Without a doubt, this was the strangest concert I’ve ever attended. There were moments of wicked musicianship where I wished I had been able to convince someone to come with me and there were other moments when the show was so crass and in-the-gutter that I would have blushed and apologized to my unsuspecting guest. (“Did I say I love these guys? I meant I’d heard a few things. But I never would have brought you if I knew they were going to say/do/sing that!)
Puscifer is an offshoot of Tool and A Perfect Circle (APC) front man Maynard James Keenan. As the only permanent member, Keenan selects various notable and talented musicians to work with on a revolving basis and this list of artists has included Tim Alexander (of Primus), Josh Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv), Milla Jovavich (the chick from the movie The Fifth Element), Danny Lohner (of too many acts to list) and Carina Round (a beautiful British singer with whom I may have fallen in love at this concert). The recorded output is quite varied (country, rock, dub), — universal only in the fact that it doesn’t really sound like either Tool or APC, — and the live output is generally changed up from the album; some of Puscifer’s songs exist in a half dozen different forms. I’ve heard the Puscifer concert experience described as “cabaret” and having now seen it first hand, I think I agree.
Saturday’s show was at The Vic, a sit-down venue with a capacity of 1300, a far cry from the arenas that Tool or APC could sell out. The opening band was Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival, a band which I legitimately thought was a fake also fronted by Maynard until I saw both bands on the stage at the same time. As a comedy act, the band was ok, but as an actual band,… let’s just say that there are not that many different ways to sing about kicking the devil in the balls. (Another highlight/blushing moment was “I Can’t Bang You on Sunday.”) “Lo-Fi garage satire” is about the best genre label I can come up with; the bass drum was a cardboard barrel drum, the one actual cymbal was missing a large chunk and the other “cymbal” was an overturned bike basket. The two members of the group talked up the crowd preshow, running through a bit involving missing pants and passing around a magazine that the singer claimed was the “Devil’s Diary,” and the show itself involved a lot of physical comedy. I can’t image these guys opening or headlining in any other circumstance; it’s just a little too niche.
Quick side story: I took the break between the openers and Puscifer to hit the restroom. Looking at the other people in line, I felt more out of my element than ever. I was in a button up shirt with a hipster hat. Everyone else had tattoos, piercings, cut-off tees, muscles, scary facial hair and “don’t f- with me” attitudes. I finished and quickly scurried back to my seat.
When Puscifer came out, it was not Puscifer. We were “treated” instead with The Burger Barns, a husband and wife duo (Keenan and Laura Milligan) that claimed to be punk rock, but were clearly country-western. Puscifer has two genuine county songs (my two least favorite) and they augmented this with twanged up versions of usually heaving driving tunes and a couple video documentary clips featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with the “band.” I was quite scared at this point; not scared I’d be pummeled by beefy dudes like earlier, but scared my $50 ticket bought faux-Puscifer in a Cowboy hat. As with Uncle Scratch, this was mildly comedic, but musically horrifying.
The story of Billy Dee and Hildy wrapped and we segued into a “What is a Puscifer” clip (with Brian Posehn cameo). Then, finally, we got what we had waited for, Puscifer, in pure unadulterated form. Keenan, now in a sharp cut suit with matching bright red socks and tie, bald head and sunglasses, sauntered in and poured himself a glass of wine (from his own Arizona Stronghold winery, I’m sure) and launched into the soft, yet forceful “Momma Sed.” He was shortly accompanied by Carina Round in a sleek black dress, white heels and an acoustic guitar, (as I said above, I fell in love at first sight,) then Uncle Scratch set out a picnic blanket where the two revivalists and any Puscifer members not currently playing could hang out and snack. (Keenan at one point came over and declined the offer of a banana). When singing, Keenan and Round hid at the back of the stage and sang into mics attached to fisheye cameras so that we saw their faces large and distorted on artistic TV monitors. The main drum kit and drummer were out of sight from my seat, but Tim Alexander played a bad-ass secondary drum kit on the other half of the stage. He stood surrounded by several large tom-toms and an elevated bass drum that he literally hit like a gong to fantastic effect.
This was, if you still don’t see it, the strangest concert I’ve ever been to.
The band continued with “Polar Bear” then “Potions,” two songs from their newest EP (and strongest effort yet) “C” is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genetalia Reference HERE). “Potions” is a personal favorite and is a song originally written by the (now-defunct) Tapeworn, a nil-output supergroup featuring Keenan and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor among others. We also received a radically reworked (in a good way) “Indigo Children” and the brilliant single “The Mission.” The show finished, after the picnic was dismissed and the lights dimmed one more time, with the quiet and moody “The Humbling River.” There was no encore.
I want to stress that Maynard is a perfectionist and this show was technically tight from the preshow banter of Uncle Scratch through the professional video clips and up to the utterly ecstatic rock at the end. I just have to say that my utter amazement at the last 40 minutes is tainted by the disappointing hour and a half spent on the jokey, tongue-too-far-in-cheek antics of the opener and The Burger Barns. Puscifer runs through a number of different sets on different nights (I’ve seen reviews mentioning a camping trip set and an airplane set) and the reviews of all sets have generally been positive. Maybe I’d have been universally excited by one of those scenarios, but I here am left wishing they’d spent the Hee-Haw time on real rock instead. That said, I’d probably be willing to throw the dice again if the band comes back through town some time, because when they were on, they were REALLY, REALLY on.