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Puscifer live!

| April 1, 2010 | 0 Comments

Vic, Chicago
Saturday, March 27, 2010

In some ways, Puscifer’s Saturday-night set — if not the band’s entire approach and aesthetic — shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. After all, frontman Maynard James Keenan is no stranger to elaborate stage props and jarring costumes. Over the years in hard-rock juggernaut Tool and the comparably more succinct and pop-leaning A Perfect Circle, Keenan has worn everything from padded bras and blue body paint to long, glam-tinged, ultra-feminine wigs. Eventually, the ghoulish and reclusive artist was bound to tackle a country-fried set.

Playing the part of performer and lustful trailer-park resident Billy D., Keenan and an adaptive live band performed upbeat downhome versions of Puscifer tracks like “Vagina Mine” and “Sour Grapes” that bore no resemblance to their recorded counterparts. Instead, the music served as more of a reprieve between well-rehearsed (and at times, somewhat corny) skits performed in-character, both onstage and in video interludes. The storyline followed Billy D.’s tumultuous relationship with his wife/distant relation Hildy (sportingly played by Laura Milligan), as they dealt with relationship issues and the strain of playing in a band together. With Keenan dressed like a Southern evangelist — reflective sunglasses, a tan mustache, and big slicked back pompadour to match — and Milligan done-up like the farmer’s daughter, the pair entirely embraced their country personas, offering a lively and surprisingly well-executed comic routine.

The highlight of the set came in the explicit and ridiculous “Cuntry Boner,” a Puscifer EP track and the one song that was designed for a cowboy delivery. A jovial hoedown jamboree, “Boner” delivered a laundry list of graphic conquests in the country-music world, from the Judds to Johnny Cash, “Elvis Presley’s little girl” to “the cast of ‘Hee Haw.'” Perhaps to inspire hometown pride, Keenan revealed the song was actually penned by Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello during the guitarist’s early ’90s days in Libertyville.

Humorous “Boner” aside, however, the musical component of Puscifer’s twang-heavy set proved a bit one-note, with the band’s decidedly darker catalog obviously not originally intended for such a makeover. Thankfully, the strength of the Billy D. and Hildy dynamic carried much of the set. It was fitting that Keenan’s Puscifer outing would prove theatrical beyond any of his other projects, with a costumed and in-character band performing in front of a tin-roofed general storefront, given that the band’s name first surfaced in an old ‘Mr. Show’ skit Keenan guested on. Couple that with the frontman’s time in the early ’90s L.A. comic scene, and it’s actually a wonder this didn’t happen sooner. Yet there was bound to be a vocal component of the crowd who didn’t come out to hear the voice of Tool tackle country material, apparent when inebriated audience members yelled out for Ænima tracks. So it was no doubt a relief for many when, following a mid-show exit, Puscifer delivered a second set more in line with the tone of the band’s darker debut effort,V Is For Vagina.

For the evening’s extended encore, Keenan, dapperly dressed in a dark suit, hid behind head-level TV monitors, singing into a camera behind the sets that put his sunglassed face up on screen. As he sang, the frontman returned to his trademark rocking lurch so often exhibited during Tool sets. It was a fitting choice, as Puscifer’s execution, in its natural form, isn’t miles away from that of Tool or APC. Opened by a bare repeating bassline and building until reverb and drums threatened to overtake the song, “Momma Sed” could have been a selection off the experimental Thirteenth Step or the second half of Lateralus. “Indigo Children,” meanwhile, further demonstrated Puscifer’s expansive versatility, with maracas used as drumsticks, pyschedelic guitars, and swirling, sonic whale calls. Elsewhere, the heavier “The Undertaker” lived up to its ominous titling, with Keenan repeatedly snarling “I told you so” over a precise and pounding beat, while the more wicked “The Mission” displayed the act’s more groove-laden side.

During one of the evening’s many video interludes, a series of comics and actors offered their take on just what Puscifer really “is,” with a range of tongue-in-cheek answers ensuing, (“Puscifer for president 2012: perhaps we can!”). Yet one response describing the outfit as “a visual-arts nightmare” rang disarmingly accurate. Puscifer is Keenan’s playground where he plays with all the toys he can’t in the concretely defined Tool, or yet get to in the all but abandoned A Perfect Circle. It’s not just a visual-arts nightmare, it’s a glimpse of the scope of Keenan’s sordid sense of humor and fervent desire to continually reimagine his art. Really, for anyone paying attention, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise at all that someone as restless and ambitious as Keenan would eventually take things to this level. But seriously — who could’ve seen all this coming?

— Jaime de’Medici

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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