A Live Introduction
To be a fan of Maynard James Keenan is to follow him to some curious and often dark places. The is especially true of Keenan’s side project/solo/collaborative experiment Puscifer. A decade old now, Puscifer mixes insult comedy, desert mythology and the kind of soundtrack that sticks in the back of your consciousness. The project is at turns goofy, offensive and haunting. All sides are on display in the new CD/DVD What Is….
The DVD is split in two parts. The first is a 22-minute mockumentary following Puscifer characters Billy D. and his wife-cousin, Hildy. While amusing in small bits, 22 minutes is a lot for this joke, which relies on exaggerated hillbilly stereotypes. Moving on. The second part is a 90-minute concert film (with a few clips of characters interjected between songs). Maynard walks onstage and gives an introductory speech explaining his/the band’s philosophy– in short, the successful sustainability of man hinges on his creativity (adaptability), which allowed man to defeat pterodactyls. (OK, there are some gaps, but the point is well-taken.) As he speaks, he builds a faux campfire site on stage and invites the band to join him. Seamlessly, the show begins.
The band makes a strong effort to keep the focus on the music. Beyond a single screen showing video, lighting and effects are minimal. The musicians remain mostly unlit in silhouette, focused on performance, and this is by far the highlight. Nearly every member provides vocals: Matt McJunkins is featured on bass and keyboards; Mat Mitchell Josh Eustis both provide keyboard and guitars; Jeff Friedl is the ever-reliable drummer. The set list draws evenly from releases throughout their career and is well-paced, from the sparse and simple “Tumbleweed” to the pummel of “Toma.” Although women don’t fare too well in Puscifer songs (surprised?), the jewel of the performance is Carina Round, singer, guitarist and oft-collaborator. Round’s delicate and clear voice provides elegant harmony over Maynard’s snaky, minor-key tenor. She sings back-up, duets, and leads on a couple songs, balancing the otherwise prevailing gloom of the set.
For a longtime fan of Puscifer, What Is… is an easy get, especially for one who hasn’t had the opportunity to see them in concert, as their tours are rare. It also serves as the perfect introduction to the band, a gateway to their work thus far.
The Green Valley
Conditions of My Parole