Primus and Mastodon w/ All Them Witches, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY
The Ford Amphitheater, June 3, 2018
Ice Age Beasts and Faeries Unite
Back in April when Sarah and I saw Ministry, I mentioned to her that Mastodon and Primus were playing in Coney Island in June. I’ve always been intrigued by Mastodon. They’ve got a strange sound, but their musicianship is impressive, and when I’m in the right mood I really enjoy their stuff. Primus is not my cup of tea, but Les Claypool is a superb bassist, and I could only imagine how weird a Primus show would be. I told Sarah I was interested, and she said she’d check out the show if I wanted. So on a night that ended in a downpour, we sat through a spectacular set from Mastodon, and left early on what was not only a weird but ultimately disappointing set from Primus.
Cheap Seats and a Slayer Tank Top
Ticketmaster is one great friend of mine lately. Right after the Minstry show, I got an email from them offering $20 seats at a wide variety of summer shows. And wouldn’t you know, the Mastodon/ Primus show was on the docket. I got us seats toward the back, having no idea what the Ford Amphitheatre would look like inside. But then, it didn’t matter. As with Ministry, there wasn’t any real investment here. Sarah and I were going to check out something different, and it only cost me $40, without any Ticketmaster fees. We could bail at any time, or stay the whole night. It wasn’t like it was Slayer on their Final Tour or anything.
Speaking of Slayer’s Final Tour, a week earlier I found out that thrash show was coming to the PNC Arts Centre in NJ. Because my sister is f’n awesome, she agreed to go with me. I snatched up some verified resale tickets for the lawn—no fees again, Ticketmaster really is awesome—and when I checked my TM app on my phone, I realized the Slayer show was on Saturday, June 2. One night before the Primus show on Sunday, June 3. It was going to be a long two days of concert.
After a few chaotic hours at my new job, I bolted and hopped on the Q train all the way down to the south shore of Brooklyn to Coney Island. I laid low and grabbed some food as I waited for Sarah. The day was windy, with the threat of rain that never hit the night before at PNC a reality for Mastodon and Primus. Fortunately, the Ford Amphitheater is an outdoor venue under a tarp, so when the sky broke open midway thru the show, it didn’t prompt us to leave.
The day was also much colder than I expected. The night before, I bought a Slayer tank top to Sport the War against the heat. Wearing that tank top the next night, I bought a Mastodon shirt to sport it against the chills. That shirt was 35 bucks, which was almost the price of both tickets for the show, but worth every penny. It kept me warm and mostly dry, though not as warm as the Primus sweatshirt with a monkey wearing Claypool’s hat would have. This is the perfect spot for me to muse on the setup of the merch stand. It was toward the back of the hall, a little to the right of our seats, only maybe six people deep from a ledge. I’m surprised nobody fell off and landed on the people in the seats below. Given the tight space, it was also inconvenient that fans could only buy Primus merch on the left side, and Mastodon merch on the right. So if you wanted shirts for both bands, you actually had to navigate those tight quarters twice. Maybe I’m a little less upset about not getting the Primus monkey hoodie after all.
All Them Waste of Time Bitches
As we filed in, opening act All Them Witches was in mid-set. It’s never a good sign for an opener when I don’t remember much about their tunes. That’s the case here, as I only recall they were not good.
As Sarah and I settled in our seats and waited for two real bands, I made some observations on the venue. The seats in the back were a mixture of high school cafeteria and Roman Coliseum. The food area was behind us, cordoned off by black sheets. Ticketmaster announced rooftop upgrades, but I still don’t really understand that; were they saying fans could sit atop the tarp, get rained on and have no view at all? Of primary concern was my fear that President Lincoln would get shot, and the show would stop. The Ford Amphitheater is a quirky little venue, but Sarah and I both dug it and we’d see a show there again. We liked our seats so much that, when a staffer came to us offering us a free upgrade to closer seats, we stayed put.
The Call of the Mastodon
Mastodon hit the stage with a fury and the show was on. Mastodon is the rare case of me going to see an act that formed this millennium (Primus was around in the 90s, but I wasn’t here for them). I prefer acts that were around in the 80s and 90s, but Mastodon proved a worthy exception. They were one of the tightest live acts I’ve ever seen, and they were great.
For a guy who prefers speed above all other musical elements, I appreciated Mastodon for their musicianship. They were heavy throughout, but they accompany that with a melodic sound that makes their music that much better. Even on their slower tunes they thunder along, so I never got bored. They’re probably the best band on a technical level that I’ve seen in ages. Mastodon is pound for pound one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, and I’d go see them again, more than once.
One interesting note here. Mastodon rotates vocals, sometimes within a song. I love a few bands that do this—Queen was one of the best at this, and the Bangles are still a guilty pleasure—and Mastodon does it really well.
