Plush carpet underfoot and rich drapery on the walls tells you immediately this won’t be your typical rock show. That’s perfectly fine for an off-the-beaten-path hybrid music act like Puscifer. Part stage performance, part comedy act, part head banging rock show and part beat-driven groove, this show had all that and a bottle of wine.
Typically reserved for opera, theater and lectures, the Long Center for the Performing Arts is a modernized version of a traditional theater building, lavish in design and typically suited to a much different crowd, which was apparent from the seemingly nervous staff taking tickets from black t-shirt and ripped jeans-clad Austinites. Inside the theater a strict no cell phone policy was enforced, not even allowing people to type or text between acts and being threatened with expulsion if it happened during the show. It would be nice to blame the stuffy theater, but this is probably more Puscifer main-man Maynard James Keenan’s doing. Some might complain about the restrictive nature of this, but it was actually refreshing to see a large audience enthusiastically taking in a show instead of waving electronic devices around, obstructing views and capturing middling to poor quality video to flood Youtube and flickr.
Kicking things off was a solo set from singer-songwriter Carina Round, accompanied by Pusicfer’s bassist and drummer to create a stirring 30 minute set of moody alt rock that was reminiscent of the stark, confrontational beauty of 90s P.J. Harvey, but with a My Brightest Diamond tenor to her voice and occasional Tori Amos-like vocal flights. Providing the stirring female vocals on Puscifer’s latest made her voice familiar but it was pleasantly surprising to find that she is a unique artist in her own right. The crowd gave her a warm reception and after about 30 minutes of brooding melodies and many gracious thank-yous, she exited the stage.
Screens descended from the ceiling and the pre-show video entertainment began. Shot in the style of a tour documentary, it captured Pusicfer’s first tour when the shows were styled after a redneck revival of sorts, Maynard and his accompanying musicians dressing the part and being interviewed as if the redneck band was real. Highly entertaining and funny, the video provided ample entertainment until the performance began. After the documentary, Maynard’s military character Major Douche filled the main screen, reminding the audience of the no camera, flash, or cell phone policy, saying that this has always been the policy with “those other bands, the Tools and Fucking Circles” and the audience should know that by know, calling us “assheads.” It was a funny and creative way of reminding the audience and still having fun with it.
It was now time for the main event. “Tumbleweeds” gently leaked out of the speakers as Maynard appeared on stage, wearing a leather jacket and cowboy hat, dragging a miniature silver trailer behind him and dropping it at the back of the stage. The crowd went wild with applause at his entrance and wouldn’t quiet down, even well after he arrived and began his introductory spiel about sustainability. During this muffled speech he pulled folding tables and chairs out the trailer and eventually Carina herself, setting up the stage, including a BBQ pit complete with fake flame for ambience. Maynard looked around the stage and said, “Now all we need are the hippies…I mean band.”
Without further ado the band took the stage, with drum kit rolled in on a large hay cart filled with wine. Before starting the first song a bottle of wine was pulled from the drum trailer and a glass was poured for everyone in the band and after hearty cheers and deafening roar from the crowd, the band launched into “The Green Valley.” Most of the audience had managed to stay seated during most of the first song until the heavy jam at the end of the song, causing many to jump to their feet and head bang. Perhaps intimidated by the formal setting of the venue, those who were left sitting were enticed to their feet by Maynard saying, “it’s okay to get up and dance, there’s no rule against it or anything.”
For the next block of songs, “Tiny Monsters,” “Vagina Mine,” “Dozo” “Toma” and “The Rapture,” the theater was a writhing mass of dancing, bobbing and head banging as building-shaking bass worked up the crowd. From there things took a decidedly mellower vibe for the middle portion of the show as “The Weaver” calmed us to introspection and the very first Puscifer song “REV 22:20” made an appearance in a very slow, sensual rendition. “Potions” was a little more somber than on record and “Momma Sed” was stark and mournful. The peaceful vibes continued as “Oceans,” “Monsoons” and “Horizons” put the audience into a lull or utterly spellbound, depending.
While some appreciated this calm portion of the show, some of the audience was restless for the long block of tranquility, talking loudly or getting up to go to the bathroom or bar. This is where Maynard’s hard rock pedigree appears to be a double-edged sword: on one hand, rockers are getting exposed to mellow, electronic music but on the other, these people still have very little tolerance for it yet. It makes for a mixed crowd where some are open-minded and willing, while others are there simply out of loyalty to one of the best front men in rock of the past 20 years. Suffice to say much of the crowd, while very loving, didn’t have much patience for some of the least Tool/APC-like moments of the music.
Things picked back up considerably with title track “Conditions of My Parole” with a reinvigorated crowd bounding around enthusiastically. “Man Overboard,” “Telling Ghosts” and “Undertaker” kept the heavy mix going with powerful renditions that rival the studio versions. The band seemed to enjoy every song, eyes either closed with concentration or smiling with pleasure. Longtime MJK fans might pick up on Carina’s acquiring Maynard’s signature dance moves and using them as her own as she stomped around and swung her arms rhythmically to the music. Not quite as visually impressive as Tool shows, there were still plenty of screens and visuals to complement the songs, even having comedic redneck interludes between some songs.
Alas, the night drew to a close as the band simply stopped playing, sat down in folding chairs and sipped on wine as the audience cheered loudly. After a solid five minutes of quietly drinking wine on stage, Maynard says, “My Spidey sense tells me you fuckers are still here! Welcome to the retirement home encore.” He introduces the band to wild applause as they slowly gets up from their chairs and play a stirring rendition of “Tumbleweeds.” With that the band raises a wine glass, takes a bow and exits the stage, concluding a fantastic night of music. It may not be what every black t-shirt clad MJK fan wanted, but for this fan, it was a fantastic experience to see the man doing what he loves.
By Jarad Matula | Senior Writer