Review by B. Patrik
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Primus playing the entire soundtrack to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” sounds like a match made in heaven.
And for the most part, it was at Albany’s Palace Theatre last Friday (October 24). Before a sold-out crowd of excitable diehards, the band’s original line-up tore through every song from the 1971 Roald Dahl adaptation, which doubles as their reunion album released Tuesday, “Primus and the Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble.”
What makes the pairing work is the film’s and band’s shared penchant for weird. “Willy Wonka,” which stars Gene Wilder in the title role, is a tonally faithful (though not scene-for-scene) translation of Dahl’s whimsical-yet-dark children’s classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which five children visit a magical chocolate factory and each but poverty-stricken main character Charlie Bucket befalls a grave “accident” related to his or her vice. It’s a colorful, near-psychedelic film, especially the second half when the action in the factory starts, but when the basic plot is laid out, it almost sounds like a horror movie. Moments in the film are downright terrifying to a seven-year-old (the tunnel scene, in particular, comes to mind).
Primus, formed by bassist and lead howler Les Claypool in 1984 and solidifying around guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander in 1989, spent the ’90s mixing rubbery yet sinister funk and hard rock riffs, monster bass lines and Claypool’s oft-hilarious, faux-Southern accented rants. It’s a sound that is truly all the band’s own, and one that lends itself well to the creepier and more psychedelic moments of the Wonka story, especially Wilder’s big solo from the film “Pure Imagination,” and the aforementioned “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride.” Live, assisted by Wonka costumes, video screens, a mushroom-festooned set and the Fungi Ensemble – percussionist Mike Dillon and cellist Sam Bass – the band upped the trippy quotient of Dahl’s story, creating a musical and visual carnival onstage.