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15 March 2010

On Tour With Puscifer
Boston, Berklee Performance Center


Review by Kristen Pierson? at Type 3 Media

Puscifer Baptizes The Berklee Performance Center Crowd

Before the doors opened, there was already a line waiting to get into The Berklee Performance Center. While walking past the eager crowd, I spotted a van from a local rock station parked near the front door. It made me chuckle a bit, because while that station often play(ed) Tool and A Perfect Circle, the music of tonight’s act, Puscifer, is seldom heard on their airwaves.

Satire was in full swing for tonight’s performance, and not so subtly with the opening act, Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival. With “preachy” evangelical songs about redemption, sex and their favorite topic, the Devil, Brother Ed and Brother Ant had the crowd cracking up as soon as they walked on stage. During their act they frequently spouting their favorite faux-pious slogans like “the Devil is a punk-ass bitch.” This novelty act also utilized various visual props as well, including a cardboard tube drum kit complete with a metal milk-crate hi-hat (which was tipped over repeatedly). The biggest laugh came when they unfolded a poster-sized picture of the the Devil himself, Tom Cruise. This duo is nothing but entertaining.

Puscifer’s performance was nothing like I anticipated… it was so much better. The instruments were pushed to the side of the stage, with drums and bass on one side, guitars and percussion on the other side, with Keenan and vocalist Carina Round at center stage, and a giant video screen above it all. The Puscifer show is as much a visual arts experience as it is a musical performance. At the back of the stage, Keenan and Round stand behind monitors with mic and cameras rigged so that their faces are displayed only on the monitor. Two couches and tables used by the band at various points to relax with some wine (probably from Caduceus Cellars) and cheese were placed front and center.

During the fist song the band seamlessly played over a spoken word piece played on the video screen. Musically, based on how the records are done, I expected at least some of the music to be pre-recorded, but was surprised to find it was all performed live… flawlessly. That’s how the set progressed, a mixture of music and visuals… humor and biting satire.

The set wasn’t filled with ad lib moments or unscripted banter with that crowd, but about an hour into the set Keenan quietly said to the crowd, “You can stand-up if you want to,” and everyone did just that. The entire crowd rose up out of their seats and moved to the music. Highlights include the live renditions of “Indigo Children,” “Vagina Mine,” and “Momma Sed.”

As I left the venue, I couldn’t help thinking that I’ve never seen a performance like what Puscifer had just laid out. It was a unique experience both visually and musically. And I think everyone in the crowd would agree, we’d love to see it all over again.

Photo by Kristen Pierson

Review by Lena Lamoray

UNCLE SCRATCH’S GOSPEL’S REVIVAL opened the night with their two man TOM CRUISE and Wal-Mart hating act. Their clunky Rockabilly sound comes courtesy of a cardboard barrel drum kit. They sang the sure to be a hit song, I BANGED A SINNER. They later joined PUSCIFER on stage to partake in the wine and cheese party.

PUSCIFER is the brainchild and sexy side project of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN from A PERFECT CIRCLE and a little known act you may have heard of called TOOL. PUSCIFER played two nights in Boston in order to accommodate their many fans and the venue was still too small for them. They certainly could have used more room on stage for their gaggle of participants. The members of PUSCIFER vary depending on who is available and where you see them. A couple of members of ASHES DIVIDE were on loan for this tour among members from other bands. The Las Vegas show featured MILLA JOVOICH but she was not with them in on tour due to her busy filming schedule, isn’t RESIDENT EVIL Part 10 coming out soon? Some of the band members on stage in Boston were TIM ALEXANDER, MATT MCJUNKINS, JOHNNY POLONSKY, CARINA ROUND and obviously, the shapeshifter himself MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN.

The show started with a video of MAJOR DOUCHE laying down the law and a real life depiction of what really goes on at a press junket. The band took the stage creepily smiling and posing prior to starting their performance which went on to feature Maynard and Carina singing behind television screens with their faces broadcasted to the audience. That is how they sang all night with the exception of one song that Maynard sang sitting down in the front. The musical highlights for me were VAGINA MINE, POLAR BEAR, DOZO and THE MISSION. What can I say about MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN’s voice other than wow! I’ve seen him live in TOOL, A PERFECT CIRCLE and now in PUSCIFER and his voice is just so damn beautiful. I don’t know how else to put it other than this guy could be a doctor that has to tell you that you are going to die a slow painful death but as long as he serenaded you with the news you would still have a good day. He is that good! I actually think that he chose to perform behind the television set because his panty collection was getting too big. Seriously, though what an amazing voice and it’s no wonder that he is in so many bands…spread the love and vocal prowess around. CARINA ROUND was an exquisite match to Maynard’s vocals.

The stage was divided between the band, video screens and couches and pretty much after every song the band dressed as clergymen would come out and join the wine and cheese party occurring on the couches. The show also consisted of several videos where Maynard would play a bevy of characters one of which he talked in a perverted Kermit the Frog voice, pretty funny. Maynard is also a fan or foe of either JOHN BON JOVI or DAVID SPADE judging by the image on his monitor. I must say that I was disappointed that we didn’t get a CUNTRY BONER performance. That was the first PUSCIFER song that I heard and that song is a classic good time. I saw photos from last year’s performance that had everyone dressed up as country stars complete with cowboy hats and boots and it was adorable and I was looking forward to that experience but it never came. Perhaps next time we will get that special performance! Seeing PUSCIFER is a pretty unique musical and visual journey and I recommend it to all who are searching for something a bit different.

