Primus has never been afraid to think big, making a name for themselves by re-envisioning entire music genres since their inception in the late 1980’s. So if any band is fit for the job of re-interpreting the music of the 1971 film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and exposing the nightmarish cavity in author Roald Dahl’s sweet tooth, it’s certainly them. As an album, Primus and the Chocolate Factory struggled to push past novelty status, meant for hardcore fans of either the movie or the band or both. As a live show, however, notorious bizarro conductor Les Claypool and his gang of deviants have succeeded in creating a spectacle that is kaleidoscopic both in sound and sight.
The first ripples of Claypool’s hypnotizing bass intro to “American Life” rang out over the field in perfect harmony with the fading pastels of the sunset, so vibrant that Claypool gestured and commented: “You people are all looking the wrong direction.” As natural light faded the songs stretched out and got a little weirder. Guitarist Larry Lalonde released sheets of spastic shred during “Over The Falls” and “Lee Van Cleef” turned into a behemoth jam during which Claypool’s soupy Whamola basswork and Tim Alexander’s exploratory drum rhythms turned into a brand new beast. “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” rounded out the set, and a giant black veil was pulled over the stage during intermission.
When the veil was finally pulled back, it revealed a stage splashed in colorful psychedelia, underscoring the dramatic intensity that followed as the gears of the Chocolate Factory set began to churn. The band emerged, expanded to include cellist Sam Bass and veteran percussionist Mike Dillon, all in costume. Together the picked through the Chocolate Factory album tune by tune, synced up with accompanying looped footage from the 1971 film. “The Candy Man” took on a sinister, greasy sheen and the creepy “Cheer Up Charlie” pushed the macabre tone further. Bass and Dillon added plenty of spice to the mania as Oompa Loompas danced onstage and giant inflatable mushrooms loomed over the band members.
After running through the entire Wonka-themed set, the entire expanded lineup took the stage again and kicked off their encore with “Too Many Puppies.” A lengthy “Southbound Pachyderm” found Claypool and Dillon trading monstrous lead lines that merged into one continuous sludge before Bass’s cello cut through and drove the jam further into the ether. Video footage of the Oompa Loompas invading the venue played in the background as the band closed with “Here Come The Bastards,” reminding the crowd that the bastards really had come and left nothing but a field full of blown minds and jaws dragging the grass.