Only the stiffest of upper lips can resist a dose of ’90s nostalgia. Whether you are rolling up the windows in traffic to hide the fact that you’re belting “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” or digging through boxes in your basement in search of your cassette copy of The Chronic.
It’s odd to think of Primus as part of this nostalgia trip, in light of the band’s serious finger-flinging skills and Les Claypool’s oddball side projects like Oysterhead and Bucket of Bernie Brains. But Primus had serious Billboard hits in the ’90s. Odd as they were, they sold a lot of records. (Side bet: first person to hear “Tommy the Cat” on Crush FM).
Primus’ first set at the Palace last Tuesday did not disappoint fans of the band’s halcyon days. Bracketed by 20-foot-tall astronauts with wrinkled faces swimming in sepia, Claypool cranked out the heavy power chords that punctuate the breaks of “Southbound Pachyderm,” while Larry LaLonde’s whammy-bar divebombs shredded the paint off the walls. The heavy metal thunder of “Toys Go Winding Down” from 1991’s Frizzle Fry had heads bobbing on every doubled down beat. Later in the set, Claypool slapped out the percussive hammer-ons that begin “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and was joined by the crowd shouting “Dog will hunt!” just before the baroque guitar solo.
At the end of the first set, the dim chandeliers of the Palace lifted the veil of psychedelic samsara lights and smoke that obscured its filigreed walls. A screen descended and those not stuck in the beer lines were treated to an intermission of Popeye the Sailorman. There are few things better than watching cartoons with a little buzz, but Primus certainly rank higher, and soon enough the crowd was itching for more.
As is Primus’ custom, the second set featured the band playing an album in its entirety. Flying in the face of nostalgia, the band chose to play their latest release, Green Naugahyde. They opened with “Hennepin Crawler”—a 3-D polygon of funky breaks, dissonant chords, and warbled vocals—and rolled into the loping “Last Salmon Man” that boasted a beefy “Haitian Fight Song” rubber bass line.
The band seemed to hit their stride in the middle of the set with “Eyes of the Squirrel.” It’s supremely goofy, even for a Primus song, but the chorus of “the eyes of the squirrel are watching,” coupled with projected infrared images of squirrels locked in ominous staring contests, was one of the freakier moments in Palace Theater history. As the squirrels retreated, Claypool broke out his signature instrument the Whamola—an upright bass with one string, played with a bow or drum stick—for Green Naugahyde standout, “Jilly’s on Smack.” LaLonde churned out a circuitous guitar riff while Claypool sawed away at the Whamola and sang, “Jilly’s on smack/And she won’t be coming back/For the holidays.”
The band graciously played a third set of older material, capped off by one of their biggest hits, “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.” Claypool strutted the stage, a cross between ringleader and raptor, while LaLonde delivered on both guitar solos. When the lights went up, the crowd, decked out in hog headgear, seemed satisfied, the itch for a familiar sound scratched. While their moxy and musicianship was laudable, the evening with Primus was lacking in only one thing: “Too Many Puppies.”