds in his song which, to some degree, must be parts and portions of who he is himself. Either way, his ability to specifically identify with them is apparent.
Claypool marches on with this off-beat parade joined on this present tour by original Primus members Larry "Ler" LaLonde (guitar) and Tim "Herb" Alexander (drums) who are responsible for the sounds on some of the bands most legendary albums: "Fizzle Fry," "Sailing the Seas of Cheese," & "Pork Soda" among others. Both mix incredibly well with Claypool's musical skills, LaLonde matching his precision and Alexander the tight, percussive elements he pulls from his bass. Both keep up with Claypool's intricate rifts and tight licks, adding their own impressive musical offerings to the mix. Seeing these three play together is not an experience to be missed and while the videos shown on the screens behind this show are unnecessarily distracting and repetitive at times, the performances happening in front proudly carry the banner of the late '80s/early '90s, a true golden age in American Rock'n'Roll when astounding bands were numerous and one could raise a glass of pork soda with pride. - C. Jefferson Thom
The wonderful weirdness carries on until Dec. 30th with tour dates across the United States. For more information visit: http://primusville.com/tour/
Mr. Thom lives in Seattle with his wife Lori and their terrier Tug where he walks dogs and is a tour guide for the Seattle Underground. He is also a playwright who loves traveling to other countries and playing the armchair historian.