By: Matt Fricks | Photos: Matt Fricks & Sean Wilmsen
“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
The stage and set dressing at The Chicago Theatre on Friday night was exactly that: something of one’s most outlandish imagination. Primus delivered an absolutely stunning two-set performance, highlighted by the wildly innovative live rendition of their latest release, Primus and the Chocolate Factory.
The trio of Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde, and Tim “Herb” opened the show with a nine-song run of Primus classics and rarities before delving into the Wonka set. Minimal lighting graced the stage for the opening numbers, as Claypool and company seemed to reserve the big production for set number two, and it gave a haunting aura to the ominous sound of the music and Claypool’s distinctive voice.
“American Life” was the perfect opener, as Claypool’s opening bass line got the Chicago crowd roaring in approval as it rang throughout the beautiful theatre. The first set was fantastic: a fine mix played flawlessly, demonstrating the talent of each member. “Herb” was fantastic on the kit and served as the backbone for all of the extended segments in the first set while Larry showed restraint (when appropriate) and took the lead at the crescendos with his loud, distorted Fender guitar sound.
The band dug deep for some first-set surprises for the crowd, including a mid-set rendition of “The Heckler,” a rowdy version of “Fish On,” and the excellent set closer of “Over the Electric Grapevine.” Following this, the curtain dropped as the crowd prepared to be taken back to 1971 for the Primus version of a classic story.
Now, this is the only band in all of music that could pull off something of this nature. While there was no real consensus amongst fans on the Primus and the Chocolate Factory studio album, the live show is undeniably jaw-dropping and mesmerizing.
As the curtain rose, the fans were greeted with an elaborate setting punctuated by inflatable mushrooms, oversized candies littered across the stage, an industrial factory backdrop, and a video screen that featured segments from the 1971 film. The band returned in full costume, with Claypool doing a costume change just before “Pure Imagination” to return as the sinister version of Willy Wonka for the remainder of the performance. Claypool’s vocals and prominent bass playing were perfec.
Complete with several appearances by large oompa loompas, Primus captivated the audience for the entire second set. I was nervous about how the album would translate live, but the band nailed it. The oddities and (slight) extended jamming of the Wonka tunes were fantastic and the entire crowd seemed to have their attention held by the innovative genius of Les Claypool’s leadership.
Larry nailed the vocal on “I Want It Now,” as “Herb” bashed away on his drum kit that was now fully complete with gadgets and additional goofy-looking percussion elements to match the bizarre nature of the music.
One of the most important things that you may not get by simply listening to the record is how composed and intricate the music actually is. Watching the band, assisted by The Fungi Ensemble, recreate these songs in a live setting demonstrated how technical and carefully thought out the composition as a whole truly is.
This does not seem like an easy task – far from an easy task; and I applaud Primus for taking a huge risk and connecting with such a large audience for a full set of music that demonstrates their true genius.
Following Claypool’s solo reprise of “Pure Imagination” at the end of “Farewell Wonkites,” the crowd was ecstatic and on their feet showing appreciation for what they had just witnessed. The band returned to the stage for a three-song encore, which featured the crowd-pleasing “John the Fisherman” (which was segued into, following a tease of Rush’s “YYZ”), an extended “Southbound Pachyderm” (one of the major highlights), and the fan-favorite encore of “Here Come the Bastards,” which showed an oompa loompa traveling through the streets of Chicago.
This is an incredible show and one not be missed. Thank you to Primus and the Fungi Ensemble for bringing us back to our childhood with this creative and mind-blowing take on one of our favorite stories. Absolutely fantastic!
Primus 04/10/2015 Setlist
Lee Van Cleef
Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
My Name Is Mud
Over the Electric Grapevine
Set Two (Primus at the Chocolate Factory):
Cheer Up, Charlie
Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride
I Want It Now
Pure Imagination (ending)
John the Fisherman
Here Come the Bastards