Maynard James Keenan, the mysterious and atypical frontman, apparently has a big freak flag to fly. Somewhere beneath the brooding art metal and labyrinthian metaphors of Tool and far from the personal introspective beauty of A Perfect Circle lies the satirical comedy, sexual double entendres and blatantly un-rock, sinister boogie of Puscifer. After years of sporadically appearing only in rumor or on the occasional soundtrack (Underworld, Underworld Evolution) the project finally saw a studio release in 2007 in the fantastic “V” is for Vagina. Keenan decided it was time to realize the project live last month, debuting it in Las Vegas. Promising varying performers and different shows at every installment, Puscifer’s first live appearance in Los Angeles at Club Nokia was not to be missed.Opening suddenly with a massive video on a screen the size of the back wall, Keenan appeared in a polished military uniform, cookie duster mustache and a crew cut as a character he’s begun to use frequently in online vignettes, Major Douche. Standing in front of an even larger American flag, he incited the sold-out crowd to scream “vagina” on command. Following more videos including animated footage of the band’s unofficial busty, demonic mascot Queen B and comedic riffing from the likes of Brian Posehn on the definition of “Puscifer,” a brief skit began the night’s twisted carnival.
In a mock religious intro featuring former Arliss costar Jim Turner in a minister’s uniform and backing vocalist Laura Milligan clad in full nun attire, Turner greeted the crowd offering dollar bills to those willing to receive them as opening bass notes of “Sour Grapes” thumped out. He then invited Keenan himself to join the stage, only this time as another character, the velour-laden, comb-over sporting Reverend Soquet, circling back and forth on a segue. As the band escalated the drama and tension of “Sour Grapes” Keenan exited leaving the band to conclude the song without the maniacal rant featured on the album version.
Before returning in a plaid suit and dark sunglasses his bandâ€šÃ„Ã®rounded out by bassist Rani Sharone, dual drummers Gil Sharone and Tim Alexander (of Primus fame), keyboardist/guitarist Jonny Polonskyâ€šÃ„Ã®continued on allowing singer Juliette Commagere to sing a sultry version of Rev. 22:20 without Keenan’s aid. And while unknown to most in attendance as the singer/keytar player of Hello Stranger, her rendition was a welcomed highlight. As Keenan re-entered and took his place, both him and Commagere were shown in what was to be their location throughout the show: behind a video monitor singing directly into a microphone mounted a camera. That’s right, throughout the set the two were visible through a fisheye lens view only, removing any stage wandering from the performance.
The remainder of the band were free to sit on couches placed at either end of the stage drinking wine from Maynard’s own Caduceus Vineyard if the current song didn’t require their respective input. Rolling through an understated Spanish version of “The Undertaker” (dubbed the “Spanish Fly Mix”), the creeping “Drunk With Power” and the Puscifer manifesto of sorts, “Dozo,” the set picked up steam as it went on. Straying from the hilarious talking butts and religious satire of the clips played between songs, the band presented a quiet and beautiful rendition of “Momma Sed,” Keenan delicately emphasizing his higher register while singing, “It’s just a broken heart son / this pain will pass away” against an arpeggiated melody of flanger modulated guitar. This was followed up with a faithful and soothing cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” where the group made no jokes in their delivery of it, opting for precision.
Puscifer then delved into V’s darker material, allowing for ominous presence on “Trekka” and industrial-strength electro on “Indigo Children.” The last two songs (there was no encore) featured the two big surprises of the night. Finale “Queen B” featured a crowd-pleasing appearance from Tool’s Danny Carey on second drums during the song’s joyous outro, but the real highlight was Milla Jovovich’s square peg/square hole performance on yet-to-be-released track, “The Mission.” Before even half the song was completed Jovovich and Keenan collectively brought the crowd to chant along with the song’s funky refrain “What do you know?” It’s a hit waiting to happen.
The only negative to be found here was that for all the fun and extravagant multimedia presentation the show felt a little short. Granted Puscifer only has one album and one remix album to draw material from, but for the fans purchasing tickets, the cheapest available price (after Ticketmaster fees were added in) was $62. For that price one would expect something closer to a two-and-a-half hour set. Nevertheless, that’s a small complaint amidst what otherwise was an excellent concoction Maynard James Keenan has assembled. It’s an impressive departure from his main projects and one that, if this show was any indication, will continue to grow and expand for years to come. Let that flag fly Maynard.