There has never been a better, more fitting slogan for a band than “Primus Sucks!” The San Franciscan trio had the nearly packed LC Pavilion chanting in unison, realizing that the dream of the ‘90s was alive and well and that most of their fans hadn’t changed their cargo shorts since 1993. That was actually the last time that I saw Primus, at a Lollapalooza that included Alice in Chains, Tool, Fishbone, Arrested Development and this night’s opener, the mighty Dinosaur Jr. Those were obviously different times. A time when Primus’ quirky convergence of proto-nu-metal riffs, sputtering percussion, aggro-chromatic funk, and goofball whimsy was considered “alternative” and was actually a profitable endeavor. But now? Though the crowd was a strange mélange of jam band fanatics, Big Lebowski faithful, and subscribers of Bass Player Monthly, I myself was not thrilled. I racked my brain the entire, lengthy set, trying to figure out another band in rock’s history where the bass playing was the focal point. I could not identify one.
Les Claypool though, was the locus of all that was off with Primus. Borrowing their stage set-up of inflatable mushrooms from what must have been a Flaming Lips yard sale, the band muddled along with the visuals that played sad and distracting in the background. It was one bad trip after another. Eventually, after what seemed like deep cut after deep cut, the band launched into a spirited “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver,” a song that does in fact highlight the best parts of Primus, namely the frenetic, mosh-inducing guitar playing of Larry LaLonde and the precision of drummer Tim Alexander. The latter’s raging solo was perhaps the highlight of the show, though the late addition of “Too Many Puppies” did display a heavier, industrial version of Primus before they got too into their own crowded headspace of pork sodas and Willy Wonka motifs.
I had come to this show for one reason only, simply to bask in the guitar hero glory of J. Mascis. Mascis and the “original” Dinosaur Jr. line-up of bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, blasted through a career of melodic choogling that included the sludgy psych of “Freak Scene” and “The Lung,” songs that were never played with the Lolla-iteration of Dinosaur, and the MTV-ready, mellowed hits of “Feel the Pain” and “Out There.” It was a thrall that showed both versions of the band were under complete direction of Mascis’ soloing whimsies. Though Barlow went onto minor successes with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, and shouldn’t be downgraded as a songwriter or an artist, this was the Dinosaur Jr. show, and in the crunch of Masicis’ Marshall wall, the trio’s rendition of “Just Like Heaven” was a particularly transcendent moment for any fan of the band.
Like Primus, this was only the second time I have seen Dinosaur Jr. The first being that fateful day at Lollapalooza ‘93. As a metric it seems something like Dinosaur Jr. fades and ages well, where my reunion with Primus kind of reeks of CD longboxes and the smell of a Spencer’s Gift shop at the mall. It’s telling that Mascis headed to the Summit later in the evening to play a set of Stooges burners with his road crew. That Mascis obliged and basically reveled in just jamming for the sake of jamming (which he did with witchy aplomb — boy was it epic) in front of a crowd 1% of what he just played for hours before is a testament to his eternal ‘90s iconic slacker cool.
Post-Script: Though I did get to meet the mythical Sean Lennon (who was in attendance at the secret Summit show), I did not get to see his band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, because they started before the line of ticket-holders were in the venue. Perplexing.