Primus, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer (Sessanta Tour) | April 10, 2024 | FirstBank Amphitheater | Franklin, TN – Concert Review

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Review by Trace Rock

The Sessanta Tour is a five-week expedition to celebrate vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s 60th birthday. The mission of the tour is for bands to collaborate by sharing musicians and to evoke a sense of fellowship. The celebration brings together Keenan’s bands Puscifer and A Perfect Circle, along with the Les Claypool-fronted Primus.

Keenan and vocalist and bassist Claypool (also 60) have known each other for thirty-one years. The two met when Keenan’s band Tool and Primus were on the 1993 Lollapalooza Tour. Both men are veteran alternative-rock visionaries who have maintained a loyal fan base for twenty-plus years.

The set up for the Sessanta Tour is unique. The three bands play rotating mini sets of one to four songs. The equipment for all three bands is already set up and this amounts to seamless band switchovers that are under thirty seconds. The three-hour concert is divided into three acts and includes one 10-minute intermission between the second and third sets.

A raised platform creates a two-level stage that features staircases on either side. The second level holds all three drum sets and doubles as a birthday party lounge. Musicians relax on sofas and watch the other bands perform while waiting to play their next performance. They enjoy refreshments and also play ping pong!

Keenan has a baritone vocal tone that he combines with melodic lyrical phrasing. His style is hauntingly hypnotic, both gothic and tranquilizing. The same can be said for the music of Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. Both bands showcase a fair amount of dynamics (rocking & ethereal) and can summon up the tension of Keenan’s other band, Tool. Puscifer is the more contemporary sounding of the two. They create electronically processed sounds and angular grooves that are somewhat danceable. Puscifer’s co-vocalist Carina Round provides melodic vocal melodies that mesh well with Keenan’s baritone voice. The guitar playing in both bands is more about creating colors and textures than supplying a flurry of notes.

Primus is a progressive funk-rock group led by eccentric singer and bassist Les Claypool. Claypool once said that Primus’ music is “an acquired taste, like a meat-flavored soda would be (Pork Soda).” Their songs combine zany lyrics with danceable grooves. Claypool’s bass guitar is featured prominently, and he produces percussive sounds with his stellar slap-playing technique.

Before the concert began, a humorous video featuring Keenan (a.k.a. Agent Dick Merkin) was shown. Keenan explained that there was a zero-camera policy in effect for the show. Those who disobeyed would be escorted out and fed through an oversized meat grinder. Violators would become the secret ingredient in Spam!

A Perfect Circle got the festivities started with a rocking rendition of “The Package.” This is the band’s first U.S. Tour since 2018. Keenan looked dapper-hip with his bleached blonde mohawk and raccoon-eye makeup, while sporting a black three-piece suit. After a performance of “Disillusioned,” Puscifer’s Carina Round shared vocals with Keenan on “The Contrarian.”

Primus decided to play a selection of fan favorites (zingers) and executed a rollicking four-song set that began with “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers.” Claypool looked funky in his round specs, black derby hat and black pin-striped suit. The band kept the driving force in motion with “Too Many Puppies,” which transitioned (without pause) into “Sgt. Baker.” Local guitar phenom Billy Strings guested on “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.” Strings sang the second verse and unleashed a blazing electric guitar solo.

The upbeat ambience and pulsating rhythms of “Tiny Monsters” was a highlight of Puscifer’s three-song set. The band also performed “Galileo” and the Versatile Mix version of “Indigo Children.”

Primus cranked things up a few notches (to 11) with a boisterous three-song set that began with “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.” Next, they drove into “My Name Is Mud” from their 1993 Pork Soda album. Les Claypool’s percussive bass sound rattled the foundation of FirstBank Amphitheater. Les kicked his boot out and twirled around like he was at a hoe down at the county fair! Keenan guested on “Tommy The Cat” and vocalized the parts originally recorded by Tom Waits on the 1991 Sailing The Seas Of Cheese album. Three-quarters of the way through, Claypool rode a chair lift up the right-side staircase to where Keenan was seated. Les played higher notes on his bass the higher he climbed. He then walked back down the stairs and unleashed a spectacular improvised bass solo – before the rest of the band chimed in to end the song.

