Primus Covers Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Primus and the Chocolate Factory - Photo by Mathieu Bredeau.

Oh Les Claypool, you misunderstood genius, what in the world have you done?

Let be clear from the start. I like Primus. I don’t love Primus. I knew all of four Primus songs when I arrived at the Peabody Opera House—formerly known as the hallowed Kiel Opera House when it opened in 1934—and really wasn’t sure what to expect. The one thing I did expect was for the show to be a little weird. Let’s face it, anybody who would try out for Metallica and suggest covering some Isley Brothers songs is a little off-kilter. Being a little weird, however, is a great quality for geniuses to poses. Smart people say, “This is how it is, it’s a fact.” Weird people say, “Yeah, but what if you do…this?” While the smart person stands there, mouth agape, trying to figure out where their fact just went, the weird genius is off to the next thing he or she isn’t supposed to do. Primus, an almost uncategorizable three-piece band from California, is famous for its catchy bass-driven sound and Claypool’s shy, almost apologetic staccato. They aren’t supposed to be turning beloved children’s movies into incredibly fun rock operas.

Yet Primus has done exactly that. The show began in a very unassuming manner. Eschewing an opening act, Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander walked on-stage, an intimate set-up towards the front of the ample Peabody performance area with nothing more than a simple light rig over their heads. They looked like they were the opening act themselves. They launched into their Primus repertoire which included three of the four hits I was familiar with: Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, Jerry Was a Race Car Driver and My Name Is Mud. I didn’t know the other songs as well, but I recognized a few from their earlier albums (I’m old, deal with it) more by sound than by name. For much of this portion of the show I thought Claypool’s vocals were even more subdued, sometimes even drowned out by the music. After a solid play through of their hits, the show went into intermission.

Once the second half of the show kicked in it became clear why Primus were inhabiting the front edge of the stage with little ornamentation—they were saving it for the Chocolate Factory. Primus was joined with “The Fungi Ensemble” consisting of Sam Bass on the cello and Mike Dillon on percussion, including marimba and xylophone. I must say there is a terrible shortage of rock xylophone in the world. Dillon earned several well-deserved ovations all by himself. This expanded line-up took the appreciative Peabody crowd through each song of Gene Wilder’s classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” including Candy Man, Golden Ticket, Pure Imagination, Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride (my personal favorite song from the movie), I Want It Now and all of the Oompa-Loompa songs. Oh yes, my friends, there were Oompa-Loompas!

Look, if you don’t like Primus I doubt anything I say will change your mind. If you do like them but think you’ve heard it all before, you’re in for a treat. Les Claypool seemed to come out of his shell and really belted out the lyrics in a style more in line with the classical versions than his trademark clipped speech patterns, although it still sounded distinctly Primus. I was frankly more excited to finally see the remodeled Peabody Opera House when I arrived, and it’s a gorgeous venue with a very courteous and friendly staff, but Primus completely won me over and I’ve been singing Golden Ticket and Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride nonstop since last night. Les Claypool may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but you should never pass up the opportunity to witness weird geniuses in their element.

4.5 / 5.0