Puscifer at the State Theatre, 11/14/11
Puscifer, as far as I could tell prior to their Monday night show at the State Theatre, was a clothing line. I'd heard tell of two friends, who while traveling the great, dry, weird American Southwest had ambled upon the Puscifer flagship store somewhere in Arizona, and that a young gal, who if my memory or imagination serves me correct was very, um what was the descriptor... Hot Topicky?... was either working there or loitering within its confines, and she was very, very excited about Maynard James Keenan, guru as he is to so many of her (perhaps purely hypothetical and/or imagined) ilk.
Prior to that, I'd heard Keenan was busy making wine in Arizona. If you were a musician guru, what else would you do with your life but make wine in Arizona? I'd also heard tell there was documentary made about it, but I did not see it.
Most recently, I'd heard Puscifer was a band. A Tool fan and then Perfect Circle fan back in the day, I am evidently a little behind the times, as this clothing line-cum-band has now released its second album, Conditions of My Parole, following not at all closely on the heels of its first release, 2007's "V" is for Vagina. (Seriously - how did I not hear about this? I am clearly a dummy, for this is to say nothing of their 2009 EP "C" Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference Here) What - Clammy Cave? Cumdumpster? Cooleyhopper? Cock Pocket, Cooter, Cameltoe? Vaginal digressions, and still I can't quite put my finger on it.)
My confusion was not to end there. Following a strong opening set by Carina Round, who would also perform with Puscifer, a pseudo-mockumentary played on a screen onstage. The video, featuring Maynard James Keenan as alter egos Major Douche and the hillbilly punk rock-wannabee ex-convict Billy Dee, left me wondering if the night's performance would be a little Jim and Tammy Faye Baker meets Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, in spite of the fact that I'd heard Conditions of My Parole and it comes off as not at all hillbilly or punk or gospel or country but as a more melodic, more electro-friendly and at times more adventurous version of Keenan's usual musical output.
Before long, Keenan walked onto a well-lit stage, donning a black cowboy hat and pulling a shiny Airstream trailer, mumbling random nothings into his microphone. I'm thinking this is going to be musical theatre. That it will be Rocky Horror for the metal generation. That we might even hear a good ol' country tune, that Keenan might even perform in light rather than in shadows, might continue interacting with the audience as he was doing in that brief moment as he helped set up chairs, set up a Weber grill and picnic table, and with the help of his band hauled a wagon stocked with a drum kit on to the stage for what he called his "hippy drum circle." What? There's going to be a hippy drum circle, too?
Come now. These fantasies are nonsense. From there, the band launched into a heavy, highly emotive set characteristic of Keenan, with our hero completely obscured by shadows for the duration of the show. Dagnabbit.
Well Jesus fuck. I don't get it. But bless his heart anyway. I like what he's doing, always have, always will. It just puzzles me more now, perhaps because I'm no longer that idealistic youth yearning for a philosophy or a guru of the heavy metal persuasion to "teach" me obscure thoughts via an obscure language and obscure imagery. Jim and Tammy Faye and Porter and Dolly and hillbillies bumpin' uglies in an Airstream, meets the heaviness and obscurity of Tool. My logic can't find that intersection, but hey, whatever. I'm too old to be turned on to new, difficult aesthetics anyway.
It looks good. It sounds better. So fuck it. And the esoteric tangents, as always when used well, are quite effective, they resonate in my brain. Mention the TV program Sister Sister alongside an appreciation for Oprah during a video skit in the midst of all this? Well, okay!
Beyond that, maybe City Pages doesn't pay me well enough to make any more sense of all this than that, for all of you. So here's my perhaps wholly unenlightening (but just maybe totally right-on) amalgam of thoughts:
I don't get it. I fail you as a critic capable of highly insightful analysis, of a digging deeper. So I did this. I sat down. I stopped thinking. I took it in, and took the performance for what it was - some dudes and a lady performing music, flanked by an Airstream and a Weber grill. I stopped thinking, scruffed my fingers through my neighbor's thick beard (don't worry, it was comforting, and I know him so it was okay), and I enjoyed the music. And before long? It all kinda made more sense. But don't ask me to explain it beyond that, as it would require far too much bullshitting, and you'd see right through that.
Critic's bias: My rendition of "Aenima" has brought down many a karaoke house, from Minnesota to California to Texas to New York City.
The crowd: Diehard and true.
Overheard in the crowd: Dudes yelling "Caduceus" like it's akin to yelling "Free Bird!" as opposed to yelling "MERLOT!"
Random notebook dump: I dunno man, anytime I can dump my notebook and see I've made many references to Tammy Faye, I'd call it a pretty good dump.