Puscifer and A Perfect Circle performed the next four sets. The two bands played a total of twenty-one songs, while Primus only played nine. I found that perplexing considering Primus and A Perfect Circle have sold a comparable number of records. Puscifer has sold a decent number of records too, but I don’t believe that it warranted a twelve-song advantage.

Puscifer kept the momentum going where Primus left off with the fast-tempoed, vastly rhythmic, “Flippant.” Mat Mitchell (guitar) and Greg Edwards (bass) positioned themselves on the stairs and second level respectively, leaving room for Keenan and Round to prance past one another in unison and perform synchronized dance moves at half-speed. “Flippant” was the perfect vehicle to showcase the exceptional drumming of Gunnar Olsen. Olsen has also performed with the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty and Bruce Springsteen. “Bullet Train To Iowa,” “The Underwhelming,” and fan fave “Momma Sed,” were also played during this four-song set.

A Perfect Circle kicked off their four-song set with “The Hollow.” Primus’ Tim Alexander, who was celebrating his 59th birthday on this evening, sat in on drums. Alexander played drums on the studio version, which was featured on the band’s debut album, Mer de Noms. Alexander has also performed with the Blue Man Group and recorded two albums as a member of Attention Deficit (Alex Skolnick and Michael Manring). Claypool guested on the next song, “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.” Les wore a pig mask while bowing an electric upright bass. A Perfect Circle closed out their set with two Tool-esque sounding tracks, “Weak and Powerless” and “The Outsider,” with both receiving a resounding response from the crowd.

Another humorous video, this time featuring an elderly Keenan in a hospital bed, was shown during the ten-minute intermission that preceded Act 3. I’m guessing The Rolling Stones would call the 60-year-old Keenan a young whippersnapper!

Puscifer’s two-song set included the somber “The Humbling River” and the Tool-esque sounding “The Remedy.” Keenan and Round enjoyed a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots during “The Remedy.”

Much to the delight of the crowd, A Perfect Circle kept the Tool-sounding vibes going with “Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums” and “Judith.” Drummer Josh Freese made his return with A Perfect Circle after a 13-year hiatus. Freese played drums on the band’s first three albums. The drummer is now a permanent member of the Foo Fighters and has been one of the most in-demand session and touring drummers of the last 30 years. Freese has also performed with Guns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Devo, and Sting.

Claypool rocked a Pinocchio mask during Primus’ seven-minute rendition of “Southbound Pachyderm.” The song’s ending faded into a four-minute instrumental jam. The jam featured all three drummers on the bill grooving along to Claypool’s improvised bass soloing.

The next set saw each band perform a song from their new split release EP, The Sessanta E.P.P.P. (for Primus, Puscifer & APC) was released to coincide with the tour. The EP includes one song from each band and all of the songs were co-written by Keenan.

The grand finale presented the full ensemble of musicians performing Puscifer’s “Grand Canyon.” Carina Round’s vocals shone brightly, while “Claypool the Piggy” bowed his upright e-bass. Keenan gave the audience permission to record and snap photos of the performance. The musicians greeted each other with hugs and fist bumps at the conclusion of the evening’s final song.

Keenan’s voice was in fine form throughout the show. The sound production was also outstanding throughout. Cutting edge technology was utilized to create the spectacular light show and video feed. The lighting in the stage’s backdrop included colorful circular and vertical lights that lit up like the Vegas strip. There wasn’t a lot of lighting coming from the front spotlights and this made it difficult at times to clearly see the performers. Crew videographers, along with a video camera that oscillated across the stage, created video images that were enhanced with tilt and motion effects.

I was impressed with the Sessanta extravaganza, and I had a really good time. I would like to have seen Primus perform more songs. You can never go wrong with more Primus and more cowbell.

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