Primus Gets Weird and Chocolatey at the Masonic Auditorium: Review

Concert Review

click to enlarge Willy Claypool - JOE KLEON / SCENE
Willy Claypool
Primus shows tend to be extraordinary experiences, and the band's latest trip into the world of Willy Wonka makes that even more true. The band set up shop last night at the Masonic Auditorium, dividing their time between an old-school set and a more theatrical spin on their latest album, Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. 

The main event was indeed the larger-than-life wormhole performance of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack. The band returned for the second set of the night bedecked in various states of Wonka. Bassist Les Claypool, of course, took up the mantle of the man himself, donning purple suit and manic wig. A cellist and percussionist joined Primus as the Fungi Ensemble. 

Behind the band, warped video loops from the original movie played, lending every note an air of the hallucinogenic. During "Candy Man," for instance, the scene where all the children clamor for Wonka Bars became a nightmarish dance. Later, bizarre loops of Veruca Salt eating chocolates out of a mushroom flickered insanely. 

(See a recording of "Pure Imagination" from last fall here.)

Despite not being the band's most exciting album — as an album — the music really came to life onstage, where the visual stage elements mingled with eerie pedal effects and, of course, the twisted video throwback. Musically, the charm and brightness of the original soundtrack is replaced by Claypool's thrumming and wobbling bass vibrations and his twangy vocals.

Everyone grows up pretty much loving the Gene Wilder movie; Primus just made it a whole lot more intense. (I thought to myself that the crazed video loops and the music kind of told a different story, one still grounded in Roald Dahl's sense of childlike wonder but also drenched in the fear and psychedelia that pure imagination can inspire.)

To warm everyone up, the band performed a straight-up Primus set to begin the show. They blended tunes from across their catalog, landing on some fan favorites and some more under-the-radar fare. A first-set musical highlight came in the jam out of "American Life," as Claypool led the trio on a rhythmically tight excursion into a minor-key forest. And when Claypool fired up the eerie intro drone to "My Name is Mud," the crowd went utterly apeshit. 

Personally speaking and despite being a fan since high school, this was my first time seeing Primus, and it was incredible. A visual note, not to be missed: Les Claypool has always done this thing where he'll start jamming and then just sort of walk around in a circle near his mic. He did it a lot last night, and it was terrific.

Check out a slideshow of photos from the show.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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