A strange collection of people descended upon the Fillmore Miami Beach Saturday night. Metalheads in Lamb of God shirts and others in Grateful Dead tie-dyes slammed drinks by their cars in the parking lots before heading inside to catch the opening act, the Dead Kenny G’s.
While the people gathered were a diverse bunch, there was still some common thread running through them. You could pick out someone on the beach for Primus that night regardless of what they wore. Maybe it was the drinks in their hands. Maybe it was a faint, off-kilter look in their eyes.
While folks were still arriving in droves, the Dead Kenny G’s kicked things off at 8 p.m. The experimental trio, headed by saxophonist Skerik and drummer/vibraphonist Mike Dillon, set up in front of two massive, inflatable astronauts. The band let loose a set drenched in frantic, effected saxophone lines and the ethereal chimes of the vibraphone. The offbeat instrumental jams were just strange enough to set the stage for the madness to come.
After the Dead Kenny G’s wrapped it up, the tension really began to build. What was before only an undertone of excitement was heating up to a tangible commotion as the time for the main act drew closer.
“Woo, Primus! They SUCK!” a guy shouted as he stumbled up the ramp leading into the main hall. These patrons weren’t playing. They were getting as twisted as the music they came to see.
The main hall was dense with bodies just before Primus took the stage. Demented, Elfman-esque orchestral music boomed out of the PA speakers. When the music stopped, the crowd burst into deafening peals of applause as Primus emerged. It was at that moment that the night crossed over from strange to surreal.
The inflatable astronauts came to life with bizarre images of dogs in suits climbing escalators and elephants jumping on trampolines projected upon their helmets. The crowd seemed completely to go up in pot smoke. And that strange feeling creeping up all night manifested itself in the form of that outlandish music.
Primus is one of those bands that somehow manages to sound like their name. There is something savage about their music. Something aggressively primitive. If a few silverback gorillas formed a rock band, it would probably sound like Primus. The very thought crossed my mind a moment before Claypool donned an ape mask during a song.
The tumultuous vibes gripped the crush of people before the stage, driving them to crowd surf and violently fling themselves across mosh pits.
Things got real early on for one kid. He leaned on a railing with his head down, his long, straight hair veiling his face. But when one of the EMT’s lifted his chin to check his face, it was clear he was bleeding all over his clothes and onto the floor. Moments later, he fainted and was hauled out by the medics. All the while Claypool’s bass thumped and popped behind a blanket of distorted guitar and maddening drums.
Primus played their old tunes like “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver,” as well as introducing a handful of brand new tunes. They played with loops and noises, cranking out something that sounded like Pink Floyd’s “On The Run,” but on more amphetamines.
At one point, things got a little heavy up front in the pit and a beer went flying onto the stage. It landed on Claypool’s bass guitar and fried it.
“Oh, I guess you don’t want to hear that song,” said Claypool as he was handed his hollow body bass guitar. There was a loud “boo” directed toward whomever fried Claypool’s instrument. Primus continued, but skipped that particular song and saved it for the end.
When the set did end and Primus left the stage, nobody moved. They just stood there yelling and cheering for that encore. A chant emerged from the din.
“Primus sucks! Primus sucks! Primus sucks!” The chant gained steam, growing louder and louder, until Claypool and friends returned to the stage for a couple more twisted tunes.
The encore jam closed the concert on a hard note at about 11 p.m. or so, and when the band gave their bows and the lights in the concert hall came up, the sea of crazies packed into the concert hall made for the exits and spilled onto the streets of Miami Beach. Outside the venue, a man stood amid a gathering crowd giving out free Primus posters featuring a fat lady drinking a beer and riding a dead dolphin-perfectly normal by Primus standards.
Outside, you could tell who just came from the Primus concert. Sure, it was easy cause they were covered in sweat and grime, but there was definitely a subtle off-kilter look in their eyes. I think everyone there that night was a little screwy. You have to have a screw a little loose somewhere up there to like Primus. ‘Cause you know, Primus sucks.
All photos by Kathleen Griffith. See more of her work at Corvus Eye.