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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Primus has fun at its own party

The band charges hard into career-spanning sonic excursions free of self-indulgent excesses.

October 20, 2003|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

Primus is not a band of minimalists. It's best known for a mix of thundering, throbbing, free-associating rock, punk and funk improvisation. But at the Wiltern on Friday, the trio was rarely given to pointless tangents or droning incoherence.

That owed something to the comic presence of wise-guy singer-bassist Les Claypool, muttering like a drifter into the microphone to excited fans, promising to "Pummel you with my own philosophy / Strip you of your self-integrity / To make you all a bit like me" (from "Sgt. Baker"). It was an off-center party tune, with Larry LaLonde's guitar grinding at the edges.

The concert was the first of two nights at the Wiltern, and the song list spanned Primus' long career, from the late '80s to its newest CD, "Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People." And while Claypool usually commanded the night's attention -- first in his bowler hat, then returning later wearing judges' robes and a white wig -- his two collaborators operated as finely tuned equals.

LaLonde played a long, jazzy rock guitar lead during "Harold on the Rocks" that wandered across a broad sonic landscape without ever becoming trapped into noodling. And Tim Alexander performed a nearly 15-minute drum solo that somehow managed not to be self-indulgent.

These were sometimes challenging, wide-open excursions, but sustenance enough for the dedicated Primus fan base. "Here Come the Bastards" was happily dark and twisted, as Claypool and LaLonde plucked their instruments, making sounds that were excited and complex without ever losing a sense of fun.

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