By James Whitlock
Date / Venue: Sunday January 29th, 2016 - Vector Arena, Auckland
Maynard James Keenan is a super interesting dude.
For years he has been carving his own unique path through the ever-changing landscape of modern music. Tool – almost uniquely among modern bands – has somehow kept us looking forward (and looking forward… and looking forward…) to full albums rather than singles, and has deliberately stayed off iTunes and Spotify. His first major side project A Perfect Circle gave us a window into a slightly lighter, but every bit as interesting and well-crafted side of his musical prowess. And then there’s Puscifer…
When the first album “V” is for Vagina dropped in 2007, it was hard to decide what to focus on first… the bizarre album and song titles, the puerile humour, the weird fake-airline-safety-brochure album art, or the crazy un-Maynard-like contra-bass vocals (that guy has got a serious range!) It was a madcap, mish-mash, stream of consciousness but it had groove and damn was it intriguing.
Fast forward eight years, a couple of remix albums, EPs, and a studio album later… and they sally forth with their third album Money Shot in late 2015. It’s just as odd a mixture as when they started… the music is well founded, dark and brooding whilst the album imagery and music videos are intentionally daft and filled with characters wearing luchadore wrestling masks (more about them later).
So… you may ask yourself… when the time came for them to take the show on the road, how do think they decided to portray this particular cocktail of quirkiness..?
The answer became clear when, in November last year, I received a text from Libel asking me how I would like to “interview the evil leader of a Mexican wrestling team called Luchafer, who will be opening for Puscifer in January next year”. What could I say? That interview with La Mano Roja, and the follow up one with La Sirena (which you can read HERE) were surreal in the extreme… and made me even more curious about just what kind of show Puscifer were going to deliver in January.
Well, I’m happy to report that they delivered big time! This show had everything you could hope for, and much more than you would have ever thought to ask.
Luchafer were a hilarious start to the show, and while the ring-side mics didn’t always capture their dialogue, it was a solid display of athletic prowess… particularly when El Catrin, the little guy wearing a black suit and mask with a Pythonesque silver moustache got involved. This guy has aerial skills to match Rey Mysterio Jr and he showed them off to full effect. (Note that I had thought during my interview that the ‘little guy’ who waltzes out with ‘Maynard’s wine’ was Maynard himself… I was wrong. They were both on stage at the same time, so there went that theory). They also had a set of small bleachers on either side of the stage, facing diagonally inwards towards the wrestling ring and a few lucky punters had obviously been chosen to sit there and experience the show up close.
Soon after the wrestling ceased, the music began… coming out hard with Simultaneous, Galileo and Agostina. Maynard was bathed in shadow, as is his wont, wearing a black suit and black luchadore mask with a soft mohawk… Carina Round in a flowing black gown (with leg bits… I dunno what that’s called) mirroring Maynard’s animalistic movements from the other side of the stage… Jeff Friedl, looking (from a distance) like Ethan Hawke with a moustache, laying into the drums with power and precision, his kit positioned front and centre. Fantastic.
The Luchadores didn’t even leave the stage. They took up positions in the bleachers and acted kinda like deranged go-go dancers, occasionally hurling gesticulated insults and threats at one another across the musicians. Then after the first three songs, it was time for a ‘wrestling interlude’ (what a bizarre thing to write..!). The band took to the bleachers and cheered on their favourite luchadores for a good 5 minutes before the big screen announced the start of Act 2 with a hardcase entr’acte (again, quite Pythonesque).
I tell ya’… seeing Maynard James Keenan- one of the cornerstone musical personalities in my life - standing in silhouette on stage, cheering on a troupe of Mexican wrestlers. Pretty surreal.
Act 2 kicked off with Vagina Mine and this was the highlight of the show for me. The massive climax towards the end of the song, with the huge grinding 11/8 riff, every performer on stage banging their heads in unison to the odd-time and most of the audience trying to (about a 20% success rate). Powerful stuff. The endings of their songs were, in general, very strong and memorable… leaving the crowd buzzing through to the start of the next one. This gave the concert a really good flow which kept the momentum right through all 4 Acts, and into the three encores (notwithstanding the punchy-kicky-flippy intermissions… oh, and when they paused for a few minutes at the end of Act 3 to enjoy a robotic cock fight (as in birds… think stuffed roosters on roombas. Seriously).
Maynard also delivered a few monologues, the first one calling the audience out for sitting down (the Vector Arena was in theatre mode, so seats for all). He announced that he’s about to turn 53, has had a full hip replacement, and was having to stand up while the rest of us got to sit. There wasn’t much sitting after that. He’s got that dry offbeat humour – I understand he used to be part of the Los Angeles stand-up comedy circuit. Later, he was dedicating songs in the encore to Vampire Politicians and those around the world who participated in the women’s marches against Trump earlier that week.
My abiding memory of this show will be of him walking off the stage, masked head held high, with a stuffed robotic rooster tucked under his arm.
Maynard James Keenan is a super-interesting dude, and this off-kilter creation of his just adds to the intrigue. He, his bandmates and luchadores delivered a top-class 90-odd minutes of entertainment and I look forward with renewed vigour to what he’s going to do next. Who knows… maybe it’ll be a Tool album.
The full Puscifer setlist was:
Act 1: Simultaneous, Galileo, Agostina, [Luchafer interlude]
Act 2: Vagina Mine, Horizons, The Arsonist, The Remedy, [Luchafer interlude]
Act 3: Life of Brian (Apparently You Haven't Seen), Rev 22:20, Grand Canyon, The Rapture, Breathe, [Luchafer interlude]
Act 4: Toma, Telling Ghosts, Flippant, Conditions of My Parole, Money Shot, Man Overboard, [Thanks and introductions]
Encore: Smoke and Mirrors, The Humbling River, Autumn