Primus’ signature quirkiness and exceptional musicianship has been its trademark for the past 20 years. Saturday’s performance at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel was an ass-kicking reminder of its unique (and sometimes bizarre) talents.
The band has been on tour with gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello for the past month but took a Las Vegas detour to see Canadian power trio Rush at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night, and subsequently melt faces afterward with a midnight show at The Joint. Inspired by their idol’s performance earlier in the evening, Primus put on an energetic performance that put the packed crowd in a frenzy.
The show kicked off with “Pudding Time,” but fans were truly welcomed by the second song of the set, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh.”
“So you thought you might like to go to the show/To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow/I got some bad news for you Sunshine/Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel/And he sent us along as a surrogate band,” Primus bassist Les Claypool sang ironically.
The space cadet was a prominent motif of the show, as two 20-feet-tall blow-up astronauts flanked the band. Throughout the performance, psychedelic images correlating to the music were projected over the faces of the spacemen. During the song “Southbound Pachyderm,” elephants jumping on trampolines were projected onto the astronaut’s helmets.
Further enhancing the trippy atmosphere was the cartoonish Claypool himself, whose moustache and glasses were reminiscent of the late Groucho Marx. Claypool employed a variety of bass guitars throughout the performance, including an electric stand-up bass guitar, a fretless six-string bass and a primitive one-string bass instrument called a Whamola, which he played while wearing a monkey mask for “Drums and Whamola Jam.”
Primus’ mainstay guitarist Larry Lalonde and drummer Jay Lane, who hadn’t performed with the band since 1988, joined Claypool onstage. The 22-year layoff did not affect the band’s chemistry, as Lane mastered the highly technical style for which Primus is known and respected.
However, talented musicians weren’t just limited to the stage. Four songs into the performance, Primus treated the audience to a cover of The Police’s “Behind My Camel” and dedicated it to Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who was in attendance.
But it was the last song that really got the crowd fired up when Primus launched into fan-favorite hit “Tommy the Cat” (which Claypool jokingly referred to as a Phish cover). The crowd responded with possibly one of the biggest and roughest mosh pits in the history of The Joint.
To top it off, Claypool inserted a bass guitar solo from his solo track “The Awakening” in the middle of “Tommy the Cat” in typical jam-band fashion familiar to Primus fans.
Even after the brutality of the mosh pit, the crowd wanted more, chanting “Primus sucks” -- a long-standing term of endearment from rabid Primus fans -- and the band came back onstage to perform “Grapevine” and “Too Many Puppies.”
Diehard fans weary of Primus’ new lineup need not be concerned, as the heart and soul of the band has been perfectly preserved. And as far as live performances go, this may be the best tour ever.