Attempting to describe Primus’ show at the Fillmore Silver Spring is like trying to describe an elephant (or southbound pachyderm, if you will) to a blind man. Instead, we’ll attempt to break down a very complex, hugely entertaining show into ten string cheese-sized pieces.
1) The show was in 3-D. As fans filed into the auditorium they were given standard issue 3-D glasses. While the 3-D imagery wasn’t as well-defined as, say, Avatar, it was incredible to see faucets flying through the air as the band opened with “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers,” or cheese hovering in front of your face during “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver.” Throughout the evening dots or lines of light would dance and swirl in front of the 2-D imagery projected on the screen, most effectively in “Moron TV” as multicolored shimmering lines jumped off of footage of old Clutch Cargo films, and during the first encore, “HOINFODAMAN,” when a five sided 3-D tunnel managed to give the illusion that you were really travelling into it.
It’s the rare band that could make this gimmick work; they have to be skilled and entertaining enough that the 3-D is an added bonus, not the whole show, and Primus has enough talent for four bands. Les Claypool is arguably one of the greatest bassists of all time, and his almost inhuman skill with his instrument made him just as entertaining to watch as the bubbles flying by your face or the 3-D close-ups of insects. The effects simply augmented what would have been a spectacular show without them.
2) The show was in 4.0 Surround Sound. Speakers were placed strategically in a square around the concert hall, so the sound came from all directions, not just in front of you. While it was amazing to listen to, it only worked if you were inside the “square” created by the four sets of speakers. The difference was noticeable, and the effect was fantastic. However, there was the…
3) Issue with two microphones. Claypool utilized two microphones during the evening, each on the same stand. One sounded fine, the other completely (and deliberately) distorted his voice and was a few hundred decibels too quiet. Even fans that knew the words to every song were having trouble singing along with him. It’s the only complaint about this concert, and it’s a small one.
4) Astronauts. Looking at you. Two large inflatable astronauts stood on either side of the stage as real human faces that looked eerily like John Malkovich were projected onto the helmets to give them impression that they were looking at you. Their eyes were constantly moving and scanning the crowd, and at times, they appeared to look into the balcony, at the projection screen, at the band, and into your soul. After a while it became highly disconcerting, but that might have been because of the…
5) Weed, and lots of it. Fans at a standard Primus show are known to indulge a bit (as Claypool sings in “DMV,” “When I need relief, I spell it THC”); the addition of 3-D visuals and intense surround sound meant that there was more smoke than at a Snoop Dogg concert, or even a Grateful Dead show at that OTHER Fillmore Theater.
6) Jams. Claypool has had some fun at the expense of jam bands, most notably his 2006 mockumentary Electric Apricot. Yet the band put together some fantastic expanded jams throughout the night, most notably on the instrumental “Hamburger Train,” which of course started out with footage of an insane-looking Paul Reubens asking Tommy Chong (from Up In Smoke), “You’re the guy from the hamburger train, right?” A 3-D train chugged onto (and off of) the screen as vivid rainbow colors shimmered around it. As he had done several times throughout the night, Claypool (who was also wearing 3-D glasses) turned his back on the audience and watched the show right along with us.
7) Fans dressed as penguins, giraffes, and any number of other animals. Claypool has always had affection for animals, so much so that fans like to dress as animals for his shows. Looking at the penguins and giraffe, Claypool joked “So we’ve got three poultry and…whatever you’d call a giraffe if you ate it.” (“Fish,” deadpanned guitarist Larry LaLonde.) Claypool himself donned his beloved pig mask as he played upright bass on “Glass Sandwich.”
8) Popeye cartoons. During the 20-minute intermission, three black and white Popeye cartoons were shown, leading to a small debate about what military rank Popeye achieved, or if he was even in the military at all. The possibility of Olive Oyl being an orthodox Jew was also discussed (long skirts, frequently wears hats, dates sailors, etc.)
9) A fantastic set list. There was something for everyone among Primus’ 22-songs. They played several songs off 2011’s Green Naugahyde, the most entertaining being “Lee Van Cleef” which featured imagery of the grizzled actor along with 3-D landscapes of the Old West, and “Eyes of the Squirrel,” during which crimson-tinted images of feeding squirrels were shown. It’s amazing how evil a squirrel can look when a crazed man is yelling that “the eyes of the squirrel are watching.” That might also have something to do with point (5), however. The band mixed in some older songs (a huge cheer went up as a 3-D version of the head-in-the-frying-pan cover of Frizzle Fry was shown and the band launched into the title track) and some rare songs – the band hadn’t done “Hats Off” live until this tour.
10) Last chance to see them for a while. The 3-D tour runs through the end of the year, but Claypool has indicated the band isn’t working on new material. Given the myriad side projects Claypool keeps juggling, this might have been your only chance to see them for a while, in any dimension.
In closing, to use the most frequently heard term as the crowd exited the arena: “Whoa.”