The Les Claypool-led Primus plays a sold-out Grand Rapids show on Saturday. Naturally, Local Spins writer and Primus buff Troy Reimink figured it was the perfect time to roll out his “Primus Top 10.”
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Hey kids, do you like Primus?
Follow-up: Do you recognize that as a reference to an Eminem lyric that was timely in the late 1990s? If you’re as old and obsolete as I am, you maybe do, and if so, we may see each other Saturday night at the sold-out Primus show inside 20 Monroe Live, the brand-new concert venue in downtown Grand Rapids. (Insects vs Robots opens the 8 p.m. show; details online here.)
Under the leadership of frontman and bass genius Les Claypool, Primus has spent almost three decades — minus a hiatus of a few years in the early 2000s — sailing uncharted alt-rock waters, connecting here and there with the mainstream while building a weird universe entirely unto itself. In preparation for entrance into this realm, a land of plentiful pork and cheese, it’s worth reacquainting oneself with the band’s best material.
Here, in one fan’s humble but unassailably correct opinion, are the top 10 Primus songs, in reverse order. Drum roll, please …
10. “Eclectic Electric” (“Antipop,” 1999)
Primus now enjoys considerable crossover appeal within the jam-band subculture. This expansive Pink Floydian delay-pedal workout is perfectly constructed to blow chemical-addled minds at music festivals.
9. “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” (“Frizzle Fry,” 1990)
The first track on Primus’ debut solo album, in retrospect, is a perfect mission statement for the years of abundant weirdness that followed, supplying a red-herring melodic intro, wildly outside-the-lines bass riff and a call to arms against the oppressively conventional.
8. “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver” (“Tales From the Punchbowl,” 1995)
The title of this calling-card alt-rock hit on the track list of my Columbia House CD led to an uncomfortable conversation with my father.
7. “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” (“Sailing the Seas of Cheese,” 1991)
“Sailing the Seas of Cheese” is a ’90s masterpiece, and anyone who says otherwise can take a flying leap. Primus’ first big radio single was an ideal showcase for Claypool’s virtuosic bass work. Notice how the bass, a few octaves up from conventional rock template, carries the main riff while the guitar is mainly seasoning.
6. “Shake Hands With Beef” (“Brown Album”)
Claypool’s riff here might be the band at its, uh, most beefy.
5. “My Name Is Mud” (“Pork Soda,” 1993)
This single might be the perfection of Primus’ formula, if that’s the right word: the sternum-rattling slap-bass intro, squealing dissonant guitar solo, lyrics that are deceptively loopy but in reality an expression of poignant underclass solidarity.
4. “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” (“Seas of Cheese”)
Primus lore tends to obscure Claypool’s supreme skills as a storyteller. Atop perhaps his fist-pumping-est chorus, he unfolds an unforgettable ode to the working folks who are “the backbone of this town,” or any other.
3. “Too Many Puppies” (“Frizzle Fry”)
Never mind the factual inaccuracy of its title: “Too many puppies” is impossible. This early track is basically the sound of ’90s Alternative Nation cracking its knuckles. Exhibit A is the fact that Korn totally ripped off the intro for their song “Blind” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGK00Q7xx-s).
2. “American Life” (“Seas of Cheese”)
To a bass riff that almost makes you want to march in formation, Claypool crafts a gripping, timeless tale of American dreams pursued and thwarted among both immigrants and the natural-born.
1. “Kalamazoo” (“Brown Album”)
Go ahead and call this a shameless appeal to local sensibilities, but I have a story that explains why this tops my list. As a wee teenage lad, I tagged along with some older high school kids to Primus’ headlining show at the Kalamazoo State Theatre in support of “The Brown Album.” Time capsule: the opening acts were Powerman 5000 and Limp Bizkit(!). As Primus started playing, a mosh pit opened up in front of us. A kid who couldn’t have been older than 12 hurtled out in our direction and collided with our one of our friends who was an enormous football player. Instead of observing pit etiquette that favors protection of the week, he shoved the child as hard as could back into the sweaty mass. Later, after ascertaining that the kid was uninjured, I decided it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.
Anyhow, Primus opened that show with “Kalamazoo,” for obvious reasons, and it was tremendous.
LOCAL SPINS PLAYLIST: THE PRIMUS TOP 10 ON SPOTIFY
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