Primus at Iron City
Review by David Feltman
Catching one of your favorite bands on tour is always a treat, but catching one of its first performances on that tour is even better. A band, understandably, doesn’t have the same energy on the first couple of shows as they do 10 shows deep into a tour schedule. Luckily, Birmingham’s Iron City was the second stop for Primus after an opening set of shows in Las Vegas.
Expectations were high for the sold out show. Black Label Society sold out the same venue earlier in the month, but Primus brought out a fire hazard tier of “sold out.” The audience filled every available space upstairs and down. Just traversing one side of the venue to the other was quite literally a 10-minute ordeal of squeezing, pushing and apologizing. Fans pressed along the front of the stage barrier yelled out “Primus sucks,” in good-natured anticipation, but any heckling ceased when the lights went out and Les Claypool took the stage.
In the absence of any opening acts, Primus was afforded the luxury of being able to do whatever it wanted with its set. Claypool bantered at length with the crowd and the band experimented with its songs. Working through 30-plus years worth of hits, the band played new tracks like “Lee Van Cleef” and classics like “Jerry was a Race Car Driver.” The songs were all familiar but uniquely presented, leaving fans uncertain of what shape and direction their favorite songs might take.
Primus managed to comfortably fit a massive video screen and two large inflatable astronauts onto the modestly sized stage, giving a psychedelic visual flair to the head-trip of a performance. The band played for two-and-a-half hours with a short “Popeye” cartoon-filled intermission about a third of the way through. The performance was loose and natural. The veteran band handled the one-man show with ease, keeping the crowd engrossed. The audience was a steaming, sweaty, pulsating mosaic of metal head moshers, mohawked punks, doped up hippies sporting glow-in-the-dark bracelets, fist-pumping frat boys in Grateful Dead shirts and grey-haired geezers with ZZ Top beards.
For the encore, Claypool came out and playfully thumped out a couple of bars of “Sweet Home Alabama” only to be jeered. “Ok, ok,” laughed Claypool, “absolutely no pandering to the Alabama crowd.” He then started into “Sweet Home Alabama” again, amid more boos, before launching into “My Name is Mud” and “Space Farm” to close. The entire show was defined by light-hearted fun and a lot of good energy. While not every stop on this tour will be sans-opening act, any bill featuring Primus will insure a good time.