By Vlad T, Rock At Night Detroit and Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Live Review: PRIMUS-A Tribute to Kings Tour-Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, Florida-May 4, 2022
Primus has been a mainstay and vital presence in modern rock for over three decades.
Latter day counterparts to Bay-area surrealist recording artists the Residents, the trio has a well-deserved reputation for thrilling, athletic musicianship and conceptually ambitious material that thrills, confounds, but never bores.
Group front man bassist Les Claypool has openly acknowledged how he and his bandmates were inspired to get into music by prog rock legends Rush. With the demise of that Canadian trio, it makes sense for Primus to formally pay homage now as it itself reaches a similar historical loft.
And that’s what’s happening on the group’s current tour, which recently visited St. Petersburg’s prestigious Mahaffey Theater. The “A Tribute To Kings” tour sees Primus pair a set of its own classics with a separate set reprising Rush’s popular breakthrough LP “A Farewell To Kings.”
The band inflicted a sprawling evening of sensory saturation on a zealous audience of longtime fans and Rush devotees. To wit, more than a few punters donning pig masks were spotted. All knew what to expect from a Primus show—yet they were ravished by the execution as if it were their first time.
The hallmarks of classic Primus were all on display—Claypool’s quirky, sinister vocals, the staggering, persistent dialogue between Claypool’s bass acrobatics and guitarist Ler Lalonde’s high-wire harmonic counterpoints, and the relentlessly polyrhythmic Tim Alexander. The band’s most-recent release “Conspiranoid” sets the trio’s critical eye on this nightmarish world of illusions and obsession with conspiracy theories, and the live show provided a rich platform for the band to amplify on those themes.
The audio-visual examination of these themes presented the Mahaffey audience a metal-funk opera, rich in surrealist, hallucinatory images and characters. This was vividly represented in old favorite “Mr Krinkle”, which saw Claypool don a pig mask while manipulating a stand-up bass fronting a grotesque video cast of swine and fire eaters.
As thrilling and irreverent as the first set was, the ensuing set honoring Rush set up what could have been a daunting challenge: How to honor their—and most of the Mahaffey audience’s—heroes without being maudlin?
Easily up to the task of replicating the Toronto legends’ challenging and ambitious works, Primus succeeded in balancing its technical execution with a dignified reverence and celebration of the Rush originals. In the hands of a lesser group, clean rendition of these tracks might have been overwhelmed with self-congratulatory jubilation. Primus, however, gave the audience space to process the majesty of these classics and share in celebrating them equally.
“Closer To The Heart”, indeed.
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