Primus

Ah the nineties.
I am a 90s guy. I lived my twenties in those years and this is the music I am most attached. It’s personal, emotional, memories.
I hope when 80s mania will end (will it ever?) there will be a nineties revival. Yuck could be driving that, there are good signs. In the meanwhile, when I have the occasion, I can’t resist going back to the real thing.

I lived my teens in the eighties. This is probably the reason why I hate them.
Love and hate, it’s a bit strong I know, just to make my point clear.

The way the nineties brought guitars back into rock music was to me fresh air. Was actually what took me into music.

Either it happened in Seattle, in Manchester or in California it didn’t matter. The fact is that with the new decade the synth, plastic era of the eighties was stormed by the return of Gibson, Fender and Marshall amplification.

Much before Google+, even before internet, those times you had to declare yourself part of a circle.

Either you were into flannel shirts and follow Nirvana, SubPop and the Seattle scene; or you loved the post mod era and hang around into parka listening to Gallaghers’ Oasis or opted for bright colours as a dress scheme and LA hard funk scene was your music. Whatever you choose, the early nineties were all about guitars.

Despite I never put on bright colours and jeans + t-shirt is pretty much what I have been wearing for the last 35 years, I was more into the LA scene than the others. I listened to Brit Pop and…erm.. “grunge” a lot but I liked this more.
It probably started with Living Colour or the day I was introduced to Blood Sugar Sex Magik .

Love blossomed with Rage Against the Machine, though. They added politic activism and I loved the energy of the music and the innovation of Tom Morello guitar style.
As I loved Primus because of Les Claypool out of ordinary bass playing.
In Italy technique is considered a key element in judging music and I grew up there.

I haven’t seen many of Seattle’s band live, despite I now regret having missed those Nirvana gigs, I haven’t seen many Brit-Pop acts, actually my first Brit-pop live gig has been Pulp last May at Primavera sound, but I saw all of these Californian folks back in the years. Except one: Primus.

When I heard Primus were getting back together and touring, I bought a ticket straight away. I then started worrying the minute after.
Worrying because I haven’t been into their music anymore and their music isn’t that much into our times either.
I dislike revivalism and I am candid about reunions. I see them all as a way to cash a big cheque and build up a pension. There’s not an artistic drive in putting a band together when you’re approaching your 50s and you haven’t done a gig as a band in London in 14 years. There’s not rock’n’roll in it.

Nevertheless if it goes ahead, I have no problem. Transparency and honesty are the first bits. Do your job, I will come along to listen to the music I loved but, please, don’t build up a barely believable “artistic” reason.

All said, I wanted to listen to Les Claypool playing live once, before closing my 90s (and my youth altogether).
To see him with Primus instead of one of his myriad of side projects is a plus. Actually several pluses.

Larry “Ler” LaLonde on guitar.
Having those songs and not the side projects odd stuff.
The return of early drummer Jay Lane in the line-up. Yes, anyone would prefer Tim Alexander, the one credited on Primus best albums, but to have everything is impossible.

Time to head back to Brixton Academy on my journey back into my past.
On my way I was wondering which version of Primus to expect. My favourite Primus are the ones of the early nineties. The band of Suck on This, Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheeses. Those are Primus to me.
Humour, technique, creativity, madness. Frank Zappa meets Tom Waits. Circus meets Rock and Roll. Noisy guitar trying to cope with Claypool slapped bass, reinventing funk. Fun, personality and great music.

I never got my head into the Brown Album and Antipop. Despite Tom Morello cameos, those heavy-funk riffs go out of date after a couple of listening. I love Brain as a drummer but he gives his best when is contained by a strong character, as Tom Waits.

I had the answer at the very opening of the set. While I was still in the pit trying to catch a rare glimpse of light, Primus opened with two of the three singles from Sailing the Seas of Cheese.

Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers and the massive hit Tommy The Cat pleased the crowd. The first of Les Claypool bass solo was jaw-dropping. A must see even to the most uncompromising indie fan that has to “despise solos” in line with the alternative-music manifesto.

With no songs from Antipop and Pork Soda and many from Suck on This, Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese the intent is clear. Primus are looking back at their earlier material. Lucky me

There is a large amount of new tracks from Green Naugahyde, the new album coming out in September. At a first listening the tracks don’t differ too much from the favourite early period. As any of their stuff it needs to deposit and get used. Primus are not a pop band writing verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus songs.

