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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

GIG REVIEW: Primus & The Dean Ween Group - The Palais, Melbourne, April 15, 2018

Primus & The Dean Ween Group
The Palais, Melbourne
April 15, 2018

Few bands exemplify what was great about the music industry in the '90s quite like Primus.

There is no other era in music in which this San Francisco trio could have been as successful as they have been. They're a bass-fronted band that blended rock, metal, funk, psych, country and jazz, often in bizarre ways. They sound like no other band, before or since. They played songs, delivered in Les Claypool's idiosyncratic nasal twang, about the joys of fishing, hungry and horny cats, and a woman with a pet beaver. Nothing about that screams "radio-friendly unit shifter".

But thanks to the likes of Nirvana, who stood on the shoulders of giants and helped kick down the previously heavily fortified wall between the "mainstream" and "alternative music", bands such as Primus were able to get swept up in the alt-rock gold rush that followed. They signed to a major label and had top 10 albums in the US. They played on popular TV shows and got significant airplay. They toured the world and played high up the bill of huge festivals. No other era of music would have allowed a band as wonderfully eccentric as Primus to flourish like they did. No other era would have afforded them the level of fame they received. Thank the gods for the '90s.

No matter how you describe Primus' music - "psychedelic polka", "funk-metal", "thrash-funk", "experimental rock", "a post-punk Rush" - it's most definitely not for all tastes. Of all the acts to emerge from the '90s and make hay in the alternative heyday, Primus are the least likely lads. They are the great musical underdogs - they were the oddest of the odd who arrived at a remarkable time in musical history where being odd was not only an asset, but it was extremely desirable.

One of the only other bands that could compete with Primus in the weirdness stakes was Ween. So having The Dean Wean Group opening for Claypool and co at The Palais on a rainy Sunday night was perfection - a celebration of peak '90s strangeness that brought a bunch nostalgic Gen-Xers (90 per cent male who most likely smoked weed in high school) out in force.

Deaner, joined by two of his Ween offsiders and an extra guitarist, opened with This Heart Of Palm from his new album rock2, before blasting through one of Ween's brownest latter-period cuts My Own Bare Hands. The one-two punch of these two songs summed up what was in store - lots of lengthy guitar jams (Waste Station 9, The Ritz Carlton) and a bit of Ween-style irreverence (Fingerbangin'). The set culminated in Claypool himself joining the band on stage for a couple of Ween classics in The Mollusk (which found Deaner in surprisingly good voice) and The Rift. All in all it was an enjoyable set of jam rock, better summarised in this piece by Double J's Dan Condon (which makes me somewhat sad because of its opening line).

Deaner, Dave Dreiwitz and Claypool performing The Rift to close The Dean Ween Group's set.

And then it was into the main feast, which opened with Larry "Ler" LaLonde's guitar-as-factory-whistle call to kick off Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers.

"I didn't realise we were going to be playing to a seated audience," Claypool said. "If I'd known that I wouldn't have written such a rockin' setlist." It was a little hard to believe given Primus played this very venue back in 2011 but it had the desired effect and we were all on our feet.

The set was indeed rocking, comprising almost every pre-Brown Album single. It made for a hit-heavy and enjoyable cross-section of their career - three songs from Pork Soda, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, and Tales From The Punchbowl, as well as a couple from Frizzle Fry. Wynona's Big Brown Beaver was a highlight, as was the war-themed medley of Too Many Puppies and Sgt Baker.

Green Naugahyde cut Moron TV and the new album's The Trek were played for the only time on the tour. We were also treated to new album tracks The Seven and The Storm, which sat nicely in the setlist, being well suited to the long spacey jams their live sets are renowned for.

The visuals were the best of any Primus tour to date, utilising five big screens to show snippets of film clips or images from the kids' book The Rainbow Gnomes which their new album The Desaturating Seven is based on. The only downside was the band were largely kept in darkness for the show - good luck to anyone trying to figure out how Ler or Les do what they do.

While it would have been nice to hear a lot more of Claypool's vocals and a tad more bass definition in the mix, the show was deeply satisfying, all the more so for the appearance of Dean Ween to help jam out the encore Southbound Pachyderm.

Deaner and Les jam out a lengthy version of Southbound Pachyderm.

The hit-heavy set may have had some fans lamenting the lack of surprises - Welcome To The World was probably the deepest cut in the setlist - but that was the set we got in 2011 as a Soundwave sideshow. The 2018 show felt like the big reward for a seven-year wait. And it's a pretty safe bet a good proportion of Sunday night's crowd were there in 2011. Primus fans are fans for life. I'm sure most of us will be back to do it all again in a few years time (fingers crossed).

A final thought: it would be great if Primus finally started playing some stuff from Antipop, but we can't have it all now, can we?

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