A world of pure imagination

Primus brings Willy Wonka to Rose Music Center

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Primus brings their Primus and the Chocolate Factory tour to Rose Music Center on August 4

Fans of Primus have come to expect weird and strange offerings from the group. Songs such as “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and albums like Sailing the Seas of Cheese show a band that seems to not take itself too seriously. However, under all the tongue-in-cheek winks and nods, a juggernaut of stellar musicianship rumbles.

Primus began their long, strange journey more than 25 years ago. Along the way, they’ve released 10 studio albums, toured incessantly and staked a broad claim on the stylistic map of modern popular music. Their latest album, Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, is a reimagining of the classic 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The trippy film is steeped in the late-‘60s psychedelic world from which it sprang. The film’s soundtrack is almost cartoonish sugary pop music, but the Primus version recalls the darker sensibility from the 1964 book on which the film is based, according to visionary bassist Les Claypool.

“The recording is about my early perception of the original ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ film,” Claypool says. “The notion wasn’t so much to go in and redo the soundtrack note for note as much as it was to utilize the classic elements of the music yet try to reflect some of the darker undertones of the Roald Dahl books because when you read those books, there is an eerie and somewhat menacing aspect implied.”

Guitarist Larry LaLonde says the project started as a fairly simple idea.

Every New Year’s Eve, the band performs a special themed show in the San Francisco area. Claypool had long wanted to tackle some sacred cow from his childhood, and “Willy Wonka” seemed to fit perfectly in to the band’s aesthetic.

Once the decision was made to make this the theme for the band’s 2013 New Year’s show, LaLonde was struck by a frightening realization while watching the film.

“Just by chance it was playing in the park by my house a couple days later, and I was like ‘oh man, how are we going to pull this thing off?’ It’s pretty impossible when I listened to all the music. We started chipping away at it, getting it ready for the New Year’s show. By the time the show had come, we had put in so much work; we thought, ‘Maybe we should record this thing.’ We ended up recording it, and that kind of snowballed into it becoming a tour.”

The shows typically consist of two sets, with set one offering classic Primus tunes. The second set features a large stage set, and the band plays the Wonka album in its entirety.

The tour expands the band from its usual power trio lineup of bass, drums and guitar with two players from Claypool’s numerous side projects: Mike Dillon and Sam Bass, dubbed the Fungi Ensemble, add a wealth of new sounds.

“With the added ingredients of marimba, vibraphone, tabla and various strings, we were able to bring some depth to the sonic landscape and really shift the mood around,” Claypool says. “It gets dark and creepy yet maintains that notion of innocence.”

The band has long been associated with the so-called “jam band” scene that values improvisation above all else. It speaks to the diversity of that scene, since the Primus sound owes as much to Frank Zappa or metal as it does the Grateful Dead.

However, performing a composed set night after night might not be exactly what their fan base is clamoring for.

LaLonde says that is why the show is structured with a more traditional first set and an encore that often features the Fungi Ensemble. He also notes that while they stay pretty true to the Wonka songs, there are pockets of improvisation. Also, performing a complete album night after night offers a level of tightness that only comes with repetition.

“The more reps you get in on anything keeps, hopefully, getting bigger and better,” LaLonde says. “Other than that, it’s something we put together as a whole piece, so it doesn’t waver a ton. Some of the solo parts build up over time.”

Primus also finds themselves in a milestone year, as 2015 marks 25 years  since the band’s debut album Suck on This was released.

“I’m always amazed when I’m talking to someone and am reminded of the math of what this thing has been,” LaLonde says. “It’s a weird thing. If I had a better memory, it might seem like longer.”

Primus will perform Tuesday, Aug. 4 at Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Center in Huber Heights. Dinosaur Jr. and Ghosts of a Saber Tooth Tiger (with Sean Lennon) will also play. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $47 (plus fees) for general admission pit and $42 for reserved seating pavilion. For more information, please visit primusville.com.


Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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