Primus Debut Songs At Tribute To Late Sax Player

Les Claypool's band joins Spearhead to raise money for widow and son of saxophonist Calder Spanier.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was the kind of night that Calder Spanier lived

for.

While many gathered at Bimbo's 365 Club on Wednesday had no idea who the

late, great Berkeley, Calif.-based saxophonist was, the evening's tribute

to him put music, talent and the pushing of sonic boundaries at the top of

the bill, a choice Spanier certainly would have approved.

"When he was alive, Calder Spanier was a musician's musician," professed

Spearhead frontman Michael Franti from the small stage. "He loved to play,

whether it was for money or just to play, he was always blowing that

saxophone."

The assembled musicians onstage behind Franti - namely the members of

Primus, DJ Disk, percussionist Scott Amandola and keyboardist Karl Young -

nodded their heads in approval and remembrance. Spanier, who was struck and

killed while re-fueling his car on the Bay Bridge two years ago, was a

well-loved figure among San Francisco musicians. On this night, some of his

comrades and fellow musicians gathered at the 800-seat club to help raise

money for Spanier's widow and their 18-month-old son.

Still, even minutes into the show, it was clear who was the main

attraction. "I'm here because Primus is here," yelled 30-year-old Shawn

Sadler, visibly excited to be just a few feet from the stage.

If the two songs that Primus debuted - including a cover of Stanley

Clarke's "Silly Putty" - were any indication, their fans have much to look

forward to on their upcoming EP. "I wanted to bastardize a song and it damn

near killed me," Claypool said of Clarke's tune. "This is the first time

anyone's heard us play it."

The sold-out event started off with an avant-garde set by MDA, a freeform,

jazzy, discordant quartet anchored by DJ Mariko that included a woman

playing a

homemade sitar-like instrument that could be made to sound like a soothing

harp one minute and a screaming electric guitar the next. Outrageous rock

act Mr. Bungle's Trevor Dunn provided the slinky bass groove around which

Mariko and Amandola kept the beats. Though MDA's set was a boundary-pushing

experience, the crowd at Bimbo's was barely at one-third capacity during

their set.

To the Primus fans in attendance, the anticipation was building and

patience was thinning. "Kind-of sounds like the current Yoko Ono stuff," said Jon Drake, 27, from

a table near the back of the room.

When bassist Les Claypool of Primus joined the ensemble for their last jam,

the crowd filled the dance floor and the mostly male audience let out a

powerful roar. Once their jam had ended and the slight DJ Polywog and her

posse appeared on the hastily assembled side stage, however, many that had

rushed to the front slunk back to the bar.

But Polywog didn't let the thinning crowd deter her from creating lush,

sonic landscapes. As one of her rappers repeated during the opening song,

"Float away in the landscape of your mind/ What will we find?," Polywog - who

joined L.A. alterna-punkers Jane's Addiction on their "Relapse" tour last

year - offered a more DJ Shadowesque approach to mixing, seamlessly

blending beats and creating moods.

Her accompaniment - two rappers, a cellist, a saxophonist and a person

playing a didgeridoo - only added to the ethereal mix.

Franti offered the evening's first stab at humor as he took the stage and

roundly praised California's new statute that bans smoking in bars, saying,

"It

smells great up here. We don't have that cigarette-smoke shit clouding us

anymore. All we got is beautiful, pure ganja smoke."

The crowd reacted with loud approval and the club responded with increased

security. Franti rapped three numbers a cappella, including "Red

Beans and Rice," before he was joined onstage by DJ Disk, Karl Young and

the trio of speed-funk punkers known as Primus (who were greeted adoringly

with chants of "Primus sucks!").

The group ran through Spearhead's "Hole in the Bucket" and "Of Course You

Can" before a freestyle jam erupted, with Franti chanting, "Bill Clinton's

got lipstick on his collar/ Everyone in the media started to holler."

In minutes, the small club was packed with screaming fans who never let up

through the all-star band's brief set. After one of the shortest

between-band breaks in history, Primus returned and slid into the timely

"Groundhog's Day."

Explaining that the band's been in the studio for the last couple of weeks,

Claypool told the crowd that Primus were going to play a lot of numbers

they've never played live before. They then launched into "Silly Putty" and

another number that is set to appear on their EP.

The band extended its signature song, "Tommy the Cat," to 15 minutes,

and brought all the evening's musicians back onstage for a final encore, a

nameless jam that found Franti with a bass, mocking Claypool's leg-kicking

style.

It's just as Spanier would have had it. [Mon., Feb.

9, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]