At a Primus show, when the crowd starts chanting "Primus sucks," it's a term of endearment.
The trio got such plaudits multiple times at its concert Thursday in the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre – the opening night of their 2011 world tour.
Primus have been on and off for years now, last releasing a full-length record, Antipop, in 1999. Frontman Les Claypool has conducted a bevy of solo projects and collaborations in that time. With the return of original drummer Jay Lane, the Bay Area band is back on the road and ready to release new material this summer.
Thursday's concert, however, focused on the old. Primus played six cuts from their breakout 1991 disc Sailing the Seas of Cheese. They debuted two new tracks, "The Last Salmon Man" and another that wasn't named, from a forthcoming record that's tentatively titled Green Naugahyde.
The merriment commenced earnestly enough, with a reserved rendition of "Here Come the Bastards" before Primus jammed out a woozy version of "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers." "American Life" also got the extended treatment, a rendering both phantasmal and arena-sized.
Claypool, universally known as a bass avatar, brought out some of his Frankenstein gear for the middle part of the set, including an electric upright stick bass he played with a bow and a Whamola that he hit with a drum stick. The latter sounded like an elastic record played on the wrong speed.
There were plenty of classics in the set list. "Logic dictates when you play Indianapolis, you have to play 'Jerry Was a Racecar Driver' right?" Claypool asked before they launched into the pliable aggression of "My Name is Mud" as footage of former President George W. Bush was projected onto the faces of two giant inflatable astronauts flanking the stage ("we're rebels," Claypool explained for the switcheroo).
The new stuff sounds like vintage Primus – throbbing, dexterous rhythms, electric flamenco flourishes and gobs of demented sing/speak. It's reassuring that the band hasn't lost its flair for the absurd.
Opening act Dirtfoot has to feel like striking gold for the music fan who seeks good, creative new sounds. The Louisiana sextet played a mostly unplugged 45-minute set that was deep on junkyard jams. It included standup bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, sax and two percussionists who weren't afraid to trade solos. They proved there's nothing better than tightly-controlled excess in the live setting. Dirtfoot's self-named "gypsy punk country grumble boogie" is a long way from Primus on the sound chart, but there's still enough of a lineage there to explain the pairing.