Puscifer submitted their own distinct entry to the concert-at-a-distance form with a theatrical and cinematic approach. Melting genre-distinctions in the dark waters of the livestream concert—which is becoming a genre unto itself—they delivered a playthrough of the new full-length Existential Reckoning in cartoonish secret service cosplay, against intricate light and LED screen displays, interspersed with filmic vignettes, and doing something sort of like choreography on an elaborate 360 degree partitioned stage set.
Maybe choreography isn’t the best word—poseury? In matching suits, dark shades, under ridiculous quaffs that bring to mind the “Sabotage”-era Beastie Boys, Maynard James Keenan and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Carina Round posed in more ways than one. As thick swells, phased pulses, pounding beats and driving fuzz bass churned beneath them, Keenan and Round moved in robotic unison as they harmonized with staggered, evocative melodies that must have spilled electro-reverie across the Arizonan desert.
The location is an interesting one: Arcosanti is an experimental “arcological” town conceived by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) in the late 1950s with the intent of unifying architecture and ecology. The site has already hosted its share of diverse acts at its Form Arcosanti music festival. Considering Keenan’s own reputation as a man of many interests, not to mention his home base being just an hour north in Sedona, the seemingly tailormade location likely had a degree of convenience behind it, especially considering the lung damage Keenan has reported as a result of his recent bout with COVID-19.
But if it has affected his singing voice, it wasn’t obvious. Often singing hushed tones through dark red painted lips and gnashed teeth, in equal and perfect balance to Round’s ethereal compliment, like on the catchy “The Underwhelming,” the demands weren’t as vocally costly as would be found in Tool or A Perfect Circle. In fact, many times MJK’s vocals became a landscape feature as the complex interplay of loops, blips, stammering riffs took the forefront. The glitchier, detuned elements achieved textural prominence likely due to going directly into the mix rather than from mic’d amplifiers. The weathered dial tones that kick off “Theorem” called to mind an earlier age, re-imagined and re-re-imagined with diminished fidelity, like digital snails whose antennae have been dipped in the silicon sand of microchips weathering in the sun since around the time Soleri conceived his little utopia.
Which brings up the elephant in the room for many streaming concerts—certainly this one. As “Theorem” took off into its rich driving rhythms, the performance footage was literally spliced with Keenan driving a car down the highway in black and white cinematic glory. A vague narrative unfolds as it would in a music video, and by the time Round mimics the “warning voice” heard on so many self-destructing spaceships mid-song, the line between live stream and sci-fi pastiche music video becomes entirely blurred. Does this matter? Probably not. Live concerts of arena bands often include weird little short films on monolithic LED screens while the band is still playing. Likewise, it’s clear the performance is recorded live. But as the relatively sluggish “Bedlamite” brings the album to the close and Keenan reassures the listener that “Everything is gonna be all right,” the sun, absent at the start of the song, has fully risen to reveal the Arizona desert. The set, seemingly infinite in the darkness, is dwarfed by the surrounding vistas as the cameras, sound guys and surrounding tech as the veil is lifted. By the song’s end the sun is a few degrees above the horizon. Suspicious, yes, but in the bigger picture it’s a fitting close with a surprising degree of optimism.
Whatever niggling criticisms one might have on the meaning of the word “live,” the production quality was solid, slick, gripping and well executed with plenty of treats for fans. A familiar blonde-wigged and white suited figure roaming through the desert in search of Arcosanti and pissing once he finds it (possibly a nod to allegations of sexual abuse by Soleri revealed towards the end of his life), an “encore” vignette of Keenan and Round on stage in an empty bar, drunkenly stumbling through a song and having to Google Puscifer lyrics all created a polished and fully entertaining package one would expect from a project that has already dipped from many wells. Obviously much more than a concert, the lengthy production team pushed the envelope with the opportunities availed by this new means of consuming live music—however one wants to define it.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson