Beautiful weather, a beautiful venue and a blue moon all worked in harmony Friday night to provide the perfect setting for Primus’ Cooperstown stop. Brewery Ommegang, snuggled in among the southern hills near Cooperstown, has proven itself as a premier upstate concert venue over the past several years, attracting such artists as The Pixies, TV on the Radio, The Decemberists, Bonnie Raitt, Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturgill Simpson just this season. Primus and Dinosaur Jr. added to that stellar lineup this past Friday, packing the grounds yet again.
Primus has enlisted the talents of 90s alt-rock brethren Dinosaur Jr. and newcomers, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger to accompany them on this summer-long shed tour.
The night began interestingly enough as we pulled into the lot. There, with his unmistakable gray locks barely being tamed by a hat, was Mr. J Mascis riding a bicycle along the road fronting Brewery Ommegang. This sighting established the night as one that will be remembered.
John and Yoko Ono Lennon’s son, Sean, fronts The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and the sounds the band produces are like those of his old man’s band but with a touch of psychedelic flair not similar to The Flaming Lips. The band breezed through a brief set of six songs while Lennon paused to enthusiastically thank Primus for the opportunity to be a part of this tour. Opening slots on this tour as well as for Beck previously will prove this band has the chops to be a headliner soon and the crowd reaction to the band’s set seemed to confirm that.
Dinosaur Jr., much like the headliner Primus, is very difficult to categorize and as such, can be an acquired taste. During the course of one set, the sound can go from classic rock riffs to punk rage to shoe-gazing pop. Thus is the intrigue of this band and why it is a perfect compliment to tour with Primus.
Dinosaur Jr’s set was composed of many of their biggest hits, which included “Start Choppin,'” “Out There,” “Feel the Pain” and one of its more recent singles, “Watch the Corners.” Of particular interest was the fact that the “frontman” of the band wasn’t the one in the spotlight the majority of the set. Drummer Murph was the recipient of the lighting love while Mascis worked his quiet-loud riffage in darkness.
The set’s high point was a loping distorted cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” which Dinosaur Jr originally recorded for a compilation album in 1989 but decided to release itself. The highlight for me was when my ten-year old daughter grabbed my hands, stood on my feet and proceeded to lead me in a daddy-daughter dance. And while it may be an unorthodox song to have as a father-daughter dance at a wedding, if my daughter’s reaction to it on this night is any indication, this may just be the one we dance to someday.
Sentimentality aside, the Boston-bred crew ripped through their final number, the Bug-era “Budge” and then quietly slipped into the night, making way for the evening’s headliners.
Primus is just coming off touring their “Primus and the Chocolate Factory,” which had the band running through their own version of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack, released last October. Much of the stage set remains from that tour and the merchandise tent was heavy on the Chocolate Factory theme, however, scant attention was paid to that album on this night. Instead, Primus rolled through a lengthy set of their best-known tunes.
The trio entered stage right to the familiar refrain of “Primus Sucks!” from the adoring crowd. Primus is the type of band where there is rarely a middle ground. It is either loved or hated. That being said, the large crowd on hand this night made no bones about which side of the fence they strode. Primus is who they came to see and Primus delivered.
Opening with the lead single from its debut album, “John the Fisherman,” Les Claypool, Larry “Ler” LaLonde and Tim “Herb” Alexander, who appears to be fully recovered from a 2014 heart attack, set the bar high for the remainder of the night.
While remaining true to set lists from previous shows on this tour, Primus still managed to keep the feel fresh while pulling out old classics such as “Harold of the Rocks,” “Mr. Krinkle” and “Spegetti Western.”
In his intro to “Over the Falls”, Claypool, motioning to the hop bines at the back edge of the venue, likened the hops necessary in the brewing of beer to that of grapes to wine, something the experienced vintner knows a thing or two about. Claypool also noted the beautiful blue moon that was hovering behind the hills and broke into an impromptu “Blue Moon” to the crowd’s amusement. Claypool was in comedic form this night.
Recent Green Naugahyde track “Jilly’s on Smack” began with a King Crimson-style swirling guitar intro and turned into an extended jam vehicle for LaLonde to display his unique fretwork while Alexander added some tribal beats. This segued into the “Drums and Whamola” portion of the set where Alexander and Claypool (donning his pig-face mask) dueled as psychedelic images displayed on the backstage screen.
No show at Ommegang is complete without the requisite fireworks display over the enormous illuminated fermenters. The soundtrack to the display was provided by an extended version of “Southbound Pachyderm” to tremendous effect. To me, this was the highlight of the long night.
Forgoing a normal encore, the band continued playing until the house lights came up, finishing strongly with “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “My Name is Mud,” “Electric Grapevine” and “Too Many Puppies,” which also included a “Hello Skinny” tease.
Primus is playing with a renewed vigor these days. This is a trio of excellent musicians who complement each other perfectly. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but when I witness them perform, I’m reminded of another trio of excellent musicians with a quirky lead vocalist who were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.