Maynard James Keenan hits Boston with Puscifer

A review of Puscifer at the Berklee Performance Center on March 16, 2010

, Staff Writer

Maynard James Keenan, best known for his work with Tool and A Perfect Circle, has been on the road with his newest act, Puscifer. The band swung through Boston last week for a two-night stint, bringing with them Maynard’s distinct lyrical style, albeit with a much larger dose of humor in between.

As the lights dimmed over the packed Berklee Performance Center last Tuesday night, the performers took the stage, dressed in pilot garb, and posed authoritatively at center-stage. Above them, a large display showed a promotional video for Vagina Air, setting the “motif” of the night right off the bat. Throughout the show, a number of parody safety videos were shown, which generally ended with the advice that “passengers” should kill themselves. While not playing, musicians would wander around the middle of the stage, where the two members of the opening band, Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival, sat. They drank wine and hit on Milla Jovovich when she wasn’t singing. Maynard himself spent almost the entirety of the show behind a smaller monitor, which broadcasted fish-eyed footage of a lens pointed directly at him; most of the time, the audience could only see his forehead and his big sunglasses.

Musically, Puscifer falls somewhere in between Maynard’s other two bands: there’s occasional rhythmic play, as in Tool, but the songs are also more melodic, like in A Perfect Circle. While songs would often start (relatively) innocuously, the musicians showed themselves more than capable of putting together a good build-up. “Rev 22:20” stood out in this regard – in the studio, and for the first half, the song rode along at an even level. Eventually, though, guitar distortion started to thicken up, cymbals started to splash, and soon enough everyone was headbanging. Behind their screens, Maynard and Jovovich’s voices meshed surprisingly well together, enhancing significant passages in the music and simply filling it out in others.

It should be said that the first half of the show felt a bit odd, if only because nobody was standing, and a number of audience members were just sitting still. Right before “Momma Sed”, Maynard came out from behind his screen and gave the “rise” motion. As if waiting for the cue, everybody immediately bolted out of their chairs, and it felt like a proper rock and roll show.

“Trekka”, essentially an instrumental with spoken word on top, came early in the set, and was the first of many peaks the band would hit as the show continued on. The more electronic aspects of Puscifer come out in pieces like this, a very industrial beat with sharp, dark guitar on top, relentless in its lack of a chorus to latch onto. Throughout these songs, the display above the band showed footage of pilots drinking and doing drugs, various fake roadside attractions, and psychedelic videos.

“The Mission” was another darker, more industrial, tune, Maynard and Jovovich alternating on vocal duties. The drums were succinct, and a dark piano reverberated throughout the hall. Before ending the show, Maynard came out and thanked the audience for supporting Puscifer, which is an entirely independent production: the band has no label backing them up whatsoever, which makes the entire production all the more impressive.  They closed with “The Humbling River”, a quiet, somber piece that called for solidarity in difficult times.

All in all, the concert felt pretty short. There was no encore, although the set itself lasted a good hour and a half. There’s just so much musicality coming out of Puscifer that every moment was interesting, and there was certainly plenty to look at. Mr. Keenan has once again demonstrated his versatility as a musician, and it’s certainly a feat to have three distinct and high-quality acts under your belt.

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