Funk metal legends led a Missoula crowd through a career-spanning set for a special one-off headlining show at the Wilma on Saturday. 

Primus, led by bassist and singer Les Claypool, took a detour from its tour with thrash metal legends Slayer. The funk metal trio has been opening for Slayer as part of the band’s “The Final Campaign” farewell tour. 

Claypool, dressed like a vaudevillian villain in a copper, double button-down jacket and bowler hat, was quick to point out how much the band liked the sound of the Wilma. 

“We’ve been playing a lot of these places designed for smacking hockey pucks around,” he said. “And [they] don’t have as good of acoustics.”

Primus has been to Missoula three years in a row, starting in 2017 with a headlining performance at the Kettlehouse Amphitheater and co-headlining show in 2018 with metal behemoths Mastodon. 

Sonically, the band is bass-first, with Claypool producing a complex, dissonant bass line that acts as the foundation for each song. While Claypool’s fingers move like spiders up and down the neck of his instrument, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander provide a variety of textures, feedback and pounding rhythms.  

Before the show started, the crowd grew restless in a line that wrapped around the corner from the venue. That restless energy moved into the Wilma, with the crowd chanting, “Primus sucks,” a slogan of admiration that dates back to 1991 when the band was relatively unknown.

Primus played a two-set show spanning 21 songs in just under three hours, opening the first set with “American Life,” from its 1991 major label debut, “Sailing the Seas of Cheese.” 

Virtually every song opened with Claypool slapping and plucking his custom bass. The instrument matched the player’s style, looking like a creation from a Willy Wonka fever dream. 

A blend of deep cuts and hits like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “My Name is Mud” drove the multi-generational crowd wild. Longtime fans, first timers and parents introducing Primus to their kids all danced and head banged together. 

Each song had accompanying visuals on four massive LED screens situated behind the band. During the song “Mr. Krinkle,” Claypool donned a latex pig mask like the one featured in the video playing behind him. Claypool also switched to an upright electric bass and bow, utilizing a slap technique that made the instrument sound like a second set of drums.  

Both setlists provided a variety of themes, from heavy, jagged songs like “Too Many Puppies,” to more ambient and psychedelic tracks such as the closer “Southbound Pachyderm.” For much of the show, the audience reflected the energy of each song, moving from head banging fury to gentle, trance-like swaying.

Primus will return as support for the Slayer farewell tour, playing arenas along the West coast to finish off the year.