Better Than: Being lost and alone inside a vagina mine.
What is Puscifer?
According to a video introduction by a military officer by the name of Douché ("It's French"), Puscifer is "so mundane you'll want to gouge out your eyes with a rusty spoon, provided you can stay awake long enough."
Or, as Puscifer leader Maynard James Keenan said while setting up a campsite on the stage of the Gusman Center last night: "What is Puscifer? It is many things but the cornerstone is to reconnect with a seemingly lost balance. We at Puscifer believe life is too short to not create something with every breath we draw."
Nominally, Puscifer is Keenan's side project. (His bigger bands are Tool and A Perfect Circle.) But though its songs are similarly dark and also anchored by MJK's clean, slippery voice, Puscifer has a kind of extroverted lightness, as opposed to the inward crush that is a common element of his two other groups.
But where Puscifer really distinguishes itself is through presentation. As soon as his support act finished, a mockumentary about a hillbilly punk band was projected above the empty stage. The video is the sort of thing that finds Keenan in a fluffed up moustache and wig, passed out on the pavement in a puddle of urine. His character's wife asks him, "Is that you or the ground that smells like pee?" Keenan replies, "Yes."
And when the live portion show got going, it didn't start with flashing lights and a dropped curtain. The night began with Keenan methodically setting the stage, arranging props, and laying out instruments for his band to use. He took the time to make a speech about the importance of art and free thought, all before Puscifer ever played a note.
But other than there being an Airstream trailer, a grill, and cardboard cutouts of Princess Leia and moonshiner Popcorn Sutton on stage, the show resembled any old rock concert fronted by a man in a cowboy hat, bouncing around like a possessed marionette and savoring the quiet moments with wine from his own Arizona vineyard.
Even so, Puscifer really isn't that unlike Maynard's other ventures. In Tool, he would paint his body, wear masks and wigs, and sang a song that was a cookie recipe shouted in German. His drummer and bassist in Puscifer are the drummer and bassist in A Perfect Circle.
To some measure, Puscifer probably offers a layer of protection for Keenan. It allows him to explore music with a greater emphasis on throbbing base drones and synthesizers without trying the patience of Tool and A Perfect Circle acolytes. With Puscifer, there is an easy reason to not have to play "Schism" every night.
And Keenan can stand at the rear of the stage in the darkness, with a fort built between him and the audience in the form of his stage set. His videos do the talking for him, allowing him to hang back and sing.
The Gusman Center houses a beautiful theater designed to look like a Mediterranean courtyard, including shifting lights on the ceiling that recreate clouds passing overhead in a moonlit sky. It's generally a home for ballets and operas, not a man in a cowboy hat doing judo moves in front of a giant projection of a blooming mushroom cloud.
Puscifer's music can get heavy and hard. And just when the mostly seated crowd seemed to get restless, Maynard surfaced from the shadows to say, "Just so you're aware, you're not watching a movie. This is happening right now. So you don't have to sit like you're watching a movie."
After the first few songs, the video interludes became considerably less frequent and Puscifer put on a proper rock show, though still occasionally interrupted by Maynard's giddily weird shorts and monologues. There were some collage animations from the Terry Gilliam school. And for the most part, the visuals avoided distracting from the songs.
In spite of all the wigs and props, the songs largely play it straight. That said, this is a band with lyrics about public urination and this honey of a couplet: "Christ is coming and so am I/You would be too if this sexy devil caught your eye."
Puscifer also has a song called "Vagina Mine" that hinges on the dual meaning of the title. The narrator is both claiming possession of the titular vagina and also describing a gynecological spelunking adventure. The latter is enhanced by some strangely specific choreography by Keenan, in which he stoops low, parts some kind of hanging obstruction with his hands, and high steps over something seemingly rather unpleasant.
The net effect is to give the concertgoer a very clear sense of the dimensions and hazards found deep within this particular vagina mine. It would be easy to dismiss this song and accompanying choreography as puerile. But keep in mind that even Mozart wrote a canon for six voices about analingus, so there's a tradition for this sort of thing. Also, it's Maynard.
Like Mozart, Keenan is having fun. He's doing exactly what he wants to be doing and a great deal of Puscifer's charm comes from the awareness that if he wanted to be, Keenan could be filling arenas with either Tool or A Perfect Circle. Puscifer, however, is the music he wants to be playing and this is the direction that his always elaborate visual aesthetic has taken him.
There's an engagement and delight visible in Keenan that is unusual in rock singers this far into their careers and the enthusiasm is contagious. Maybe, even, Keenan catches a bit of it from his adoring audience.
One doesn't buy a Puscifer ticket to hear the hits but to spend a little time in the warped mind of Maynard James Keenan. Nice place to visit. But we wouldn't want to live there.
Critic's Bias: Before this show, my favorite Maynard song was that Tool track that starts with the bass going do-dee-do-dum-dee-dum-doo-dum-dee. You know that one? That one's really good.
The Crowd: These were Maynard devotees who came to be near the man, even if Puscifer is their third favorite of his musical projects. On the way out, a cute redhead and a goateed ganglemeister -- strangers to each other -- debated the relative superiority of Tool versus A Perfect Circle. They concluded by comparing hidden Maynard-related tattoos, his on the hip, hers at the nape of her neck.
Maynard's Version of an Encore: "This is what we do instead of leaving the stage," Maynard said as he and the band sat in their camp chairs before the encore, waiting until there'd been sufficient applause for them to stand and resume the show. And as Puscifer regrouped for one last acoustic song, Keenan playfully admonished his reverently seated audience. "We never said you could sit down. Stand the fuck up," he laughed. "Hands up, how many people are over the age of 48? See? I've earned my right to sit down."
The Opener: In dress and demeanor, Carina Round resembles a young 1950s housewife who, neglected by her husband, has taken up with the bad seeds down the block. In this case, those guys happen to be the rhythm section from A Perfect Circle.
Her songs are throaty, reverb-laden numbers about love gone wrong, delivered with a kind of incredulousness bolstered by a tug at her décolletage here, a husky purr there. When in between songs she chugged her triple iced espresso ("with whiskey in it!") through a straw, mooned the audience, and then belched, it wasn't hard to see how she might get along with Maynard. This is her fourth tour with Puscifer, of which she is also a touring member.
At the conclusion of her set, she received a standing ovation.
-"Conditions of My Parole"
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