Review: Puscifer at the Paramount Theatre, 11/10/11

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This was not Tool. If this point wasn't already clear to those familiar with Puscifer, it was driven home, when Maynard James Keenan appeared on stage dressed like Kenny Chesney, black cowboy hat and all, in front of a goddamn Airstream trailer and barbecue grill. Forget anything resembling a standard amps-and-drums setup on stage. Did we mention the drum kit was on a flatbed truck that resembled a Radio Flyer wagon? It was.

After towing the trailer on stage and setting up the grill, lawn chairs and picnic tables himself, Keenan reintroduced the crowd to Carina Round, whom opened the show, and began to lecture us on, of all things, cultural evolution. At a Puscifer show, evidently, the crowd becomes part of one mass fireside chat about life, death, the development of culture and the development of ritual.

Meanwhile, projected images ranging from the mundane (e.g. desert scenery, smoke) to the fantastical (ninjas, UFOs, Dick Cheney being sucked through digital intestines) pass by behind Keenan and Round on a massive white background. "Life is too short not to create something with every breath we've got," Keenan concluded after fifteen minutes or so. That's when the rock began.

Well, sort of. The music bobs along in muted fashion, a slow boil that takes a very long time to build. With the possible exception of drummer Jeff Friedl, there is little virtuosic riffing in Puscifer's set. Rather, there are long, groove-oriented passages that are more like a blank canvas for Keenan to showcase his still-impressive vocal range.

Dark and brooding, Puscifer segued effortlessly from orchestral phrasings to apocalyptic heaviness. "I'm 'bout to drop you like Cain/Like Cain dropped Abel," Keenan intoned on "The Rapture (Fear is a Mind Killa Mix)." By this point, halfway through the show, any expectations that this would be a typical rock show completely disappeared. This was not really meant to be a concert in the traditional sense anyway. It's a fucked-up Prairie Home Companion.

"Man Overboard" was another highlight. Keenan singing (in supreme creepster fashion) "Poseidon's on a mission" was nearly overshadowed by guitarist Mat Mitchell's tasteful phrasings. Round appeared carrying a mandolin, and the crowd could hardly have been more devoted. The slow burners by this point had all but been disposed of. With the bass frequencies guttural and cranked high, Friedl wailed on his kit like he was trying to feed an accelerating machine, and such songs as "Conditions of My Parole" (with its lyric "Sweet Jesus don't let the judge release me/What if she's a zombie or a Dracula and tries to fuckin' eat me?") dispeled any lingering suspicions that Keenan has gone soft.

The show winded down with the band members claiming their seats around the picnic tables, sipping wine and appearing oblivious to the rabid mass standing and cheering around them. Keenan offered one last chat, explaining how independent Puscifer is. "Hot Topic wouldn't take our calls," he said, before adding, "Now they're calling us. But fuck 'em!"

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