With them, it is not even a matter of which song. Claypool is a clever person, he must perceive what music is in the air. Primus are so skilled they can play anything and transform it into a Primus song.
Their cover of Pink Floyd Have a Cigar is just an example.

Jay Lane seems to have a key role, he slows down the tempo.
So the concert explored more psychedelic, dreamy atmospheres. Songs got diluted into jam sessions and the public seem to love it. Judging from the (forbidden) surf-crowd attempted by old and young fans packing the sold-out academy, they are indeed.

John The Fisherman and Jerry Was a Race Car Driver are my highlights of an incredible night which contained many great moments.

After about 80 minutes of music, the encore was the icing on the cake. A storming medley with Here Come The Bastards, Pudding Time, Too Many Puppies and Is It Luck?
The closing track, I reckon the only from the Brown Album they played, Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread, is a bit unexpected. It wasn’t out of place but you want a gig to close on a high.

100+ minutes later people’s face are happily surprised by what they have just experienced.
Primus are the only band (I am aware of) that released a live album as debut. It took 22 years to me to confirm why. These three guys are an awesome live act.

I missed the last fast train to Cambridge, condemned to a very short sleep and another long night out, I sat on the slowest train ever eating a sandwich and reflecting on the origin of their weird songs’ titles.

To tired to find the solution, I fall asleep and leave it to historians.

Primus are expected to tour in Autumn the new album, Green Naugahyde, so stay tuned with them if you want to see a great show.

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Photo tip

I have managed to photograph Primus.
To get into the Brixton academy pit this night has been a chase that I wasn’t sure would happen until the show began.

My only contact for Primus didn’t manage to get me a photopass, declined it politely: “I’m really sorry but I’m not going to be able to sort out a pass – tickets are so limited and the gig is sold out. Sorry I can’t help”
I didn’t give up. I used a trick that sometime works some other doesn’t.

Trying to get shooting the main band through the support.

Getting a photo pass for a support act isn’t a tricky thing. Usually no one requires to photograph supports and supports are very keen on being photographed. I had a contact for Hot Head Show.

The hurdle here is that the support photopass rarely gives you access to the main act. Especially in a place such as the Brixton Academy that has a strict policy with photographers.

I tried. I had a ticket, I knew I was going to be there anyway.
I got easily through for the support.
But before the gig, via e-mail and telephone, both the press person and the tour manager called me to let me know my pass for the Hot Head Show wasn’t including Primus set. Tight and full list, no chances.
I said OK, I’ll shoot the support and enjoy the gig. I pointed out that with just the photos of the support there are few chances to have them published on a webzines. “Sorry mate, I can’t do anything”.

I arrive at the Brixton academy, enter the backstage door, ask for my photopass. I was hoping to be given a Primus photopass sticker. It happened, it’s rare photopass stickers are different.

I still believed my plan was right and there was a chance to sneak in the pit. Nowhere was written that I was allowed to photograph the support only. The security surely don’t have these kind of information.

I waited Hot Head Show to start, took my pics, finished, waited in the Brixton shell shaped stalls. When Primus were to star I walked in the pit, showed my photopass and I was in. No complaint. No one told me otherwise. To my surprise the pit wasn’t packed at all, there were only 3 or 4 of us.

Lights were the trickiest ever, the band standing far on the back. Telephoto territory, but I have made a teenage dream a reality.
Twenty years ago I was a Primus fan dreaming of seeing them one day in concert. Tonight I am shooting them in one of the temples of rock music.

Thanks to the Hot Head Show for that pass. They are also a great band which I strongly suggest, if you like Primus you will love them. This last picture breaks the rule of liveon35mm and is for them.

~ by Valerio on August 7, 2011.

2 Responses to “Primus”

  1. Don’t worry, I’m 57…. and I hate the 80s myself, since year 1980!
    In the ’90s (at least in the first part of the decade, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall) it looked like the Reagan Era was over.
    B*llsh*t. The ’80s are still here (i’s not a comeback, they have never quit).
    It looks like the western world has frozen into that era.
    Music, fashion… even Berlusconi (that’s for italian people).
    I know sooner or later this nightmare will fade away.
    And one day good intelligent music will be fashionable again.
    As for now, let’s listen to PRIMUS!

  2. I’m trying to get a press pass myself for Primus’s 10/11/11 show in Ann Arbor. I am a free-lance photographer and a Primus fan of 20yrs. Your story was inspiring. I’m really not sure where to start.. Trying to figure out how I’m going to do this! ;)

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