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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeIt's hard to imagine the creative breadth of an artist who is part of an iconic rock band, a successful supergroup side project and the co-founder of a wine making operation and still seeks another avenue for artistic expression, but Puscifer is exactly that for singer Maynard James Keenan: his "island of misfit ideas who've found no home with Tool, A Perfect Circle, or Caduceus." The result is another artistic outpouring that, while notably different from his other endeavors, can be held up to the same level of artistry.
With Keenan's "Major Douche" persona warming up the Pabst Theatre crowd with a pre-recorded film appearance projected on a large backdrop, which provided instant comic relief and coaxed the crowd into chanting "VA - GI - NA," the revolving cast of musicians marched in file on to the stage dressed as men of the cloth, with singer Carina Round as a nun and percussionist Jeff Friedl as a pope wearing a robe that read "I [heart] Cock" on the back. "Religion" is one of three themes carried out on the tour (besides "Vagina Airlines" and "Country," and features, among others religiously charged antics on film, video clips of Keenan as various questionable characters.
As part of the religious sideshow, some chairs and a table with a laptop, food, wine, and bobblehead Jesus figurine were set up in front of the musicians, and as Keenan and Round took their places behind two video screens that were set at head level and magnified their heads through live fish-eye lens video capture from the other side, Puscifer had already made a striking impression before a single note was even played or sung. This type of multimedia assault, which included the edgy Kaufman-like comedian Neil Hamburger as the opening act, is what Keenan was reportedly aiming for in the multiple themed performances- a troupe, not just a band.
On the tail end of the spring tour in support of the sophomore release "C" Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE), which contains two live tracks from the debut EP "V" is for Vagina, the set began with "Sour Grapes," an airy, semi-goth tune, and followed closely in suit with the slow strut of "Polar Bear." Playing along to a tightly scripted film and audio track, drummer Tim Alexander, of Primus lore, kept the rhythm in check with ease and Friedl carried the live element out further, playing percussion in-between serving Keenan ceremonial wine and crackers and other papal duties.
Standing out among the musical offerings were "Momma Sed," which featured Keenan crooning to an entrancing bass line played by Mat Mitchell and alongside some hair-raising slide soloing on guitar by Jonny Polonsky, as well as "Vagina Mine," which put the programmed audio to great use with extra vocals being panned as the song reached its churning rock ending. The most notable part of the music aspect of this show, however, was the vocal work between Keenan and Round, especially in the melodic, modern-day cowboy's/cowgirl's lament "The Humbling River."
Just before the end, Keenan stepped down from his pompous rock star character, introduced the musicians, referenced his roots on the other end of the ferry line across Lake Michigan and offered what could only be taken as genuine appreciation for the crowd's support. "We're doing this with no label, no management, just us," he said. The crowd, though tentatively waiting for an encore that wouldn't come and that a regular concert almost demands, gave good applause as the credits rolled and seemed more than content that they had just witnessed a curiously creative show, and not just a concert.
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