Primus is more than a band, they are an institution. The boundary shattering Bay Area act has made an entire career of brainy concepts and musical wizardry to draw in legions of fans chanting “Primus Sucks”! So when the band launched their Willy Wonka inspired concept album Primus And The Chocolate Factory (ATO/Prawn Song) album in 2014, it wasn’t a huge leap or a left turn at all. In fact is makes perfect sense. In a concert setting, even more so. Brought to life by the imagination of the band and inspired by the beloved source material and joined by The Fungi Ensemble; a typically zany Primus show is elevated to a theatrical roller-coaster event emotionally. Even if you don’t have a connection to the original film, this material hits you emotionally as much as it tickles your funny bone, as the band as always done. Shot at The Rialto Theatre in Tuscon, AZ by Melina Dellamarggio of Melina D Photography for Ghost Cult, you don’t have to wait to dream the dreams to watch the music makers weave their magic spells.
With a career spanning three decades and a reputation as one of our world’s most loved and respected bands of a near cult status, Primus are one of our world’s leading lights in music that is, to put it lightly, unconventional and unpredictable. Even by their standards however, the proposition Primus And The Chocolate Factory (ATO Records) (the reunion of original members Claypool, Lalonde and Alexander) is a difficult one to fathom.
Both a tribute and a reimagining to the songs of 1971’s musical classic Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory; made famous by Gene Wilder’s untouchable performance as the eccentric and somewhat sinister factory owner, this really unearths and highlights the film/books’ menacing undertones. Introduction track “Hello Wonkites” encapsulates the tone with its playful, cartoon like sound but with a twisted atmosphere.
Their take on ‘Pure Imagination’ has to be the albums highlight, taking the uplifting and joyous original and turning it into the kind of madness that Frank Zappa would be proud of. Yet there are traits present that stay faithful to the film soundtrack; notably the several “Oompa” segments which maintain the original patronising appeal, only with Claypool’s fat bass sound on top of it.
By heightening the dark, ominous undercurrent of a film that many of us would have grown up with this could be mistaken for the biggest childhood ruining event since a certain Rolf Harris, but this is performed with an affection for the tale, and the detail within is a testament to this. As unhinged as it is catchy, this should strike a note with both those who grew up with the film and those who are drawn to music of the quirky and bewildering variety. Surely the sonic equivalent of sitting down to enjoy the movie with a couple of LSD pills.