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3 December 2009

On Tour With Puscifer
Phoenix, The Orpheum Theatre

Review By Martin Cizmar at Phoenix News Times

Even if you're not a fan of Maynard James Keenan's two main projects, Tool and A Perfect Circle -- and I generally am not -- you've gotta admit the guy has good taste in comedy. He helped popularize Bill Hicks by bringing the late comic along on Lollapalooza, he's done some work with Mr. Show and he's had some decent bit parts in a few underground comedies.

Keenan, who lives on a vineyard he owns in Cornville, Arizona which we ran a cover story about last year, is making an effort to merge his musical and comedic interests in his newest project, Puscifer, which played The Orpheum Theatre last night and will return for a second round tonight. The show, which utilized the talents of opening act Neil Hamburger, didn't quite live up to the "variety show style concert" some said to expect, and it sometimes felt like an unpolished effort, but it was one of the more unique tours to come to town this year.

As a band Puscifer is somewhere between Keenan's other two projects, given to the proggy trudges and darkly ambient background sounds Tool favors but with a lot of the lighter alt-metal touches that define A Perfect Circle. I'm sure this is heresy to some folks, but I think it's probably the best sound of his career. Before you dismiss the statement take a listen to the night's penultimate offering, Puscifer's best track, "The Mission."

Tempe-raised Hamburger, who was stellar as the opener, even if his brand of awkward (aaaaackkkkk) throat-clearing anti-humor proved a little divisive for a crowd that wasn't all in on the joke, appeared with the headliner a few times, stealing the show each time.

Video segments, including an opening skit by a Keenan character called Major Douché, were interspersed throughout the show. They weren't as easy to follow as they could have been, and the major themes seemed to be anti-religious sentiments mixed with cartoon aliens and ass jokes, but they were creative and slick. British singer-songwriter Carina Round also made a major contribution as a band member, joining Keenan behind the twin masks/video projection screens that simultaneously blocked and broadcast the singer's faces for all but the last song. Her backing vocals really helped set a different tone than we'd have gotten with Keenan doing the same thing he's done with his other two acts.

Like the other six band members Round took little breaks when not actively singing or playing, sitting down on one of the two sets of living room style chairs in front of band's performance space. It sounds weirder than it was -- it actually sorta makes sense to have the band sit down, drink a glass of wine and play with a laptop instead of standing in place nodding their heads or miming with their instruments. More realistic, I think, and also plenty unique, which is what this show had going for it.