Unpretentious art rock. Never in my life have I thought I would see an act that could realistically fit into that category but Primus’ two-set extravaganza at the Summit Pavilion in the Grand Sierra Resort perfectly captured the moniker and then some.
With a first set that harkened back to the band’s roots of a three-piece alt funk-metal machine, Primus thrived. For more than an hour the group played before a minimalist backdrop and tore through fan favorites such as “My Name is Mud” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” to an absolutely enthralled crowd of still-dusty-playa-folk fresh from their week at “home.” Unassuming, unpretentious and unfettered with over-the-top bullshit, Primus was able to captivate an audience of people that spent the last week staring at almost nothing but over-the-top bullshit.
Les Claypool, a superb showman, joked with the crowd about Burning Man and “shirtcocking” throughout both sets. He even lightheartedly called out a less-than-enthused crowd member as someone who “looks like he should be in Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
His jovial attitude in conjunction with the stripped down stage aesthetics and straight-ahead performance proved to be a perfect yet antonymic opening act to the band’s cinematic second set.
Late last year, Primus released a reimagining of the 1971 soundtrack to Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The second set was dedicated to material off of the album as the group performed as Primus & The Chocolate Factory with The Fungi Ensemble.
The Fungi Ensemble included percussionist Mike Dillon and cellist Sam Bass; both were a welcome addition and added a necessary cinematic effect. The addition of the more symphonic instruments didn’t make the second set any less rowdy than the first. In fact, the entire performance carried a new intensity with the addition of busy stage lighting and warped video loops of the film being played between two enormous mushrooms that had been moved onto the stage during intermission.
The performance took on an almost hallucinogenic air and the room was considerably more electric because of it.
Even with the army of LED lights and stage props, Claypool remained the same quirky but down-to-earth rock star he was in the first set. Claypool’s ability to affably converse with the crowd allowed him to have fun with how inherently silly it is to play rock music in the first place. He didn’t allow his stage presence to become as garish as the show itself, thus putting the entire production under a wry smile of performance.
The performance reached its peak as the band played its closer “Here Come The Bastards” and a video of an oompa-loompa gallivanting through Reno played behind them. The video showed the oompa-loompa doing quintessential Reno things like going to Shea’s tavern for a beer and ordering an Awful Awful burger at The Little Nugget downtown. The crowd rightfully went apeshit and while this could be seen as an easy — and cheesy — applause to get, I saw it as a well-loved rock band taking a step above and beyond to do something special for a town on the road.
Unpretentious art rock — Primus was able to cram itself into this genre by taking its off-the-wall mesh of almost discordant funk and hard rock and combining it with a gaudy stage show that didn’t take itself too seriously. Claypool and Co. put on a helluva show while letting the rest of Grand Sierra Resort in on the joke as well. Brilliant.