Seeing Primus 22 years after they first played Santa Cruz is a far different band that played that legendary show at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall. They still delivered tight, punchy, funk-driven grooves for almost two hours Saturday night at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium that sent their fans bouncing across the floor. But now it is broken up by lengthy jams, and dark, moody rhythms.
All during the career of Primus, the East Bay trio has recorded exactly what they have wanted, leaving considerations for popular tastes out of their creative process. That is the charm of Primus. It’s also the challenge.
Primus showed great maturity, evolving from the funk thrash band that burst out of the clubs of the Bay Area, to a stunning jam band that has merged the improv world of Phish and the heavy progressive rock of King Crimson.
The sound was full and clean, perfectly mixed for the old hall. Their playing matched if not exceeded the quality of the production. Bassist and band leader Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane are all accomplished and gifted musicians, and they had no trouble showing it.
At times during one of the many extended jams you got the feeling this would be how a band like Cream or even Zeppelin would sound like if they were brought up today.
The only problem with the jam interludes was that it broke any momentum generated by the power groove of the bouncier songs from the band's catalog.
Primus set the tone for the evening with a long, brooding version of "South Bound Pachyderm," complete with a 10-minute jam. Four songs in they really hit stride with the new song "Moron TV" from the very adventurous recent album Green Naugahyde. They then even stepped it up a notch with a blistering version of "Frizzle Fry" from the 1990 album of the same name.
But each time the band and crowd started to really gel, a long jam would interrupt the feeling. They are great musicians, and they can play, but a Primus show has always leapt ahead of other bands with the slappy bass of Claypool leading his cohorts into funk thrash passages.
Following another great new song, "Tragedy is Coming," Claypool brought out the upright bass for a moody and slow interlude with all back light from the stage, showing just the silhouettes of the band members. Then, still on the upright, he led the band through a tense reading of another new song, the anti-drug "Jilly’s on Smack," again with an extended jam there was a lot of tension built up, but not enough release.
Until they launched to the classic "John the Fisherman." Then both band and crowd got to stretch out and move like we knew from that old day of yore. Backed with the powerful metronomic "My Name is Mud," the old band was back.
As if to reward the crowd for it’s collective patience during the jamming, they were treated to a set closer of "Tommy the Cat" and an encore of "March of the Bastards."