WARNING!! Spoiler Alert : If you intend to watch Puscifer Live either in the ongoing Conditions of My Parole tour or at any point in your life, DO NOT read ahead! Maynard Keenan had it spot on when he requested fans NOT to read any reviews of his concerts before attending it. Reading this review and THEN watching the concert is like being aware of all the play by play action of a football match before going to watch it Live in the stadium. There will be no sense of wonder, astonishment or pure unadulterated satisfaction – all devoid of the burden of expectations.
Seldom does one find the need to convey to the world, the nuances and intricate details of a concert. Given that there are only so many aspects to a concert that can make it stand apart from the tons of other concerts happening all around the world, a significant majority of these musical experiences ultimately manifest as end products of a fixed template. Any special significance attached to a specific concert or a tour is likely to revolve around the few now-established ideas of reunions, farewell tours, guest appearances, visual extravaganzas, playing of a classic album in its entirety, on stage gimmicks of the band and the like. But with so many bands playing so many concerts anchored on these very same ideas, the creative side of the concert hasn’t made many significant breakthroughs of late.
It is in this context that one should experience Puscifer’s latest Live offering : Conditions of My Parole. Many have described Maynard Keenan’s (frontman of Tool and A Perfect Circle) music for his side project Puscifer as Art Rock. This is perhaps analogous to Pink Floyd’s music being termed as Psychedelic or Space Rock. It happens when new experimental music cannot be encompassed or explained by conventional terminologies. But regardless of what his music should be termed as, few would object in describing the concert in itself as a piece of Art.
I happened to catch this show at the Omaha Music Hall in Omaha, NE. Drove 2 hours to get there and 2 hours to get back home at 2 in the morning. I would do it again.
This was no usual concert with usual objectives. After a memorable vocal showing by Carina Round, Maynard Keenan showed up. Not on stage behind a mic, but as Billy Dickhead Burger – a country punk, white trash, philandering alcoholic, along with Carina Round as his wife Hildy – as part of a low budget ‘student film’ that was beamed on a screen. (These are the characters found on the cover of the album). Even though the ‘documentary’ itself lasted for about half an hour and generated more than a few laughs along the way, it was the glaring idiocy of the characters that may just be what Keenan is trying to warn us of where we are headed if we continue to live the way we do. The short film continued into the show with a few clips being aired on the screen in between songs. One of the quotes in a clip featuring Dick Merkin (no relation to Peter Merkin – the thief neighbour of Billy) was quite profound. Dick is convinced that aliens are going to invade the earth, but that there will be good aliens and bad aliens. “Good aliens listen to Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the Glee soundtrack. Bad aliens listen to Tool!”
At the end of the first airing of the documentary of Billy and Hildy, Maynard Keenan shows up on screen as another of his avatars : Major Douche. Dressed up in full military uniform and living up to his name, he barks orders directly at the audience, instructing them, on the count of 3, to shout ‘Vagina’! The audience happily followed orders – twice. (If you are unaware, ‘V is for Vagina’ is the title of Puscifer’s debut album). He then proceeds to warn the audience of dire consequences if anyone chose to take any kind of photographs at the concert. “Never have flash cameras been acceptable in any of the national or international acts such as Tool and ….. what’s the other band…Full Circle…or was it Complete Circle? Whatever… And you know this. So no flash cameras during the show, you fuck-face!” (I am paraphrasing but that is what was said in effect. The slang is quoted verbatim though!)
And eventually Maynard Keenan shows up – in flesh and blood- on a surprisingly empty stage, pulling a mini trailer with him. Carina Round emerged from the trailer and helped Keenan unload and setup a few chairs, tables and some wine glasses and bottles. In the meantime, Keenan had embarked on his thought provoking monologue about sustainability and finding the right balance between the creative and the practical. Soundcheck has paraphrased parts of his monologue:
Many millennium ago we were mere Neanderthals who greeted each new sunrise with the urge to “fight or run” by nightfall. “We had to secure more consistent forms of shelter and food sources.” We had to settle down. Once we did, Keenan contends, an increasingly rapid (if not always fruitful) evolution was hurtled forward, and the need to counter the rigors of existence with a mental release took root. “By day we hunt, we gather, we build,” he noted, while at night “we perform, we reflect, we recount – all around a central fire.”
This presentation, then, is the fiercely independent ensemble’s “attempt to reconnect with this seemingly lost balance. … We at Puscifer believe life is too short not to create something with every breath we draw.
He then decides to complete the on stage ‘Hippie’ scene by bringing in ‘some drums’ and other instruments. After dragging in the drumkit from the side all by himself, Keenan was joined on stage by the remaining band members as they took their place. Keenan himself resumed his duties as a leading-from-the-back frontman and took his position at the back beside Carina.
It is at this point that I had to remind myself that I was indeed at a concert. But perhaps, from what I had seen till then, this was best described as a play with a message in it and which would feature musical performances to elucidate the point. In the end, I got that and a lot more. And all that will be in the 2nd part coming up in a couple of days.
Just the fact that I need TWO posts to write about one concert experience should in itself be testament to the impression it has left on me. Hang around for Part 2.