The Theater at Ace Hotel
Last Friday, a line of people extended down Broadway Blvd. in the heart of downtown Los Angeles in anticipation for Puscifer, the brainchild of Tool/A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan.
The crowd was a sundry mix ranging from metalheads and goths, to soccer moms and middle aged men still dressed in work attire. Most were likely looking to find a replacement for their Tool fix, unwilling to drive the 100+ miles southbound or compete with the online scalpers for tickets of their favorite band. Puscifer has drawn comparisons to Tool and especially A Perfect Circle, even exchanging musicians over the years. The presence of Keenan’s voice and poetic melodies are an obvious constant, but it’s worth noting that Puscifer is the group that he handles the primary songwriting duties.
The masses filed in, ambling over to the bar enroute to their seats. A closer look at the stage revealed a wrestling ring with a set of bleachers on either side. Suddenly, the lights in the theater shut off and a widescreen monitor on either side of the stage flipped on to show a video of Keenan rambling, in full garb and character, impersonating a ringside announcer. The opening act appeared onstage; a wrestling outfit called Luchifer made up of five members, all masked. The troupe proceeded to put on a 25-minute exhibition, taking turns simulating their best lucha libre stunts and maneuvers.
Just a few minutes after the wrestlers exited the stage, along with the bleacher creatures, Keenan appeared on the monitors once again to continue his rambling. Mahsa Zargaran walked in and settled behind a large Mexican flag off to the right of the stage. A hint of keys gradually increased in volume above the murmur of the crowd. Several in the crowd recognized “Simultaneous” from the band’s recent release, Money Shot, buzzing in anticipation. Next, Jeff Friedl strode in from backstage, taking a seat at the drum set located front and center, adorned with sample pads and Zildjian K’s. He began a kick drum pattern as Mat Mitchell and Paul Barker appeared to the left of the wrestling ring, armed with guitar and bass respectively. After a few minutes, Carina Round and Keenan appeared on the ring, and begin to sing the opening lines of the song. Each member of the band dressed in a full suit and jacket, as well as a wrestling mask. The crowd couldn’t contain themselves and let out a roar just before Barker went into a bassline, beautifully distorted, with Friedl’s tribal beat pulsing underneath. Seemingly everyone joined in to sing the final chorus, repeating “Find a way through, around or over.”
The band went right into the first two tracks off the new album, punctuated by angelic harmonies and riffing groove, led by Round’s banjitar. Eventually, everyone playing an instrument was mask free, leaving only Keenan’s face hidden beneath black leather and a brown Mohawk. He could’ve passed as a member of Slipknot and very few would be the wiser.
Early in the set, the wrestlers joined the band onstage, sometimes hanging out on the bleachers, other times egging each other on before an inevitable faceoff. Every three or four songs, the singers descended from the ring to let Luchifer resume fighting in small increments of time. They weren’t the attraction, but anyone familiar with the band knows that they pride themselves on bringing the unexpected, whether visually or even sometimes changing the style or arrangement of the songs. Ho-downs, wine tasting, bringing in random musicians to just hang out on stage in picnic chairs; nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.
To describe Puscifer’s sound is undertaking like trying to decipher many of Keenan’s complex and twisted lyrical themes. The member changes have been frequent, with Maynard being the only constant presence. This eclectic nature brings about a sense of schizophrenia at times, but as Keenan’s songwriting has matured over the past decade, he seems to have settled into a style with obvious influences from his other bands. Odd time signatures, heavy moods, philosophical yet humorous lyrics, all with Keenan’s unmistakably voice, haunting and beautiful at once.
They take a page out of the live performances of the other bands as well, with a large television screen on a constant loop of graphics and colors, shapes and designs. What sets Puscifer apart is the comical nature of their themes, whether it’s old, black and white clips of Leave it to Beaver with houses bursting into flames during “The Arsonist,” or a large picture of Keenan as a cop being struck by lightening to the beat of “Conditions of My Parole.”
The show pressed on, as the band played practically every song from the latest album, while plugging in at least a few popular selections from previous releases such as “Vagina Mine,” “Polar Bear,” and “Man Overboard.” The highlight of the night was Keenan taking the vocal duties from Carina Round for “Rev 22:20” for the first time in several years.
The crowd never lost enthusiasm and stood the entire show. There was plenty of laughter during Keenan’s antics and snide remarks, but the majority of the night was spent in a trance-like state. The music is a drug, coaxing the mind into feeling something beyond the words, and turning the night into more of an experience than just a show.
After 17 songs, Keenan announced that they had to finish up due to a bout of the flu he’d been fighting. His voice was noticeably ailing, but he obliged the pleas of the crowd and closed out the set with two mellow tracks, “The Humbling River,” and the aptly titled “Autumn.”
As the fans inside prepared to go back out into the brisk December night, they could be heard singing along, “Soon enough I’ll go, winters way…leave me to my child’s play.”
4 Vagina Mine
6 The Arsonist
7 The Remedy
8 Life of Brian (Apparently You Haven’t Seen)
9 Rev 22:20
10 Grand Canyon
11 Polar Bear
14 Conditions of My Parole
15 Money Shot
16 Man Overboard
17 The Undertaker
The Humbling River