Primus Releases “Green Naugahyde”

Posted on November 1, 2011


Entertainment | Ben Vizzachero

From the very first song on the very first album of the avant-garde, funk-metal band Primus, we hear that “to defy the laws of tradition is a crusade only of the brave.” 21 years later, after an almost ten-year hiatus from recording, Primus returns with a new album and a new tour to support it. On the first of October they enchanted Upper Darby’s Tower Theater with that deviously funky presence, attracting an eclectic crowd and few of the  traditional metal-heads you’d expect.
With no opening act, unusual for a Primus concert, they jumped right into a first set comprised of their most enduring hits from earlier albums. The crowd surged, cheered, and head-banged as front man and bass-virtuoso Les Claypool urged them on with his thumping, twangy, percussive technique that has earned him so much fame. Guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde’s screeching tones pierced through the crowd noise powerfully, tapping into instinctual human emotions like the moans of a dying cat, but in a good way. Drummer Jay Lane, playing with Primus for the first time since the early 90s, brings back the style that he lent to Primus’ earlier sound, with his intricate hi-hat patterns and driving intensity.
Highlights from the first set include the sinisterly energetic “Is It Luck?,” the macabre “Bob,” and one of Primus biggest hits, “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver.”  However, the band felt strangely off that night. They barely addressed the audience and kept the stage lights low. Thus, the audience’s attention was more focused on the strange video feed projected behind the band, displaying psychedelic visual interpretations of the songs they played. Perhaps this newer Primus has moved away from showmanship in an effort to create a more multimedia-based performance.

The cover of Green Naugahyde highlights the avant-garde style of Primus, who are currently touring to promote the new album. Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia foundation.

After Intermission, which consisted of four black-and-white Popeye cartoons for the audience’s viewing pleasure, Primus played their entire new album, Green Naugahyde. After the atmospheric introduction “Prelude to a Crawl,” Claypool’s bass dominated the soundscape, complemented by the piercing, syncopated guitar lines and deceptively melodic drum fills that create “Hennepin Crawler.” It was clear from the onset that certain things have not changed about Primus: they still offer nonsensical lyrics, they still retain the unconventional “lead bass and rhythm guitar” arrangement, and they still rock. However, Claypool’s own personal sound, nurtured through two solo albums and countless side projects, has come to overpower those of the other band members.

The album’s third track, “The Last Salmon Man,” is more reminiscent of early Primus, complete with its nautical-themed lyrics. This dirge-like ditty is followed by “Eternal Consumption Engine,” a fun and silly song, admittedly somewhat cheesy as a whole. It reminds us what happens when that unique “Primus” sound is laid on too thick: it becomes meaningless.
The album regains energy with the deliciously funky “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” perhaps the best song on the album. The next few tracks are also great, especially the eerily driving “Jilly’s On Smack” (penned by LaLonde) and the stomping, funky “Lee Van Cleef,” played on Claypool’s signature resonator bass. The next two tracks, “Moron TV” and “Green Ranger,” demonstrate Primus’s strong Rush influence. Then, the high-energy, highly-enjoyable “HOINFODAMAN,” a tongue-in-cheek commentary on advertising in music, is an energetic pinnacle to the album. The album winds down with “Extinction Burst,” a decent but not especially memorable track, followed by a brief atmospheric closer entitled “Salmon Men.”
The concert did not end there, however. For the encore, Primus whipped out an unexpected rendition of “Here Come the Bastards” followed by the especially enduring single from their first album, “Pudding Time.” Even as the house lights came on after the almost three-hour show, I found myself wanting more.

Overall, Primus has exceeded my expectations. The new album is far from the half-hearted attempt at rekindling an old flame I thought it would be; it is a legitimate and respectable work that is seriously enjoyable. Yet Claypool’s dominant position in song writing has only been bolstered, and Primus’ unique oddity keeps them popular amongst a small fan base. Pick up Green Naugahyde if you’re a Primus fan looking for some more great material or someone seeking music that is heavy and eerie, but funky.

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