Photos by Lena Lamoray

Review by Scott Harris at The Vault

On March 15, I had the unique experience of attending a Puscifer show (I hesitate to use the word concert for reasons that will become clear) at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. Puscifer, in case you're not aware, is the most recent project from Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan, or, as he describes it in one of the video segments that appears during his live show, "the latest in a seemingly endless string of bad ideas."

While its true that Maynard's creative energy does seem endless, after attending one of their live shows it's hard to describe it as a bad idea. It would also be inaccurate to describe Keenan's latest band as a side project, both because it isn't a band nor is it on the side. Rather, Puscifer, which Maynard himself calls a troupe rather than a band, is basically a multi-media catchall for his various endeavors. While music is still the centerpiece, a Puscifer concert also encompasses both live and pre-recoded skits as well as some fairly avant garde interaction between the performers and the audience.

And that's just the concert itself. Puscifer the project also brings in elements from Keenan's other passion, wine making -- the Puscifer online store has a real world mirror site at Keenan's Arizona winery complete with winery exclusives, while concertgoers can buy a mega package deal that doesn't just include a behind the scenes meet and greet with Keenan but an actual wine tasting lesson from the singer himself.

Puscifer, then, can really be seen as less of a band and more of a brand, as it's the umbrella for everything non-Tool Keenan does these days. Fittingly, his road show -- which the singer has unapologetically termed cabaret -- consists of a rotating group of players: everyone from Primus drummer Tim Alexander to Nine Inch Nails' Danny Lohner to Milla Jovovich shows up as part of his team of musicians, comedians and performers such as opening act Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival which live in a nebulous space somewhere between the two. Their satirical take on Christian rock sets the perfect stage for a show that is long on carefully calculated religious subversion and somewhat short on subtlety.

That's not to say that Puscifer's message is less than heartfelt, as Keenan has been delivering variations on this theme for over a decade; but after such a long time it does seem to be included at times mainly because it is an expected part of the package rather than a current passion. If elements like the entire band dressing in priest outfits or a "pope" wandering the aisles giving communion to fans seem a bit familiar and even tired at times, it doesn't change the fact that a large portion of the crowd was still eating it up, no doubt just as Keenan planned.

And those elements were also more than balanced by some of Puscifer's more progressive ideas, specifically the stage presentation. Both Maynard and his current singing partner Carina Round were situated at the back of the stage, with a large black and white television screen placed strategically in front of the their faces. This in turn was attached to a camera perched on their microphone, meaning that from the crowd's perspective, their faces were replaced by somewhat oversized and distorted HD broadcasts of... their faces. It seemed an interesting artistic commentary on the nature of live performance and media manipulation of images -- or maybe it was just something weird to do -- but whatever the purpose, I personally thought the result was very cool.

Perhaps cooler, though, was the front of the stage, where the band had set out an entire living room furniture set complete with couch, love seat, comfy chair and coffee table. During solos or other portions of the show that didn't require all the performers to be active, band members would leave their instruments and plop themselves down on these chairs where they would alternately engage in reading novels, drinking wine and fiddling with their laptops. And these weren't just props; as you can see from Maynard's twitter feed, he often tweets during shows, including some aimed at specific audience members who may be following his feed live.

The overall effect, then, was a strange combination of interaction and inaction; the relaxed vibe created by seeing the band members just hanging around onstage was completely at odds with many of the songs being played but seemed to subconsciously overpower the music, as most audience members remained in their seats, mellowly nodding along to the music instead of jumping to their feet as one might normally expect at such a concert. Indeed, Maynard himself seemed slightly taken aback by the unintended consequence of the living room lounge, as he eventually reminded the crowd that they could, in fact, stand up if they felt like it (a comment that was instantly taken as a command by the audience, who rose in unison and remained standing for the remainder of the show).

You'll notice that one aspect of the concert has been conspicuously absent from my review so far: you know, the music. That's not because the music was bad or uninteresting; on the contrary, Maynard and his troupe were musically impeccable throughout the show and the songs themselves, though not always to my taste (the heavy electronica vibe gets a bit too heavy for me at times), were at the very least intriguing if not always pleasant. But while the actual performance was excellent, in some ways the music was almost beside the point; fans of Puscifer's songs would certainly not be let down, but for anyone new to Puscifer, it seems likely that any positive or negative opinion would be based not on the music so much as on the show as a whole. If you like the multi-media combination of sound, video and performance art, then by extension you'd like the music; and if the didn't like the show, you almost certainly wouldn't like the music.

Because with Puscifer, the live show isn't so much a concert as a fully integrated life experience, like living inside a long form music video. If you're just interested in the songs, well, I suggest you stay home and listen to an iPod or their streaming playlist at But if you're in the mood for a little experimental art, then their live show may be for you.

My Grades: The technical performance by the band gets an A+ for being sharp as razor wire, though the actual songs only rate a B for me on the whole. The show as performance art, though, also rates an A assuming you aren't offended by the sexual and anti-religious imagery. If you are, you really, really need to avoid this show.