Friday, June 28, 2013

My report on the Steve Miller/Primus shows at the Fox theater, Bakersfield

My report on the Steve Miller/Primus shows at the Fox theater, Bakersfield

It's become clear to me that there are three events in Bakersfield that bring people together that haven't seen each other in many years: funerals, weddings and shows at the fox. I've seen two shows there in four days: Steve Miller and Primus; both had their own distinct vibe, their own distinct approach to their shows and their own distinct crowds. Let me compare them.

Steve Miller is a man about to clear 70 this year. His major successes happened around his thirties and his stage persona is jovial and sometimes goofy; he's better at recreating his guitar lines than trying to raise the roof with his game audience. He played a no-nonsense two hour set of his greatest hits and a few tracks from his 1973 album the joker (still housing one of the most fascinating album covers of the 70's) and two tracks off his latest album consisting mainly of blues covers. His band was tight, professional and didn't waste a single note. Besides a backlit mural in the background, there wasn't anything even remotely close to enhance the simplicity of a band ripping through about a dozen songs that anyone who's been listening to rock radio for the last 20 years is familiar with. 

If Miller's sparse design was on one end of the visual spectrum, the Primus concert might as well have taken over the opposite side completely: it was sensory overload the entire time. Utilizing a huge screen in the background, it played a series of 3D images (seen through the same kind of glasses that you use to see modern 3D movies using some technology that is more advanced than anything I've ever seen) over random videos ranging from clips from old sci-fi films to that of an elephant jumping on a trampoline all synced flawlessly to the music. I used to think that Primus was more akin to Rush and like prog bands but I have completely re-evalulated this opinion: they're the Bizarro to their twin in band size and alliteration The Police. Primus's music is like peering into the bad dreams of an LSD casualty that was raised on a lifetime of Looney Tunes cartoons, psychotropic drugs and claymation whereas The Police (especially in their later stage) is a London wall street banker on a cocaine bender vacationing in the Caribbean; both of these bands have a sinister and subversive perspective sonically and lyrically- touching on distrust, paranoia, disenfranchisement, solitude, and a casual detatchment in their observations, but where Primus wears their weirdness on the outside, The Police kept it bubbling in the dark- just under the surface; secretly and dangerously. Rush is their goofy Canadian cousin who wears a trenchcoat and plays D&D. 

Performance-wise, they were superb. Their drummer had one of the most beautiful snare sounds I have ever heard live and his Ludwig set was one gong drum away from being a facsimile of Herb Alexander's kit. Even as rich as the 3D effects were, I had to give my eyes a rest every few minutes or so and I had to sit down to give my legs a rest. For Primus super fans, this show was great, but for those that stopped listening to them after "Pork Soda" it could have been a bit wearisome. Most of their songs have a pretty linear construction: riff/ ecclectic (normal to them) subject matter/musicianship/solos/riff. By no means should you add a bridge, hell they barely have choruses. The biggest emotional kick of the entire show happened during their last song when Les Claypool commanded "Go!" before the breakdown in "Jerry was a race car Driver". They didn't play "my name is mud" and almost got away with not playing "Jerry was a race car driver" if it wasn't for a particular audience member. If Steve Miller's show and crowd were Heineken and pizza, the Primus show and fans were definitely weed and Bud Lite, and if I could find a metaphor for Primus the band it's this: they are the musical equivalent of Andy Kaufman. 

Appropriately, during their intermission they played four popeye cartoons. Appropriate since Les Claypool is a cartoon character all by himself (at one point coming out on stage wearing a pig mask) with the personality to prove it. He reminded me onstage of the Reverend Horton Heat- in the sense that you get the sense that these onstage "personas" aren't too far off from their real life ones. Claypool's mumbly, aloof, mildly caustic sarcasm (especially with members of his audience) shows that he's in on the joke- whatever it is- and he's not telling us what it is. Maybe hints of it; little by little, but we're not worthy of the entire punchline.


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