Expensive beers. Long walks to the port-a-potties. A hefty scent of weed mixed with unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke. Middle-aged dudes taking off their shirts to mosh, stand around or, occasionally, fall into small plants ringing the venue floor.
Spokane concerts are back, baby!
And lest you think any of those things I mentioned were a bummer, forget about it. Because the excitement of joining forces with fellow music lovers, and doing it in a brand-new gem of a concert venue downtown, easily exceeded any quibbles. (OK, yes, the beer prices are a bit out of control at $14. That didn't seem to slow anyone down).
I only saw the stirrings of one or two near-fights among drunks in the pit, and that's way below typical at a dude-heavy rock show around here! It was a downright loving vibe all around as heavily tatted rock fans greeted each other in their native environment for the first time in more than a year. The band was not immune to the good feelings.
"Look at all you people gathering!" singer/bassist Les Claypool said with a big grin early in the band's headlining set. "When's the last time you got to do that?"
Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde even delivered an impromptu croon of "Happy Days Are Here Again!" at one point, and Claypool noted that he'd visited Expo '74 as a kid and remembered the Spokane Pavilion. And now we're here, he proclaimed, "making wretched sounds" in an impressively revamped from that long-ago World's Fair.
He was joking about the "wretched" part of course, but the psych-prog weirdness of Primus is hardly the kind of act stodgy old Chamber of Commerce types would choose to open a new civic venue. But like so many things, COVID conspired to bring us a joyfully weird introduction to a music spot destined to fill summers from here on out with some great shows.
The show wasn't sold out, but plenty of fans of Primus' oddball power-trio sound filled the place from the floor in front of the stage and up the grassy tiers where people sat. Sight lines are good from all angles as long as you avoid the few posts dotting the venue. The chain-link fence perimeter built for show day isn't attractive, but it was efficient — entry through security was pretty fast when I arrived. Food trucks line the grassy slope to the south of the venue proper if you need a bite before or during the show, and there were a few different spots to buy those expensive beers. (Hot tip: skip the first line you see and go find one to the north or east of the venue seating.)
There's plenty of floor space right in front of the stage for folks to get up close and dance, mosh, throw up their devil horns, etc., and the sound seemed solid from all angles as I wandered around to see and hear what the experience was like from different spots in the pavilion. Having the bathrooms all together in one place might be a good idea, but it is a hoof if you're one of the people down close to the stage to have to walk all the way around to the top of the venue. Again, small quibble.
The show itself? Pretty top-notch Primus, and the trio of Claypool, LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander has more than three decades under its belt in creating a sound that is utterly unlike anyone else in rock. Among the descriptions you'll find for Primus' music are "funk-metal," "alternative," "prog," "jam-band," "psych."
All those songs fit at different points in Primus' aural assault, driven by Claypool's otherworldly bass playing and the band's willingness to explore all manner of sonic textures in their music.
On this current tour, Primus is paying tribute to another band that did the same in Rush, playing the Canadian heroes' A Farewell To Kings album in its entirety as a second set after an opening push through a bunch of Primus classics. The band brought an ornate video show that utilized a screen behind them to great effect, at least if you were down close enough to see it well, and watching the trio lock into their off-kilter grooves is a visual feast itself thanks to Claypool's lanky leg jitters and slap-happy playing style.
I've seen Primus shows stretching back to the late '80s, and even if you're not a superfan, it's hard to not be impressed with the technical skills the band members bring to the table. And there's no denying some of the tunes. "American Life" was a particular highlight Friday, as was a mash-up of "Too Many Puppies" and "Sgt. Baker" early on. The crowd, unsurprisingly, really perked up for almost-hits like "My Name Is Mud" and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver."
Here's the Primus setlist from Friday's show:
1. Groundhog's Day
2. Too Many Puppies>Sgt. Baker>Too Many Puppies
3. Last Salmon Man
4. American Life
5. Wynona's Big Brown Beaver
6. Hamburger Train
7. My Name Is Mud
8. Over The Electric Grapevine
Set 2—Rush's A Farewell to Kings
9. A Farewell to Kings
11. Closer to the Heart
13. Cinderella Man
14. Cygnus X-1
15. The Heckler
16. Southbound Pachyderm