Review and photos by Ellen Eldridge
The key to success as a musician, over a period of a decade or more, lies in the need to constantly reinvent oneself. Everyone seated in the Cobb Energy Centre on Wednesday night understood the principles that Maynard James Keenan follows for his art, especially once his video montage from past Puscifer performances, played in-between Carina Round’s opening act and the main show, transitioned into his welcoming warning about no flash photography. Maynard’s menagerie of characters includes a Pattonesque soldier standing drunk before an American flag telling the crowd to verify the text on the ticket stub, and bullies them with a round of verbal mortar to remind them he thinks flash photography is rude and distracting. Many fans who have attended Puscifer shows have seen this skit before and will attest to the staff walking about the arena attempting to arrest anyone caught recording the show.
Full gallery at the bottom of the post.
What Puscifer does extremely well is entertain. As someone with an opportunity to see many shows, I sincerely appreciated the chance to have fun again. I laughed, literally, out loud at the skits from last tour with Billy D. and characters I longed to figure out. When Keenan finally walked onstage he did so pulling a trailer! The screen above stage right showed a Confederate flag bordered in the text “Welcome to Arizona,” and a picture of Keenan in a white t-shirt and mustache giving the finger. The singer-turned-actor exaggerated the weight of pulling the trailer out while the crowd called his name. Then he gave a monologue that, while tongue-in-cheek, showed off the simple elegance in his constant desire to create something meaningful during his lifetime be it music, wine or art. His encouragement for the crowd to follow in his footsteps felt inspiring.
Once the songs began, the large background screen turned into a desert road and Keenan, in usual form, took his place positioned to become a shadowy figure. I’ve come to understand that he really just wants to put on an entertaining act more than have his fans eye him. The jokes extended through skits including a backwoods-looking man dressed in fatigues sitting at a desk sharpening knives. Pictures of Hannah Montana and other pop stars decorated his shack and he answered questions like, “What do the aliens listen to?” with steady and serious eyes, “Well, the good aliens listen to Christina Aguilera…and the bad aliens, well they listen to Tool.” The crowd laughed as Puscifer continued their impressive concert.
Fans of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer can agree that Keenan live is a treat; his powerful voice rivals well what one hears on the studio versions, and the energy in the room generates a heat tempered by his sarcastic, dry humor.
The entire set design brought fans to the desert, as Puscifer claims the latest release Conditions of My Parole does. Two different sets of drums were wheeled out on wagons and the band played the parts of campers in the desert, patrons of psychics, and wine connoisseurs. Keenan and Round continually sipped on Merkin wine from Caduceus Cellars. For anyone who may not already know, this is yet another of Keenan’s creative outlets; he makes and sells wine from the Verde Valley of Northern Arizona. Many of the references in the songs on Conditions of My Parole refer back to this part of the world.
The performance of songs like “Toma” with the screen showing “Arizona Border Patrol, we put the PANIC back in Hispanic,” and the recurring theme of water in “Monsoons” and “Oceans” with its dry desert roads viewed from above added insight into the imagery from the album. As with all other Keenan projects, Puscifer was visually striking with patterns of geometrical shapes projected from the screen. During “Man Overboard,” a ninja crossed the stage stealthily taking pictures. This was one of my favorite parts of the show because of the relationship Keenan has to the media and his rare allowance of photographers or interviews. If I’m not mistaken, nearly the entire new album was performed along with older songs like “Indigo Children,” “The Undertaker,” and “Rev 22:20.” Puscifer’s music follows the line of thinking that those who truly connect to Keenan understand. His creative outlet entertains immensely and I would recommend this show to anyone, though many just wouldn’t get it. As I said to one of the Cobb Centre staff people who asked me to describe the music, “Oh yeah, it’s alternative all right.”