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Prog-funk faithful turn out for Les Claypool and Primus

Primus tacked a date onto the end of their current tour to play the inaugural show of the Niagara River Rocks Concert Series at Gratwick Park in North Tonawanda on Sunday evening. It was a free show. Needless to say, the place was packed. Though no official numbers were available, a sea of people greeted Primus as the three-piece avant garde funk and prog-rock trio took the stage.

Though the lengthy tour behind the band’s latest album, “Green Naugahyde,” was slated to end in Toronto on Saturday evening, the band apparently couldn’t resist one more go-round for the faithful. Thousands of them turned out to urge bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane on toward the finish line. The energy level maintained by the crowd during the show was unflaggingly high. And the band did respond in kind, playing a lengthy set of tunes from throughout its 25-year career.

Though Primus’ music defies easy classification, its propensity for killer grooves played in odd time signatures positions it as a prog-funk band. When you add in Claypool’s beautifully bizarre narratives, most of them concerning the exploits of scoundrels, society’s outcasts, capitalist swine and just plain freaks, you end up with a sound that is both idiosyncratic and incredibly powerful.

Since this was a tour-ending show, Primus was uber-tight, and the interplay among the virtuosic Claypool and his bandmates was palpable throughout. The band opened with “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers,” a slippery, funky affair, and from the outset, the crowd was way into it. Flanked on either side of the stage by massive inflatable astronauts, and with a huge projection screen hung above drummer Lane, Primus appeared as a troop of mildly sinister outcasts. For the majority of the set, the band was backlit only, and shadows abounded, creating a psychedelic atmosphere.

Plenty of “Green Naugahyde” tunes peppered the set, with the prog-funk of “Jilly’s On Smack” – a sad and cautionary tale, but yet somehow, a celebratory tune – and “Moron TV,” a hilarious and on-point condemnation of contemporary American television viewing habits. (“There’s gotta be more on TV/than just moron TV,” spat Claypool.)

“Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” from the band’s seminal “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” release, earned a rapturous response from the crowd, as did the geographically appropriate “Over the Falls.”

Primus is one of the most consistently inventive bands to have emerged from the early ’90s alternative music movement. The group combines instrumental virtuosity, the inventive arrangements and surprising time-signature shifts of progressive rock and the sardonic brilliance and ascerbic social observations of Frank Zappa in an incredibly powerful way. The Niagara River Rocks venue allowed the band to let its freak flag fly in a major way. A show to savor and remember, then.

Music Review


Part of Cornerstone’s Niagara River Rocks Concert Series. Sunday evening in Gratwick Riverside Park, River Road, North Tonawanda.