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Primus’ Les Claypool returns to play Rush on the site of his Expo ’74 experience

Aug. 12, 2021 Updated Sat., Aug. 14, 2021 at 6:55 a.m.

It’s not uncommon to find recording artists delivering the entirety of a classic album during a tour. However, it is unusual for an established band to render an album from start to finish from another act.

But there is no other group like Primus, who will perform Friday at the Pavilion at Riverfront. The nearly unclassifiable avant-rock act is performing Rush’s “Farewell to Kings” in its entirety. Bassist-vocalist Les Claypool reveals the impact that Rush and Expo ’74 - Spokane’s 1974 world’s fair - had on his young life and how weird it is to perform on the site of the exposition.

Of all the Rush albums to select, why go with the relatively obscure “Farewell to Kings”?

We’ve joked about doing this kind of project for years. We talked about doing (Rush’s) “Hemispheres” a couple of years ago. We talked about doing the Rush album “2112,” but that was too obvious. I saw Rush when I was 14. It was the first concert I ever attended, and I’ll never forget it. It was at the Cow Palace (in Daly City, California). It was the greatest moment of my life at that moment. It was a mental ejaculation.

“Farewell to Kings” holds a special place in my heart. We were going to do this when (Rush drummer, the late) Neil (Peart) was still on the planet. But we went on tour with Slayer for their final tour (2018-2019). We were going to do it not that long ago, but COVID pushed it back further.

What kind of feedback have you received from the surviving members of Rush – Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson?

They’ve been amazing. (Primus guitarist) Larry (LaLonde) has talked to Alex all the time about which guitars to use. I’ve been going back and forth with Geddy about how the hell he did that stuff on bass, sang and played keyboards. Holy crap!

Speaking of singing, your range isn’t quite what Geddy’s is. How are you going to pull off the vocals?

I’m singing in my range, which isn’t anywhere near what Geddy can pull off. I can’t go into Geddy’s stratosphere. The bass parts are challenging enough. The vocal parts are monster.

Rush is well-respected now, but when I was growing up a generation or so ago, Rush was dissed.

History is extraordinarily kind to Rush. But you never saw Rush in music magazines, especially Rolling Stone when they were in their prime. Rush wasn’t on MTV. Geddy joked that they are the world’s biggest cult band, and they were.

I revealed that I loved Rush in college, and a fellow student slammed me and told me that only Elvis Costello and Talking Heads mattered.

It was all about Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads back then. They were who the cool people liked. Liking Rush was like being a Trekkie or being into “Dungeons and Dragons.” Rush got caught up in the rebellion against art rock or prog rock. During the ‘90s, we were asked to tour with Rush, and it was like a wet dream I had when I was 16 years old.

We got grief from the European press. We were asked how a young, alternative band could go on tour with this dinosaur prog-rock band. My response was, “It’s Rush!” But Rush was my world as a kid. But like you say, you were judged by the clothes you wore and the music you listened to when you and I were kids.

What do you remember from your first concert?

I drank three warm Lowenbraus in the parking lot and threw up. Pat Travers opened the show on the greatest night of my life to that point.

My memories of concerts from those days is vomit, which was ubiquitous at shows, particularly during an early ’80s Black Sabbath concert experience. I also remember getting pushed so hard against the barricade in front of the stage during Sabbath that I gasped for oxygen.

Vomit was everywhere then. Such a different time than today. It could get scary at shows. I remember going to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman” tour, the last tour with (guitarist) Randy Rhoads. It was at the Cow Palace (in 1981). Same story as you. I was getting crushed up front, and I thought I was going to die.

On the lighter side, how much Primus material will we hear since you’re playing “Kings” in its entirety?

(Primus drummer Tim Alexander) Herb pointed out to me that “Kings” is only 36 minutes, so there is plenty of time for Primus songs.

What’s the biggest upside of playing “Kings”?

We’re rehearsing. It’s been invigorating for Larry and Tim and I since we never rehearsed that much. We would often decide to get dinner or drink some wine. “Kings” forced us to be in a room to play and play and play. It opened a door for us. We’re working on our craft, and that’s a wonderful thing. But you’re a writer. Sometimes you just don’t feel like doing it, but this forced us to focus.

What’s your greatest Spokane memory?

That’s an easy one. It was being at the world’s fair in Spokane in 1974 with my grandmother. I was a little kid. But I remember they had this amazing new invention that was going to change the world. It was futuristic. It didn’t show up for another 15 years. It was a bag that would shoot out of a steering wheel of a car when you got into an accident. I thought that was amazing! That whole area was brand spanking new when we were there.

You’re actually playing on the grounds of the Spokane world’s fair, also known as Expo ‘74.

Wow, I’ve come full circle. When I go back, I’ll think of the trip with my grandmother, her boyfriend and my aunt. We drove up (from San Francisco) and had the best time.

It’s been four years since the last Primus album. Any word on new material?

Some ideas are being thrown around, but we’re not there yet. We will have a new album at some point. We’re focusing on this tour and “Farewell to Kings.” That’s enough for us for now.

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