Published Jun 16, 2012Lord only knows what prompted the fabulously appointed Orpheum, home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, to book "an evening with" such an surreal alternative rock band as Primus. The band's faithful were on their feet throughout the show, chain-smoking joints, standing on seats, and screaming expletives and classic "Primus sucks" jeers, with several bad eggs aggressively shoving security while being escorted out. Yet, for all the nervous energy and seething anxiety of the crowd, Primus's performance itself was more suited to a nice, sit-down show.
With guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde, drummer Jay Lane and distinctive bassist/vocalist Les Claypool all in their mid- to late 40s, their years of experience were palpable. Set in front of modular visuals plucked from the Internet, stop-motion animation and their own videos on a screen bookended by inflatable astronauts, the power trio put on a veritable clinic for their respective instruments, each of them demonstrating their technical brilliance through interpretations of the band's storied catalogue. With the group often taking liberties to add extended solos and reggae breakdowns, Primus's live renditions of fan faves like "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "Southbound Pachyderm" went far beyond the fetishized nostalgia of their recordings into uncharted, cerebral realms.
Nevertheless, for all the undeniable talent on display, Primus seemed rather withdrawn. Claypool and LaLonde never drifted far from their arsenal of pedals, and Claypool would often turn his back to the crowd to play to the rack gear or visuals behind him. The only time they seemed to be in the moment was when the otherwise taciturn Claypool said hello to Vancouver and, acknowledging his distinctly grungy appearance, joked that LaLonde was wearing a wig from Seattle. The rest of the time, despite their mind-blowing chops, they were as casual as cats lounging in the sun.
Oddly enough, that moment of banter was the most emphatic Claypool's vocals were the entire evening, and the crowd was consistently louder than the music most of the time. Altogether, Primus seemed rather introverted, and even Claypool donning a pig mask to work his Whamola for "Mr. Krinkle" seemed pedestrian. Granted, the entire experience was bizarre, and these guys have nothing to prove, but they didn't do a whole lot to make this night feel special.