A playful children’s movie inspired sinister music at the Uptown Theater on Wednesday.
Primus reinterpreted the soundtrack of the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” for an audience of about 1,000.
The psychedelic rendering of material originally sung by actors including Gene Wilder was at the core of a performance that lasted well over two hours.
A funk band for metal-heads, the California based Primus has been playing an extraordinary combination of heavy metal, funk and jazz for more than 30 years.
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The trio is dominated by Les Claypool. His frenetic bass work ricocheted around the Uptown Theater like rubber bullets fired by a reckless miscreant.
An unconventional vocalist, Claypool talks rather than sings. He often sounds as if he’s reciting ghost stories at a campfire in the Ozarks. During brisk material Claypool resembles a nervous suspect trying to convince a police officer not to arrest him.
The approach has garnered Primus a rabid but limited audience. The trio’s stupendous musicianship is rarely matched by its songwriting skills.
Hearing the members of Primus apply their talents to the sturdy songs of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” during the second set of Wednesday’s concert, consequently, was a revelation.
Supplemented by a cellist and a percussionist, Primus imbued "The Candy Man" with lascivious innuendos. "Wonkamobile” was remade as a vertigo-inducing cacophony. A violent vibraphone solo made a creepy version of “Golden Ticket” even more malevolent.
A grotesque prosthetic nose worn by Claypool, giant mushroom stage props and manipulated video from the film made it explicitly clear that Primus was recasting the soundtrack as an extended study of the consumption of mind-altering drugs.
Although smoke filled the air and plenty of alcohol was guzzled by lightheaded revelers on Wednesday, even clear-eyed Primus fans had to be impressed by the band’s fleet interpretation of the soundtrack. Besides, the menacing tone given to chaste songs like “Pure Imagination” indicated that Primus wasn’t necessarily advocating the use of inebriants.
The original material played in the first set and the encore allowed the band to stretch out. Guitarist Larry LaLonde favored a taut approach that complemented Claypool’s expansive style. He evoked Jimi Hendrix during an exploratory jam on “Harold of the Rocks.”
Claypool indulged his jazz inclinations during an extended introduction to “My Name is Mud,” a selection that also allowed Tim Alexander to demonstrate the range of his enormous drum kit.
It was just one of many moments that made the members of Wednesday’s audience feel as if they had won golden tickets.