Tuesday night at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, NY a near sold out crowd is anxiously waiting for California-based rock band Primus to take the stage. Unlike many rock shows, this one has no opening act. It is two and half hours of Les Claypool, master of the bass, Larry “Ler” Lalonde on guitar and Tim “Herb” Alexander banging drums. The lights dim and the crowd jumps to their feet. A familiar tune starts pumping through the speakers. Yes, it is the “Clown Dream” sequence by Danny Elfman from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure setting the tone for the evening: An adventure that at times almost feels so surreal that it could be a dream.
Primus is currently on tour for their new album Primus and the Chocolate Factory. The album is a creative re-work of the “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” Soundtrack. The tour has been designed so that they open the show with an hour plus long set filled with their hits. From the second they hit the stage and tore right into “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” the fans were on their feet, dancing up and down the aisles and in the balcony. Les Claypool’s calculated, yet seemingly effortless bass riffs are clearly designed to get people moving. The show was like a giant dance party from beginning to end. Several Oompa Loompa and Willy Wonka look alike’s were dancing through the crowd. While the party raged on the members of Primus never seemed to lose their focus.
I had a chance to talk to some fans before the show: “I saw Primus at the Landmark years ago. I love this place it’s so beautiful and it’s Primus so you know things are going to get weird, but they’re awesome” said Melissa Heneka from Baldwinsville, NY. Weird was an accurate description. There was a visit from Mr. Krinkle, a horse head propped on a mic stand on stage,little orange people and other unusual masks and props. Primus showcased their talents with their fan favorites: “Frizzle Fry,” “My Name is Mud” and ended their first set with “Over the Electric Grapevine”.
The band took a short break and then…”Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, the Chocolate Room.”
“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” Primus, with the help of the Fungi Ensemble, took the music and the video from the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to a whole other realm of imagination. The stage set included lollipops, mushroom-shaped candies, Oompa Loompa dressed stage hands and a huge video screen that played re-edited images from the movie flawlessly synched to the music. Les Claypool showed that he is a master of the stage by playing parts of the set on an upright bass. Les added an eerie, even creepy element to the songs, “The Candy Man”, “Lucky Charlie” and “The Wondrous Boat Ride.” He brought some haunting flair to the song “Cheer Up Charlie” by mixing in a methodical, maniacal laugh.
“Little surprises around every corner but nothing dangerous.” A highlight of the set was the appearance of the oversized Oompa Loompas who danced in time to Les’s renderings of each of the children’s demises.The playful, upbeat version of “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” is still stuck in my head twenty-four hours later. Larry Lalonde had everyone cracking up with his version of “I Want it Now.” The set ended with a stunning still shot of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. “We are the music makers and We are the dreamers of dreams.” That quote sums up the night.
The audience was still revved up as Primus took the stage for the third time for their encore performance that included “Fisticuffs” and “Here Come the Bastards.” Primus is the whole package, entertaining, talented and a band that appears to truly enjoy what they do. With a packed venue full of loyal fans, Primus proved that they are the “Golden Ticket”.
Written by: Kelly Besaw Photos by: Chris Beesaw