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19 March 2010

On Tour With Puscifer
Toronto, Queen Elizabeth Theater

Rev 22:20
Drunk With Power
Indigo Children
Momma Sed
Vagina Mine
The Undertaker
Polar Bear
Sour Grapes
Queen B
The Mission
The Humbling River

Review by Liz Keith at Music Vice

In One Word: Fantesticle!

Opening act Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival couldn’t have been a better opener for this show – the loud, crass & absurd duo of Brother Ed and Brother Ant bring the noise to shake us sinners loose from our complacent, wayward ways. Raucous and randy, playing bluesy rockabilly in the throes of a revelatory epileptic fit, the Brothers simple drums + guitar duo are damn fun, combining Southern-fried snake-handler kitsch with cowpunk noise. Damned if I wouldn’t pay good money to see them get booked into a Purity Ball just to see the reactions from the crowd when they get to “I Can’t Bang You on a Sunday”. (I envision children astounded and crying, parents in in states of apoplectic fury and an ensuing riot that would make the final scenes of Reform School Girls proud.) A girl can always dream…

For Puscifer’s two sold-out shows at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the main act played with two different themes each night – the safety-questionable flight crew of Vagina Airlines on Friday’s show, and The Burger Barns on Saturday. Friday’s Vagina Airlines theme set its sights on lampooning hepped-up post-9/11 airline security measures, and featured plane seats plonked down in the middle of the set, occupied by various members of the crew throughout the show. The band members were dressed up as pilots and airline attendants, passing bottles of wine around while tearing through songs with both main vox – Tool’s Maynard James Keenan joined by Carina Round – mostly obscured behind video screens.

Saturday’s show was a Hee-Haw style variety of skits interspersed between songs, led by the trailer trash Judd-fucking punk rock (?) duo of Billy Dee and Hildy Burger (played by Keenan and Laura Milligan). Like an inbred white-trash Sonny and Cher, they traded barbs and sexual innuendo throughout the night, starting off the show by referring to the Big Smoke as Tonto, Canada. Whereas the Vagina Airlines act seemed a bit at odds with the rest of the show, somewhat disjointed and at times distracting from the music, the countryfied setlist for the first half of the show worked impressively well, displaying an unexpected versatility with material that was originally considerably heavier.

As for how the comedic aspect combined with the music, Saturday’s show was by far the more cohesive of the two, with the variety-hour style lending itself easier to the conventional rock-show format. The skits were funnier, with Milligan taking over main vocal duties from Carina Round for the first half of the show. The songs themselves played well with their new country twang, with “Sour Grapes” making an impressive shift from pulpit revelation to country Rawhide-style ballad. The country theme lasted almost halfway through Saturday’s set, before an extended video skit intermission to allow for a costume change back into rock band mode. From then on, the songs took on their heavier, more familiar vibe, switching back to the previous night’s sound. One of the newer songs off the latest EP, “C” Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference Here), “Humbling River,” closed both nights, a quieter soulful song that while juxtaposing the mood from the rest of the evening, closed the night beautifully.

Performed live, the music more than delivers on the promise shown in the studio material. Friday’s show displayed a more familiar vibe, a louder groove and heftier presence than what I got from listening to the first album. And really, I had no idea what to make of Keenan’s latest project when I first heard V is for Vagina; as a whole, it’s not like anything he’s been involved with before, and there’s no point in attempting a comparison. Vagina was promising at first listen, juvenile twat humour notwithstanding, while the YouTube video for “Cuntry Boner”… makes more sense when viewed in context of the live show.

Many a tortured attempt has been made at pinning down exactly what Puscifer is – is it satire, is it a modernized & bastardized take on Hee Haw-style variety shows, is it a complete derailment of sky-high Tool-fanboy expectations? All or none of the above, it’s Puscifer, existing completely unto itself. A mix of comedy, satire, a healthy disdain for modern fear-based security measures, more vagina references & reverences than Area Womyn’s Circle on a full moon and with some damn fine tunes to boot, this careening metaphor circus will slap your dubious expectations silly when experienced live in the flesh.

And of it all, what to expect? Expect to be engaged, entertained and to find new appreciation for the shape-shifting mercurial talent that is Maynard James Keenan. Just sit back, leave the kids at home, shut your fucking chitchat up (couple behind me in row K, I shake my fist at you) and let the music speak for itself.

Photos by Lithium Magazine

Photos by Liz Keith at Music Vice