Puscifer leaves Vancouver awestruck with audio-visual extravaganza
At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Tuesday, March 13
It’s easier to get people to bang their heads to your rock ’n’ roll anthem than it is to cut up a crowd with a quip or novelty song, and Puscifer leader Maynard James Keenan knows this. Rather than deliver one-liners in a tweed blazer or bawdy sing-alongs like Tenacious D, his comedy-dabbling act’s performance at the Centre on Tuesday delivered a multimedia package that showcased moody musical pieces, potty-mouthed sketches, and an affinity for nature footage. Funnily enough, it worked.
First up, however, was a set from Brit solo artist Carina Round, who, along with her backup band, also plays in Puscifer. Her tunes, as pleasant as they were, weren’t exactly all smiles. Merging Garbage’s alt-rock sheen with a tinge of goth folk, her songs occasionally homed in on sad tales of drunken sex (the bad kind) and broken marriages. Bassist Matt McJunkins did try to crack wise when a startled Round screeched after snapping a string on her capoed Danelectro, asking if a spider had just dropped from the ceiling. The fumbled punchline had him admit that the band was having “technical difficulties” with its banter.
The crowd cracked up, however, over a between-bands mockumentary on troubled fictional country act the Burger Barns, also played by members of Puscifer. While Keenan’s performances with art-metal icons Tool generally find him skulking in the shadows, he’ll gladly step to the forefront with Puscifer, at least while in disguise. Dolled up in an ill-fitting leisure suit, mullet wig, and fake moustache, the singer played the fool as Billy Dee Burger, a drunken womanizer who passes off his family act’s hee-haw country cuts as the punkest of punk. The band, of course, played a honky-tonk rendition of hardcore greats the Circle Jerks’ “World Up My Ass”.
Swapping personas, Keenan next appeared on-screen as sloshed military meanie Major Douche (pronounced Du-Chay), who had the audience heartily scream out “vagina” before he brought out the band. Oh, and that’s when things got weird.
Keenan appeared in the flesh, or rather in a leather trench coat and cowboy-hat ensemble, dragged a giant trailer onto the Centre’s massive stage, and proceeded to discuss the nature of life, death, and performance art. Coming off more like a guest speaker for TED than a rock star, he set up patio furniture while explaining the group’s MO. “Our very survival was contingent on how creative we could be,” the artist said, adding: “Life is too short to not create with every breath we draw.” And with that, he pulled the rest of his six-piece band on-stage with him. Seven, if you count the cutout of a downtrodden hillbilly that stood beside McJunkins all night.
“Green Valley” kicked things off ominously via desert-rock riffs and Keenan and Round’s duet about the majesty of the Verde River, while the more electro-minded “Tiny Monsters” played out eerily through arpeggiated synth swells and drum-pad clacks. Puscifer played it diverse all night, with the band offering the crushing one-note “jud-jud” metal midsection of “Vagina Mine” one minute and spaghetti-western-tinged licks care of six-stringer Mat Mitchell the next.
Round hammed it up on-stage, kicking up a leg or doing Pete Townshend–style windmills throughout the night. Keenan, meanwhile, stood transfixed by a massive projection of cloud scenery during the ultracalm new-age ballad “Oceans” but managed to bob energetically during the surprisingly spot-on new-country rocker “Conditions of My Parole”.
The audiovisual extravaganza took a breather as the band opted to pound drinks up front instead of retreating backstage before the requisite encore. “We’re too old and lazy to leave the stage,” Keenan quipped. “That’s, like, 21 feet.”
Puscifer capped the night with “Tumbleweed” and its compelling mix of banjo and postindustrial beats while the video accompaniment featured a decrepit ocean liner crossing the desert and a series of aliens falling from a spaceship and exploding onto a highway. The audience at the Centre would have been busting a gut at the absurdity of it all had it not been so awestruck.