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Photo courtesy Primus website

Concert Review: Primus goes above and beyond in paying tribute to Rush

By Logan Jaspers, June 27 2022

When I saw that alternative metal band Primus’ A Tribute to Kings tour included a Calgary show — a tour where they would be covering all of Rush’s landmark album A Farewell to Kings — I knew I had to see them. As such, on June 9, I had the pleasure of seeing Primus along with Canadian opening act Black Mountain live at the Grey Eagle Event Centre. 

For the uninitiated, Primus are strange. Bassist and frontman Les Claypool, drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde are great instrumentalists but are also talented songwriters with a uniquely avant and humorous aesthetic. Though they achieved some mainstream success in the 90s, Primus is today a niche band with a cult following.

Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with Black Mountain until June 9. Despite the sonic irrelevance of bassist Arjan Miranda and the underutilization of Rachel Fannan’s vocals, Stephen McBean’s crunchy guitar tone and Adam Bulgasem’s powerful drumming made up for their deficits. They weren’t stunning, but they were entertaining and thus successful.

The audience gave Black Mountain their due deference with seated but respectful applause, but after a half-hour intermission, the whole Grey Eagle Event Centre rose when Primus took the stage. Amid the enthusiastic chants of “Primus sucks,” it was clear who the crowd was there for. Stemming from Claypool sardonically adopting the heckling from an audience member in  the 90s as an unofficial slogan, Primus is perhaps the only band where people screaming that they suck is affectionate rather than insulting

Indeed, Primus’ first set was well balanced, containing 90s crossover classics like “My Name is Mud” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” to modern material only hardcore fans are familiar with, like “The Seven” and “Conspiranoia.” For 10 tracks in an hour, Primus delivered for Calgary fans.

After a shorter intermission of about 10 minutes, the band returned to perform the second set — the well-advertised full performance of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings. With Primus dressed in kimonos in a loving homage to the most embarrassingly awesome photograph of Rush and Claypool channelling Geddy Lee by using Rickenbacker basses during the set, they were cognizant of just how special their performance of A Farewell to Kings was.

Thankfully, the kimonos were not for naught, as Primus nailed it. A Farewell to Kings is some of the densest, most complex music ever put to tape. To perform it in its entirety is, as Claypool acknowledged in a break between the prog-rock behemoth “Xanadu” and the anthemic “Closer to the Heart,” playing all of A Farewell to Kings is hard, even for musicians of Primus’ calibre. 

Therein lies the beauty of Primus’ performance that Thursday evening — Claypool, Alexander, and LaLonde are just like us. Rush were their heroes. They bought every LP, went to every concert they could and were inspired to become musicians because of Rush. Rather than dismissing the impact Rush had on them, like it had on everyone in attendance, they embrace it. Claypool, Alexander, and LaLonde were unquestionably the best musicians there that Thursday night, but their passion was the audience’s passion. 

The band finished up with a performance of two more Primus songs, “Follow the Fool” and “Harold of the Rocks.” With no encore or concluding goodbye, the concert came to a sudden but fitting end. They paid their dues to Rush in 40 spectacular minutes, and followed it with two songs, as if to reach full circle with how Rush has affected them. They performed their own songs, performed the songs of the men who inspired them to make music and then performed more of their own music. 

All in all, Primus put on a great show at the Grey Eagle Event Centre. Across both their own songs and the covers, Primus’ musicianship and showmanship was top notch. I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

Check out Primus’ music on Spotify.

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