A Tribute to Kings: Primus and Battles in Concert

Primus: A Tribute to Kings with Battles, GLC Live at 20 Monroe, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 31, 2022

Having been sucked in to seeing this show by the sheer audacity of the concept — Primus covering Rush’ complete album A Farewell to Kings — I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the audience. On the night, GLC Live hosted what was by no means a typical “progressive rock” crowd. With all the restrooms equally busy at the usual break points, I saw pierced youth, middle-aged mullet wearers, date night couples, Gen X parents with their Millennial kids and the occasional fan in costume (from silk kimonos to the hat pictured here, depicting the album cover of Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese) packing the standing-room-only main floor. So I got as close to the soundboard as I could and awaited the night’s developments.

Making their Grand Rapids debut, New York City’s Battles got the crowd moving with a ecstatic blend of electronica, funk and rock, mostly from 2019’s stellar Juice B Crypts album. Ian Williams set the mood with his genial dad-dancing — triggering loops and laying down riffs on synth, garnishing the resulting blend with effects-laden guitar riffs and the odd solo in the moment. John Stanier, a hard-hitting drummer in the John Bonham vein, drove the tunes and cued one whiplash rhythm change after another, triggering new beats and repeatedly bashing his elevated crash cymbal along the way. The grooves were relentless but refreshingly unpredictable and airy; the interlocking melodic lines ranged from punky ferocity to video-game-soundtrack campiness; and the occasional pre-recorded guest vocal (like Jon Anderson adding some Yes-style sunshine to “Sugar Foot”) always seemed to furnish a cherry on top the sweet sonic sundae. Williams and Stanier have forged an impressively interactive relationship with their electronics in real time, bringing an artsy asymmetry and freshness to their music that gathered thrilling momentum as the set progressed. After 45 minutes of Battles, I felt like I’d already got my money’s worth. (And I can’t recommend their recorded catalog highly enough — if there’s such a thing as dance music for prog heads, this is it!)

Battles onstage at GLC Live: L to R, John Stanier and Ian Williams.

Following the openers’ clean lines and summery vibe, the headliners’ full-on first set was initially bewildering to a newbie like me. Bypassing their long-ago radio hits for the most part, Primus conjured up a thick, hypnotic pulse to jam on extended, deep catalog tracks like opener “Harold of the Rocks” and “American Life”, as well as new music from their Conspiranoid EP. While that approach grabbed the already-primed crowd from the start, I had to get my bearings. Still, it was quickly evident that Les Claypool’s circular, polyphonic bass riffs are the heart of Primus’ sound (with his outsider sensibility every bit as evident instrumentally as in his carnival barker voice and Zappaesque lyrics); that drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander not only locks in with Claypool’s grooves, but that he pretty much fills the remaining space in the soundfield; and that their tight connection allows Larry “Ler” LaLonde the freedom to play guitar in a completely lateral fashion, with blindingly off-angle solos that seem to defy not only the laws of tradition, but possibly the laws of physics. Add in a full-on light show and quirkily-cued screen projections, and you had an undeniably appealing set, connecting with the audience via its eccentricities, not despite them. But one question remained for me: how well could Primus, who opened for Rush back in their own early days, possibly recreate the operatic metal sound of their heroes in the 1970s?

Primus onstage at GLC Live: left to right, Larry LaLonde, Tim Alexander (behind drums), Les Claypool)

The answer: better than anyone had a right to expect. Primus had unquestionably done their homework; “A Farewell to Kings'” chiming classical intro and lumbering riffs plus “Xanadu’s” double-neck duet and bell tree accents proved the opening shots of an awe-inspiring re-creation, with all of Rush’s instrumental bells and whistles delightfully present and correct. All three players were stretching themselves to hit their marks, and you could tell how the effort had strengthened their overall bond as a band. And I’ll give the kimono-clad Claypool full credit for giving Geddy Lee’s utterly impossible vocals his best shot; generally sticking to a lower octave, occasionally letting loose with appropriate Plant-y screams, inviting the obvious singalong on “Closer to the Heart”, he was obviously having the time of his life nearly a year into this tour. By the time “Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage” (complete with Captain Smiler onboard the good ship Rocinante onscreen) gathered speed and dove into its climactic black hole, I was sold — even though my aching back meant I didn’t stay for what turned out to be an extended encore. Along with Battles’ marvelous opening set, my introduction to Primus’ weird world of pure imagination and their well-done “tribute to kings” proved to be an appropriately titled evening: a first-rate, full-on musical experience. If the above strikes your fancy and you get the chance, this tour is well worth your time and cash!

— Rick Krueger

Battles Setlist:

  • The Yabba
  • Hiro 3
  • IPT-2
  • Summer Simmer/Ice Cream (featuring Matias Aguayo)
  • A Loop So Nice . . .
  • Titanium 2 Step (featuring Sal Principato)
  • Fort Greene Park
  • Sugar Foot (featuring Jon Anderson and Prairie WWWW)
  • TRAS
  • Ambulance
  • Atlas

Primus Setlist:

  • Harold of the Rocks
  • Fisticuffs
  • The Pressman (quickly abandoned because, to quote Claypool, “I can’t remember the words. We’ll play something else!”)
  • American Life
  • Conspiranoia
  • Professor Nutterbutter’s House of Treats
  • Del Davis Tree Farm
  • Erin on the Side of Caution
  • Welcome to This World
  • Jerry Was a Race-Car Driver
  • A Farewell to Kings
  • Xanadu
  • Closer to the Heart
  • Cinderella Man
  • Madrigal
  • Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage
  • Too Many Puppies/Sgt. Baker/Too Many Puppies
  • Follow the Fool
  • Southbound Pachyderm

One thought on “A Tribute to Kings: Primus and Battles in Concert

  1. lukesassypants

    You left early cause your back hurt? Thank the heavens you were at least able to recount the show and cobble your review together. Are you ok? The sacrifices you people in the media make for poor souls like me is incredible. Thank you from all of us!!!!

    Like

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