The following is a collaborative review by Ben Berkiw and David Lacroix
Maynard James Keenan – a name well-known in the rock world for his lyrical and vocal work with Tool and A Perfect Circle – returned to Vancouver on December 3rd for the first time in nearly four years. Keenan is currently on tour with his multimedia creative project Puscifer, a “revolving door of musicians”, as he once called it. Only two Canadian dates were booked for the current tour, and Vancouver was fortunate to be one of them. What took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was powerful, emotive, and certainly odd.
The evening’s performance began with Luchafer, assumed to be a band until one conducted an internet search on their musical material, which mysteriously revealed nothing related to music. Luchafer was actually a group of wrestlers who performed in a wrestling ‘ring’ situated onstage. The act resembled the events seen in World Wrestling Entertainment. This was an odd choice for an opener, and there was no indication as to why they were opening for Puscifer. Whatever the reasons may be, Luchafer remained onstage throughout the evening, as did the wrestling ring.
Following a quick stage transition in the dark, featuring Puscifer’s “Queen B (Narcovice Mix)” playing on the sound system, Keenan appeared on the small screens located on the front corners of the orchestra level. He was assuming the role of Major Douche, giving a somewhat amusing lecture regarding the use of phones or cameras during the forthcoming performance. “Don’t be a dummy, dummies gotta leave,” he repeatedly said. “We’re here to entertain you,” he added, as if the Major was on a mission.
Puscifer’s set began with “Simultaneous”, a track from Puscifer’s most recent LP, Money $hot. This opening performance featured Jeff Friedl playing drums under dim blue lights, as well as Keenan who acted as a character with blonde hair and sunglasses. He briefly discussed historical events loosely related with human evolution, whilst taking shots of liquor and ingesting illicit substances. Following the blonde man’s discussion, the other members of Puscifer were finally revealed as the lights illuminated them onstage.
The strangeness of the performance, which began with Luchafer, was also found in the spatial arrangement of the band members onstage. Guitarist Mat Michell, bassist Paul Barker – formerly of the band Ministry –, and keys player Mahsa Zargaran were in the back; drummer Jeff Friedl, however, was at the front of the stage. King Crimson utilized a similar setup during their 2015 tour, but with three drummers in the front. Keenan handled vocal duties alongside Carina Round, and changed position onstage throughout the evening. At times, both vocalists would be found in the ring, harmonizing together.
The vocal performances were a highlight of the night. Keenan was able to demonstrate a range of styles—delicate high notes during “Augustina”; lowering his voice and pairing it with a sly edge during “Smoke and Mirrors”; then unleashing his powerful screams during “Breathe” and “The Undertaker”. Keenan and Round were able to demonstrate that they could harmonize in a live setting with as much as skill as Martin Gore and David Gahan of Depeche Mode. The dark atmosphere embedded within Puscifer’s songs was quite possibly influenced by Depeche Mode as well.
The setlist was split into three Acts, each of which was separated by a brief wrestling match. The wrestling theme was maintained by starting each Act with the sound of a bell, as if another wrestling match was about to begin. Songs from Money $hot were performed throughout the evening, along with older Puscifer tunes.
Act I began with “Vagina Mine”, a song released in 2007 and considered a staple from the Puscifer catalog. Keenan greeted the crowd with, “Vancouuuver!” after the song’s completion. Act II featured two tracks taken from Puscifer’s EPs: C is for . . . from 2009, and Donkey Punch the Night from 2013. The third Act focused on the album Conditions of my Parole from 2011. During “Man Overboard”, the lyric ‘all hands on’ was repeated many times as the crowd responded by placing their hands in the air. Puscifer closed Act III with the powerful, and abrasive, electro-rock number “The Undertaker”.
Keenan spoke again during the encore break, issuing a thank you to the crowd, followed by an introduction to the members of his band. And because Keenan was in Vancouver, he decided to mention the following: “Unlike many people, I don’t blame Canada. If you are wrong, so am I.”
There was a strong sense of cohesion between band members as they played seamlessly together as one musical unit. As well, the soundboard mixing provided a near perfect projection of sound inside the Queen E. The treble frequencies were a bit high, but aside from this, the guitar and keyboard tones were clearly heard in the mix, as were the vocals. The sound emitted from the rhythm section—bass guitar and drums— reverberated throughout the venue without overpowering the other instruments.
Puscifer’s performance managed to complete the mission set out by Major Douche earlier in the evening: to entertain the crowd. The success was made evident by the smiles on the attendees’ faces as they left their seats. It would be wise for everyone who saw Puscifer in Vancouver in 2015 to keep Keenan’s advice in mind, which he sang during Act II: “Don’t forget to breathe. . .”