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Primus - Live 8/8/10
Some shows simply are not meant to be. Thursday's trip to Columbus to see Gogol Bordello and Primus was, unfortunately, one of them. Luckily for myself, I've seen both bands before, so I had relatively little to lose, outside of the $35 tickets, $7 parking, and $20 worth of gas it took to get to the show.

It started with the commute up, which takes 90 minutes on a good day, and two hours on a bad one. This time around, it took three hours. Within just ten miles of our destination, traffic ground to a standstill as highway construction reduced us from two lanes to one. We took a detour, and were doing fine, until traffic ground to a standstill as road construction reduced us from two lanes to one. By the time we arrived at the amphitheater, it was 9PM, and no one was on stage. That was because Gogol Bordello, half of the ticket I'd purchased, had already taken the stage, played a set, and left the stage. I knew it would happen by the time we were halfway to Columbus, and I almost felt like turning around and going home.

But hey, we were at the show, so why not enjoy Primus? It's the the third time I've seen them, and obviously the farthest departed from their glory days. Yet, somehow, the crowd was the largest I've ever seen for a Primus show. The appeal of Primus never ceases to amaze me. This is, by my math, a band that should be playing to crowds numbering in the low hundreds after twenty years of touring. They play some uncategorizable hybrid of funk and metal, dominated by Les Claypool's bass and topped off by Ler's atonal, never-the-right-note, never-the-chord-you-expect guitar playing. I think they're great, but it always shocks me that more than a few thousand people like them. The crowd was at capacity, likely in the neighborhood of four thousand, and they haven't put out a new album in something like a decade, and haven't recorded any new material in years. It boggles my mind.

The crowd was also as eclectic as any I've ever seen at a Primus show. Hippies, hipsters, music nerds, metalheads, and even a white-haired man in his fifties dressed in nice business clothes - every demographic seemed present. Hilariously enough, when I went to the bathroom, there was a little banter flying around, and someone said something to the effect of, "hippies don't know anything but who Jerry Garcia is!" The speaker then turned around to find himself chest to chest with a hippie, who asked him precisely what he was saying about hippies. Minutes of awkward and mutually drug-addled conversation followed in which the first speaker tried to convince the second that he was a hippie, too, at heart ("Look at my Humphries McGee shirt! I've been to twenty-five shows!"), and then, once they were presumably on the same page, he bitched about the pitfalls of being a hippie. "I mean, people assume, just because you're a hippie, that you do a bunch of acid. I mean, look, I like acid, and I do it a lot, but it just sucks how people stereotype you, man." Speaking of, I was practically bathed in a steady stream of second-hand marijuana smoke. I don't think I've ever been a show so rife with weed, and that includes my days doing the jam band thing.

So, minus the pot smoke, I was feeling relatively up when Primus took the stage, Les in a top hat and rather into the music, Ler a little low in the mix but still doing his crazy thing, and, unbeknownst to us at the time, original original Primus drummer Jay Lane behind the set. They played a few lesser-known songs, opening with Pudding Time. About four songs in, they started to play American Life, the first song of Primus's that I really liked, the one that got me into them, and one with a bass line that mesmerizes me to this day. And that, unfortunately, is where the evening took its last and perhaps most devastating dive.

Halfway through the song, Les more or less stopped playing as the rest of the band kind of went on, and he said something to the effect of, "so, it appears the tiny-penised one among you has reared its ugly foreskinned penis head." I was confused and trying to figure out what was going on. "One of you has decided to throw a beer bottle at me," he went on - and these are vague recollections, not direct quotes, for the record. I groaned, and the audience booed, and Les ripped into the thrower, saying that he hoped someone around him who had seen him throw would have an sentimental discussion with his rectum. It was hilarious, and the crowd cheered, but the damage had been done, and the show was half-ruined.

This is a long-standing pet peeve of Les's, and for good reason. Personally, I cannot fucking fathom the mindset of the kind of jackhole who would pay money to go see a band that they presumably like, and then proceed to throw a bottle of beer at the lead performer, potentially injuring him and damaging his equipment, not to mention fucking up the song in progress. I suspect I'm not stupid enough to ever comprehend said mentality, but it, sadly, is quite common among Primus fans, it would seem. At the very first Frog Brigade show I went to, someone threw something at Les at some point - a cigarette butt, perhaps - and he responded similarly. I heard a few concert bootlegs of similar things happening, as well. At one Frog Brigade show a little further on, he remarked that he liked the hippie crowd, and he liked playing for the hippie crowd, because they danced, while Primus fans threw shit at him.

I think he handled it well, and he tore the man a new asshole (verbally), but I almost wonder if responding at all doesn't provoke more such incidents in the future. Jackholes often seem to do dickheaded shit just to get a reaction, and I wonder if that's not what's occurring, here. Regardless, I can't blame him for being pissed off. Les continued to say that getting beer all over his gear knocked him out of his head space a little, and that he took such actions as a sign that people weren't enjoying the song, so they stopped playing American Life, much to my disappointment. I felt pretty shitty for Les, really, and from then on I'd cringe and cross my fingers whenever I saw a can of beer fly into the air. Speaking of, the pit looked like a wasteland of humanity. Beer cups were being thrown on a minute by minute basis; I'm surprised more didn't hit him.

Primus picked up with a cover of an eccentric Police song, Behind My Camel, and an understandably pissed Les slapped his chords hard and perhaps even a bit off time. They continued to play a set rather heavy with odd favorites, eschewing most of the, uh, radio favorites from the Primus catalog. At one point he brought out the Whamola and jammed with Jay Lane, and at another point Eugene Hutz and a few other members of Gogol Bordello came out and helped Primus out with a cover of Tom Waits' Big in Japan. They played Harold of the Rocks, Here Comes the Bastards, John the Fisherman, Frizzle Fry, and even finished American Life. It was a loose, rocking concert, with the band jamming out all of their songs, playing nothing exactly like it was on the album. You could tell, however, that Claypool just wasn't into it anymore.

At another point late into the evening, he once again more or less stopped the music, and explained to us all that the beer thing was really bugging him still. He said that this seemed like a nice crowd for the most part, and it was a lovely venue, and a lovely evening, and that he shouldn't have to put up with this horseshit, and neither should we. "People keep asking me, 'when are you going to do some more Primus, Les?' 'When are you going to do more Primus?' And this is why I don't do it anymore," he continued (rough quotes, again). "People don't throw shit at me at my other shows. There's always someone with too much testosterone, so much that it creeps up into their brain and fucks the whole show up. And so, I'd say to those people: stop buying my shit. Stop listening to my music, stop buying my CDs, stop coming to my shows."

The crowd cheered wildly at that, and I suppose that was some consolation to him, but it was probably small consolation. The Primus crowd, eclectic as it is, large as it is, die-hard as it is, has a significant portion of fuck-heads in it. If there were any doubt, trying to get out of the parking lot and being aggressively denied any help in merging confirmed this. I wouldn't be surprised if Les gets hit with another bottle of beer on this tour, and I wouldn't be surprised if Primus doesn't tour again for a long while. One gets the impression, looking at Les's more recent work, watching and listening to him play live with Primus, listening to him rant at the assholes in the audience, that he has moved past this. Primus is in the past. It's not his musical future. It's over, he's not invested in it anymore, and sadly and ironically, it's the fans - or at least some of them - that have helped make that the case. I feel bad for him, really. It's the kind of show that breaks one's will to see shows.


 
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