|Primus - Blame It On The Fish: An Abstract Look At The 2003 Primus Tour De Fromage|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 17 October 2006|
Primus bassist/leader Les Claypool is like a guy who talks a lot without saying much. Smart people are able to string together long and complicated sentences, filled with polysyllabic words that make you reach immediately for your thesaurus, yet still leave you unenlightened and unimpressed. Same goes for how Claypool works his instrument: Lotsa notes, minimal impact. Just as there is little point in talking if you’re not truly communicating anything noteworthy, there is no reason to play music if it doesn’t make an audience feel anything – positive or negative. With musical talk this cheap, is there a discernable purpose for Primus? I think not.
Even so, if you’re a diehard Primus fan, nothing I just said will deter you from purchasing its “comeback” DVD. More than likely, you are already sold on the band’s instrumental gibberish. But if Primus is a new name to you, consider yourself forewarned: this is not pretty music. Instead, Primus is all about Claypool’s tiring, self-indulgent rock. In the ever-expanding music universe, you have many better choices than this. So choose well, my child.
Whenever Claypool takes a solo -- and he takes many indistinguishable turns during this work -- his hand moves all over the fret board like a mouse on too much caffeine. He picks, plucks, and strums hyperactive notes to produce an affect similar to a receptionist pecking feverishly with fits and starts at her computer keyboard. There are no grooves. No moods. No emotion. Instead, it is as if he’s saying, “Hey, look at me! Don’t I look weird? Aren’t I an adventurous avant-garde musician?” Claypool’s show-boating does not make his music worth your time. Think of it as instrumental masturbation that is as unsatisfying as it is unproductive.
Claypool’s singing is no better. He must be self-conscious about his voice because he mostly vocalizes in an affected tone, as if playing a character. It is like he’s an actor intentionally distancing himself from his audience. If listeners get too close, he may fear, maybe they will see an emperor naked in his new clothes. Or they’ll notice that the great and powerful Oz is nothing but a mean old man hiding behind a curtain. He often wears various masks, which escalates this wall of separation to a further extreme. For instance, on “Krinkle Crossing” he inhabits a pig mask and bows at his bass like an animalistic madman. Then during “Sailing,” he sports a pith helmet while performing this “tune’s” grating melody.
Primus broke up around 2000, and this DVD documents its reunion tour. It is called “an abstract look at the 2003 Primus tour” for good reason. That’s because it does not follow the typical ebb and flow of a musical video road diary. There are no titles, for instance, informing the viewer where the band is playing at any given time. And although brief interview segments are included, such moments are hardly exhaustive. In one interview, Claypool mentions that he “doesn’t make this kind of music with anybody else.” Apparently, that was motive enough for a reunion. Supply and demand was obviously not a factor, however, because the demand for more Primus is no doubt low.
There is concert footage, by the way. But instead of turning the audience into flies on the wall, if you will, where, say, a concert is captured from start to finish, various performance clips are patched together with seemingly little rhyme or reason. In one scene, Claypool tells the audience that Sting is also scheduled to play at the same venue where Primus is at. But in Claypool’s opinion, he would much rather see Sting back together with the Police rather than as a solo artist. But such instances of candor are few because director Matthew J. Powers is just as likely to throw in film clips of animals or other psychedelic visuals to accompany performance sounds, rather than the actual group playing music. “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver,” for example, includes demolition derby scenes. Why did Powers transform a reunion tour DVD into a series of conceptual videos? It’s senseless, if you ask me.
Like the aforementioned Police, Primus is a rock trio. So it might be helpful to compare and contrast these two “P” named rock acts. Guitarist Larry Lalonde and drummer Tim Alexander round out Primus’ lineup. But unlike the more democratic Police, which also includes Stewart Copeland on drums and Andy Summers on guitar, Primus is primarily Claypool’s dictatorial vehicle, and Primus songs are almost inexorable from Claypool’s bizarre image; Police songs, on the other hand, are more of a group effort. This is not to say that Sting was/is an anonymous front man; he hasn’t achieved enormous solo fame for nothing. But The Police would never succeed if any other players were substituted for Copeland and Summers. Whereas only obsessed Primus followers would notice if Lalonde and Alexander were replaced. More importantly, The Police combined expert musicianship with an ability to look outside itself, at the wider world around it. Its breakthrough single, “Roxanne,” was not some kind of hallucinogenic dream -- as are so many (too many) Claypool/Primus creations. It was, instead, an empathetic story about a prostitute. The word “empathy,” by the way, never comes to mind when considering Primus music.
Primus is one of those bands nerdy musicians gravitate toward. Similarly, The Police is equally respected for its topnotch musicianship. And although The Police came into vogue along with the new wave rock movement, it also touched upon jazz, reggae and other experimental styles. The Police also found a way to indulge its adventurous spirit, while simultaneously writing memorable songs that appealed to a pop audience. Primus will never attain this same wide appeal. This band seemingly enjoys its sideshow existence, so the nerd factor is far too large to make room for a chick factor.
If ever a DVD was intended for a limited audience, it is this one. If you are already a Primus fan, this package is for you and you alone. If you are not in its extremely exclusive demographic, however, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Furthermore, nothing in this package explains the band’s history for the uninitiated. All Primus Johnny-come-latelys, who might want to come aboard ship for this return journey, will be lost at sea. Primus could have at least included a little group background.
The DVD bonus section includes “Fish On – Play,” which is nothing other than extra footage. “Fish On – Scenes” breaks the DVD into various segments, whereas “Primus 2065” is the complete interview with Claypool made up to look like an old man. Lastly, there is a trailer for the film. With a painful disc like this, however, any extras are like salt on the wound.
The DVD is subtitled “Blame It On The Fish.” But if you choose to sit through it, you only have yourself to blame.