Maynard keeping to the shadows. Photo: Eric Scott Russell
Not everyone at the Capitol Theater for Puscifer’s SLC stop was scruffy, pierced and topped with a beanie. Sure, there were those, but despite Maynard James Keenan’s understandable appeal to the working class dirtbag in us all, the crowd was diverse, including gents in suits and several older couples. One unescorted grandmother looked shocked to be felt up by security in the plush Capitol Theater lobby, but she didn’t fight when they took her ballpoint pen away.
I fought back. I had two pens, and I needed them. A mountainous security guy relented, but only because I was reviewing the show. I’m hazy on why pens are verboten, but I get why recorders are a problem and I applaud the insistence that cellphones be turned off. Even when not used for illicit recordings, constant tweeting, texting and Facebook updating is an insult to any performer who has sweated and bled to create art. You paid to be here, so pay attention and update your status later.
Still, the phones weren’t as distracting as the thuggish security folks hovering at the edges, hissing at, talking sternly to and escorting out the unrepentant cell phone addicts. At what point is the distraction of phones worth it so people can enjoy the damn show?
And enjoy it we did, despite the fascist bullyboys. The audience was appreciative right from the warm-up performance by powerhouse British rocker Carina Round, who also provided vocals on Puscifer’s latest release, Conditions of My Parole. Supporting Round were backing vox and laptop-twiddler Claire Acey and Sam Stewart (both from Nightmare and the Cat), Matt McJunkins of 30 Seconds to Mars and A Perfect Circle, and Josh Eustis of Black Light Burns and Telefon Tel Aviv.
Although many seats were empty for Round’s performance, she earned whistles and catcalls for her classic beauty, poise through some sound problems and excellent performance of Mediterranean-flavored alt-rock comparable to Poe or PJ Harvey, with a touch of Jane’s Addiction.
In bars, you use the break between opener and headliner to get a drink or grab a smoke, but with only expensive drinks in the lobby and a strict no re-entry policy, I worried the crowd would grow restless. But Keenan’s got a tool for that: a hilarious mockumentary about the fall and further fall of a redneck “punk” band starring Keenan and a cast of “Hee-Haw” rejects.
Finally, dressed in a black cowboy getup, Keenan pulled a tiny Airstream trailer (a prop from the film) onto the stage and the former set designer began to set the stage, literally, placing camp chairs around a faux campfire, all the while describing his vision of Puscifer. While loosely a stage name for Keenan’s “solo” work, it’s also an artistic vision covering design, clothing and anything else that a famous and admittedly pretentious rock star feels like turning his attentions to. With a nod to his latest love, Caduceus Cellars wines, he set out two bottles for the band and invited first Round and then McJunkins and Eustis, along with Mat Mitchell and drummer Jeff Friedl, to join him in his Americana kitschy “impromptu” drum circle and launched into the performance. Acey and Stewart even enjoyed their dinner at a table on stage while the band performed, adding to the “camping in the desert” artifice.
One of Keenan’s affectations is to remain out of the spotlight, literally. He and Round spent most of the performance silhouetted against desert landscapes and animated psychedelic loops while the other players were more visible near the front of the stage. Occasionally, someone would drop into one of the camp chairs and play or sing from there.
Starting with “Green Valley” and “Tiny Monsters” (Tracks two and one, respectively, from the new album, Conditions of my Parole), the show leaned heavily toward new material. In fact, the band made a nod toward previous works, performing six older songs, including the beautifully atmospheric “Polar Bear” and a stunning and completely unrecognizable version of “Indigo Children,” but most of the 90-minute performance was dedicated to recent works, with the entire new album performed pitch-perfect and unerringly.
The performances of most songs were perhaps a little too faithful. The previous Puscifer show featured complete reinterpretations of the songs performed, and I hoped this show would be similar. But what it lacked in variation from the recorded versions, it made up for in sheer mastery and glorious sound! I believe Keenan chooses to perform in theaters rather than arenas because he knows that opera houses are designed for sound, and the soundboard artist was the unsung hero of Wednesday’s performance.
In 18 songs, the band flowed from strength to strength, working up to the ultimate climax of the evening, the layered and complicated “Man Overboard,” arrangement. The band took it all the way to eleven, with McJunkins and others stepping in to help create the echoing vocal effects of the song. Finally, with the lovely “Tumbleweed” echoing in our ears, Keenan flashed a peace sign at the audience and the band was gone from the stage. No encore, just a rush of fans flinging themselves to their feet in ovation, before rushing out for that much-needed post-coital cigarette in the frigid outside air.
Check out more photos from the show by Eric Scott Russell here.