“Ladies and Gentlemen, the show will be starting in eight minutes,” a loudspeaker notified the mingling patrons awaiting a night of uncertain but anticipated performances from Carina Round and Tool front man, Maynard James Keenan’s latest project, Puscifer. We filed into the auditorium, taking our seats and, I, taking out my notebook, prepared myself for what I expected to be incarnation of art, as Maynard has never ceased to amaze as long as I’ve known he existed in the musical world. And not to my surprise, to even attempt to describe this show in its purest detail would be absolutely impossible.
Carina Round opened the night with an intensely beautiful set that was worthy of being a headlining performance, itself. Her enchanting voice atop catchy scores that ranged from ballads to pop-rock to straight-up rock n’ roll were enough but the pure passion she exerts while performing could’ve been the spotlight alone. She fervently kicked her legs and danced across the stage amidst her band, all in a classy black dress and bright red pumps that I was expecting to loose a heel any moment while she pounded them to the beat and strummed her guitar.
The lady has it all- musical gifts, sex appeal and dance moves that would put any pop star to shame. She embraces a level of genuine passion while performing that is a rare trait alone. Men whistled, she called us fucking crazy and she laughed and joked about the sexy adjustment of monitors located in her bra as she claimed that this was the best show yet.
As Carina’s bands’ instruments were carried away by roadies, a screen appeared atop the stage. A spoof tour documentary of Billy D and Hilldy, fictional characters played by Puscifer, began the amalgamation of art that we were to experience through Puscifer’s performance. A theatrical anomaly, Billy D and Hilldy were redneck, trailer park dwellers together in a relationship and “punk rock” band that was in all actuality sounded like country.
It was a long drawn out story involving heartbreak and a love triangle with Hilldy’s cousin, Cherry Pile, atop whiskey binges with, thieving neighbor, Peter, on tour. It was impossible not to laugh out loud at points. With the reunion of the trailer trash couple, the conclusion of the mockumentary, the screen disappeared and out came Maynard in a cowboy hat and boots, pulling a Airstream trailer similar to that in their latest video, “Conditions of My Parole.”
Removing equipment from the trailer with a desert projected behind him, Maynard attempted to set up a “hippy drum circle” and spoke to us, an introduction of sorts. He sent us a message surrounding our lack of need to work towards sustainability in today’s society. Ultimately, he claimed that back when we had this feat to handle, we had a perfect balance of utilitarianism and creativity and that very balance is what Puscifer is attempting to restore. And thus, a polygamist marriage of theatre, videography, dance and music began to take place on stage.
Carina came out of the trailer and assisted Maynard with the erection of an all-out set. With the trailer came two tables, one adorned with a checkered cloth and a charcoal grill with faux flames. Their instruments were amidst a trailer plot and they rocked it out for us with an interesting theatrical flair, sometimes incorporating actors at the checkered table playing cards, who the band members would periodically join during their songs as if they were part of it all.
Maynard and Carina’s voices complement each other and intertwine beautifully. They meld into one another, creating a sound that is breathtaking. From utterly haunting, to seductive, to uplifting, their ranges complement each other and the music perfectly, something to be privileged to be in the presence of. They are almost like a rock and roll, crazy-ass Johnny Cash and June Carter. Placed primarily between the band members, they passionately exerted themselves throughout the entire set, at times, Carina in the stance of a tiger with one of her many instruments, ready to pounce as she flung her body to the music like a Native American with no bones in their arms along with hips and legs to kill. Maynard danced it out beside her like a bad ass, a duo both loving the moment and utterly performing to their fullest capabilities while the band flawlessly executed every song.
Along with the songs, the backdrop video consistently changed. A part of Puscifer in itself, it perfectly visualized themes and emotions created by the music. As the closing of “Oceans” came, an ocean wave crashed behind them with Maynard walking away from its crest. During Rev 22:20, sultry red lights instigated silhouettes of the twosome while Carina prowled the stage, propelling her body to the heavy drops. Paired with “Horizons,” an aerial view was added sporadically among other clips, insinuating the feeling of being up high in the clouds. The complements this artistic touch brought the music were well worthy as their own slice of the Puscifer pie.
Between songs, Maynard poured every band member a glass of wine and the story of Billy D and Hilldy continued on a drop-down screen with a series of interview questions answered hilariously by the characters. “Is there anywhere you shouldn’t go?” a voice asked a nervous Hilldy from behind the camera. “Husband’s Alley,” she responded with a confused look on her face; because she heard that there are ghost prostitutes there. The continuation of their story was a show within the show, a chuckle between catharsis created by the immaculate power of the marriage of art we were privy to.
The visuals continued throughout the entire show, at times even evoking Bill Hicks-esque dark political humor in visual form. Incarnations of pepper spraying police officers, conservative figures being tossed into a fiery pit and faux advertisements for Arizona Border Control- “We put the panic in Hispanic,” adorned the screen, highlighting prominent political messages from Occupy Wall Street traumas to Immigration. One cannot help but admire the versatility in the thought put into the entire show. Every bit of it was meticulously planned out, intentional and perfectly executed. Covering every layer would be nearly impossible.
At the end of the show, Maynard got his kicks as he sat down at the table towards the front of the stage and began pouring himself more wine. He claimed that they were done but it was obvious that they would play one more song. But he joked with us, “Judging by the noise, I assume people are still here,” he mockingly stated, then called us rude for disturbing him while he was trying to drink his wine. He knew he had us and he was connecting with us, something that I’ve never really seem him do in the many years I have been watching him perform. It was a nice moment. He introduced all the members of the band, picking on Carina as she picked up a banjo and began playing “Tumbleweed,” leading the song beautifully until Maynard’s last harmonization when he walked off stage with the bottle of wine.
Puscifer is an experience in itself. A strange but comfortable fusion of musical genre and art that grasps you by your soul and doesn’t let go until well after it’s actually over. Although the direction that Maynard has taken is quite different than what we have experienced before, the combination of him, Carina and the band is witnessing fate. They are a miraculous blend of talent with the willingness to expand their horizons beyond the music itself and transform a concert into an all out performance. Something that cannot be replicated.
The Green Valley
Conditions of My Parole