It required a couple of aborted efforts to eventually launch Thompson’s Point, Portland’s latest outdoors music venue. Ingrid Michaelson’s June 28 concert was shifted to the State Theatre due to torrential rain and high winds, while the Passion Pit concert on July 22 was postponed when singer Michael Angelakos took ill. It was starting to look like the venue itself was snakebitten, but the third time proved the charm: the weather offered a pleasant if unseasonably cool evening for the July 27 Primus show, and frontman Les Claypool managed not to injure his bass-slapping thumb in the days prior to the gig.
In retrospect, the evening’s lineup was an ideal way to break in a new outdoor venue. With a brief set by The Ghost of Saber Tooth Tiger and longer performances by durable rock trios Dinosaur Jr. and Primus, the slate had a full festival feel. The latter two bands, with their 1990s alt-rock cred, flashes of eccentricities, and occasional penchant for heavy, head-down jamming, are ideally suited for a wide cross-section of Portland’s rock tastes.
Dinosaur Jr. continued their post-reunion victory lap with their third local appearance in four years; each one so perfectly invoking the early 1990s that anyone old enough to have attended an original Lollapalooza likely felt a strange sense of displacement. Not much has changed with the outfit in the past 30 years; they still sound like a sardonic teenager mumbling to himself while wading through knee-deep mud. Which is to say, they were great.
There was a flub or two and some issues with the sound mix during “Start Choppin’,” the set’s second number, but these were quickly ironed out – and besides, the song doesn’t sound right if it isn’t pushing up against its own seams. As with all of Dinosaur Jr.’s late-career concerts, the most impressive part is how well the new songs interlock with the old ones, confirming the current vitality of a band that could easily be receding to fit its name. “Watch the Corners,” for example, is a monumental earworm that stole the whole set. It’s also from 2012, which hints that they’ll soon be back with more.
Primus also found new life beyond its 1990s heyday; they did so by appealing to jamband sensibilities in a post-Bonnaroo landscape. The band has always enjoyed the occasional guitar or bass solo, but I saw them multiple times in the ’90s and don’t recall them stretching songs such as “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” and “American Life” into full marathons. For the most part, this approach suits their effortless proficiency, and the anything-goes approach meant their set held surprises such as the terrific “Fisticuffs,” a deeper cut from 1997’s The Brown Album.
This mentality only betrayed them when they slid sideways into an aimless mid-tempo stretch – which included an unfortunately placed rendition of an Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – before returning to favorites such as “Southbound Pachyderm” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” Primus can be unfairly derided by non-fans, but they’re crowd pleasers who never fail to deliver locked-in grooves, super-sized musicianship, offbeat humor, and a sound that is wholly their own.
The venue itself also passed with high marks, proving to be spacious, scenic and great-sounding. There were more than enough beer stands and port-o-johns (these details matter), and the food trucks were very reasonably priced. At one point before sunset, I enjoyed a delicious plate of fish and chips as Dinosaur Jr. played their classic “Freak Scene” and several large herons flew overhead. It’s not such a bad way to pass a summer evening.
WHAT: Primus with Dinosaur Jr.
WHERE: Thompson’s Point, Portland
REVIEWED: July 27