San Jose Civic
June 19, 2022
Photo by Randy Johnson
Bay Area music fans got a healthy portion of home cooked progressive rock at the San Jose Civic as local rockstar mad scientists Primus swept through the south bay on their A Tribute to Kings tour, paying homage to their childhood heroes Rush.
The impact that the visionary prog rock trio from Canada had on Primus bassist and band leader Les Claypool was very evident as he re-counted his first concert experience, which was seeing Rush at the Cow Palace.
“I can remember back to my first concert….1978….Rush… on the Hemispheres tour” Claypool recalled. “I was a 14-year-old kid and just threw up in the parking lot at the Cow Palace after drinking three Löwenbräus. I pulled it together in time to stumble in and have my mind blown by watching these guys do their thing.”
Little did he know then that the drunken and inspired 14-year-old would eventually find his own mind blowing trio Primus some six+ years later. Playing bass and singing just like his hero Geddy Lee, Primus stormed out of the East Bay enclave of El Sobrante and quickly headlined and sold out Bay Area underground rock clubs such as the (RIP) Berkeley Square.
Fast forward another six years and a more mature version of Primus, now an established and refined streak of punk / funk /prog / fusion lightning, would release the unique gem Frizzle Fry (1990).
The Frizzle Fry material would serve as the ignition point on this Sunday evening at San Jose Civic as Les and his Primus cohorts (guitarist Larry ‘Ler’ LaLonde and drummer Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander) began their musical journey with the rambling bass line, staccato guitar scratch, and metronome cymbal bell intro of ‘Too Many Puppies.’ Immediately the general admission crowd at the front of the stage was a bouncing mass of energy.
The first break in the set occurred after trekking through the Frizzle Fry threesome of ‘Toys Winding Down,’ ‘Pudding Time.’ and ‘Groundhog’s Day,’eliciting a whooping ovation from the fans, along with the requisite chant of “Primus sucks!!!”
It was at this point that Claypool announced that the band would “…play some Primus shit and later on get into some Rush”. Again, the auditorium filled with loud applause and calls that Primus sucks.
But first it would be the “Primus shit” that Claypool promised. The band did not disappoint. Pinballing through their catalog, they hypnotized the audience all the while. “Hits” such as ‘Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,’ ‘My Name is Mud,’ and ‘Jerry Was a Race Car Driver’ kept the crowd in motion and highlighted the maniacal musical alchemy of LaLonde’s meandering guitar, Alexander’s precise and frenetic drumming, and the percolating bass style of Les Claypool.
But it was some new Primus material that seriously enthralled the room. Midway through the first set, Primus spread a thick psychedelic layer of sound over the already stoned fans, ‘Conspiranoia,’ from the recently released EP Conspiranoid mesmerized the joint for an epic 11-minute ode to folks easily sucked into conspiracy theories. Complete with freakazoid visuals that unraveled behind the band, it was a carnival freakshow that only Primus could conceive. Primus fans need to check out their latest drop….it is out there.
The buzz about the Rush set began as soon as the Primus portion of the night ended. By the time they returned for the second set, the crowd was already primed with anticipation. Starting with LaLonde channeling his inner Alex Lifeson on the intro for A Farewell to Kings, Primus embarked on the mission to not only cover the 1977 Rush album but also to do so in a manner that would satisfy both hyper-critical Rush fans and their personal levels of expectation.
The performance levelled the San Jose Civic, with the opus ‘Xanadu’ dropping jaws all around. Claypool not only obliterated the Geddy bass lines, but also stepped up to provide synth layers. What was different was the vocals….Les rarely reaches for the higher octave vocal blasts of Geddy, but he admitted that Geddy’s range was better left alone. He also reiterated what everyone in the room already knew “this stuff is fucking hard.”
Well news flash! Primus makes hard stuff seem fucking easy when it comes to music. Furthermore, Herb on the drums is one of an extremely short list that can handle representation of Neil Peart’s (RIP) drumming.
Opening act The Black Angels from Austin, Texas was very entertaining. This is a psych-out quintet that was founded back in 2004; weaving a sound tapestry that lures listeners into hallucinations much in the same manner as Spiritualized, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols.
The Black Angels rolled out a psychedelic hayride of set from a very dimly lit stage. In particular “Young Men Dead” (Passover – 2006) charged up the early crowd.
With a sound that reminds a bit of The Black Keys, they have a dirty edge to them that also is reminiscent of underground psych darlings All Them Witches. If any of this strikes your inner psychedelic core, check them out when they headline, they are quality.