During their show, a few screens behind them sent out trippy images. The visuals enhanced the show, and though I don’t usually count those sorts of things when I grade out a band, I did here. It wasn’t the junkyard setup I saw at Ministry, but it was more effective.
Mastodon technically was the co-headliner (whatever the Hell that means; last act is always the headliner), so I got to hear them for an hour and fifteen. That’s 15 minutes more than Obituary gave me as a solo headliner. I think I’m still a little bitter about that. But I digress. That set length meant that Mastodon had time to play a nice mix of older songs and tunes from their new album Emperor of Sand. The only negative about their performance, and it’s a very tiny one, is they didn’t play “Colony of Birchmen,” the tune which led me to discover them when it was on Rock Band 2. It’s a great song, and it would’ve added to the show, but then that’s only one more reason to see Mastodon again.
After their music ended, the drummer came to the mic at the front of the stage. He told us he was going to get naked, then described how he was going to shower, get dressed up and then head out into GA to be among the fans so he could watch Primus. I don’t know if he followed thru on that or not. If he did, I do wonder if he stayed for Primus’ whole set. Sarah and I did not.
Not Primed for BS Concept Albums
Let me start off with honesty. I’ve never liked Primus. That’s weird, because the bass guitar is my favorite of all instruments, and Les Claypool is a wizard when he’s got one in his hand. He plays the bass as the lead, so bass and drums are the real deal and the guitar is so minimal, it’s just kind of there. But Primus is so goddamn weird, and they’re more of a funk/ experimental band than rock, so I could never get into them. Sarah and I had discussed we could leave right after Mastodon, especially since we were coming off a six hour thrash show the night before. But that morning, I decided I wanted to check them out just for the experience, and I was willing to stay as long as I could last.
Surprisingly, there were a multitude of empty seats as Primus hit the stage. Primus has been around forever and should have pulled a packed house, especially with that $20 ticket offer. Sarah thought it was because the Ford Amphitheater is only in its second summer season, and fans likely don’t know about it. I can see that, and I added that Mastodon and Primus are an odd match for a show, with diverse musical styles and two different crowds of fans. Maybe 70% turnout was a lot less than we had expected.
The set started off fun. Les was being his goofy self, slapping away on his bass and blowing me away with just how talented a bassist he is (Outside of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, he’s probably the best bassist I’ve ever seen live). The screens were projecting oddball images, the crowd was dancing along, and for a guy who doesn’t like Primus, I was having a good time.
And then The Desaturating Seven hit, and all the fun raced out of this show like the air thru a hole in a balloon.
For those not in the know, The Desaturating Seven is Primus’ new concept album. It’s about faeries and goblins and all other sorts of fantasy creatures. According to the internet, Claypool based it off a fairytale book he used to read to his kids. After the first five songs of the set, Claypool and co. played the entire seven song album. And so the nightmare began.
I’ve never been a big fan of concept albums, but I’m a proponent of playing them full and in order if doing them live, as they don’t make much sense otherwise. At least I was, until Primus launched into this one. As soon as Les replaced his top hat with one with ram horns and the drummer donned some druid gear, this show tanked hard. I know Primus is a weird band, and certainly an acquired taste, but playing the concept album brought about a new problem. It smacked of Les Claypool engaging in self-indulgent excess. Even those hardcore Primus fans who were dancing along came to a halt once a wizard’s face appeared onscreen touting about the state of whichever faerie land was being invaded. I get that you liked reading some Italian fairytale to your kids, Les. That doesn’t mean I need a seven-song in-set indulgence that basically boils down to LES CLAYPOOL’S PETER JACKSON’S LORD OF THE RINGS. I could funk out to those earlier tunes; I couldn’t get to the exit quickly enough once this trash hit. Sarah probably said it best on social media: “When did Primus become noise? I’ve seen them before and enjoyed it but I am not into this storybook abstract noise they are playing. It sucks that is the majority of the show so far.” It sucked so bad that we stayed for only one more song, and that was just to cleanse our palates of desaturation.
That last song was neither “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” nor the South Park theme song, sadly, as Primus wasn’t playing either of them this tour. Our early exit meant I missed out on “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and “My Name is Mud,” songs that would have been fun, which Sarah said he put at the end of the set so people would stick around. Which we were clearly not doing. We chose driving rain for the short walk to Sarah’s car rather than the rest of Primus’ set. That says it all.
The PriMastodon Experience
The Primus/ Mastodon experience was worth it in that I got to see Mastodon put on a master class in musicianship, and checked out Primus, whom I’d never have seen otherwise. And I got to hang out with my sister and jam to some bands for the second night in a row. Hanging out with Sarah makes anything fun, even when Primus is a letdown. Hanging with Sarah is never a letdown.