Tales From The Punch Bowl (Interscope)
by Joe Hacking
If you had a dollar for every band that claimed to possess originality and experimentality, you could probably buy a sheet of pretty potent blotter acid. A more inexpensive, less risky and equally trippy alternative is to purchase Primus‘ new offering, Tales From The Punch Bowl. Combining top-shelf musical ability, risk-taking song formulation and psychedelic humor, Primus have created another colorful sonic picture full of beavers, elephants, tree farmers, nutty professors and golden brothers. In the two years since their Pork Soda album, the members of Primus have toured with Rush and U2, headlined Lollapalooza, stolen the show at Woodstock, and dabbled in separate solo projects. Les Claypool toured with his side band Sausage, Tim Alexander worked with Laundry, and Larry LaLonde worked with some friends on an album due for release on the Prawn Song label through Interscope. Three busy guys.
“I think that if we had gone right into the studio after the Pork Soda tour, we wouldn’t have come up with anything we liked,” says lead bassist/vocalist Claypool. “We needed to do other things and be apart.”
Well, like they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Punch Bowl is full of the enthusiastic reunion of three guys who really love to jam together. Tim Alexander, inspired perhaps by idol Neil Peart, has never sounded better on his drum kit, crafting intricate structures within Claypool’s busy runs. Meanwhile, Larry LaLonde’s guitar takes a more aggressive role in the compositions, stepping into the foreground ahead of Les occasionally while still painting the backgrounds with his trademark cacophony. The end result is a more balanced, intensely focused Primus.
This is marvelously apparent on tunes such as “Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats,” which sees the dynamic trio ripping along like a monster truck through a coniferous forest. Likewise, with “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” a track full of folk-inspired hoedown goodness. And speaking of hoedowns, “De Anza Jig” is about as down-home folksy as Primus gets without being branded a bluegrass act. On the very experimental side, there’s “Del Davis Tree Farm,” sporting a chorus which almost sounds like it’s from another song, and “Back On The Tweek,” which features Claypool’s bass with a whammy bar. For the mandatory end-of-the-disc assault there is “Over The Electric Grapevine,” featuring Alexander performing some serious drumming aerobics and LaLonde standing out front roaring away on his gee-tar. As always, Claypool’s bizarre character-driven lyrics tell tales so strange that they have to be true.
Tales From The Punch Bowl adds another chapter/scripture to the Primus legend/cult. With their individual energies at peak levels, and a tour swinging around this area, one is called to ponder David Letterman’s words of introduction before their performance on his show, “Get real close to the TV, kids. Oh my God, it’s PRIMUS!”