Puscifer, the Maynard James Keenan-led band known for their theatrical performances, released their highly regarded album, Existential Reckoning, back in 2020. Since the release, the closest the group came to touring was the Existential Reckoning: Live at Arcosanti livestream event. However, this summer has seen the band embark on their first North American tour in six years. The Existential Reckoning Tour kicked off its run on June 9th in Las Vegas NV, and we caught the show this past Wednesday (June 22nd) at the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham NC.
The evening started with a short set of experimental noise rap from Moodie Black. Fronted by transgender artist Kristen Martinez, Moodie Black was handpicked by Keenan to open the shows on this tour. The trio performed in front of a large projection screen that provided an eerie visual backdrop to the weird left of center sonic landscape.
Unlike Maynard James Keenan’s other bands, TOOL and A Perfect Circle, Puscifer is more of an experimental art-rock creative outlet. Shows tend to be as much performance art as concert. Previous tours have included a wrestling ring and luchadores in 2015, and a group of hicks complete with a full-size camper in 2011. For this outing, Puscifer started their set with a short video. Keenan appeared as Agent Dick Merkin to explain to the audience that cell phones, cameras, and recording of any type was forbidden. With a Max Headroom stuttering delivery, Agent Merkin suggested that anyone caught would be escorted from the venue and dropped into an oversize meat processor where they would ultimately be added to the canned meat, SPAM. As the video ended and the screen went up, an elaborate stage was revealed, a kind of futuristic dystopian industrial set consisting of scaffolding in the middle with two big industrial fans beneath, and two large video screens on either side.
The band started off with “Bread and Circus,” the opening track from Existential Reckoning. In the back corner of the stage, Keenan (Agent Dick Merkin) and Puscifer core bandmates Carina Round and Mat Mitchell were dressed like special agents in black suits and black sunglasses, a la Men In Black. Next up was “Postulous,” which featured an appearance from previous Puscifer character Billy D, who appeared in the audience at the front of the stage with a cell phone. He was quickly pointed out by band members who started chanting “Spam, Spam,” as three disturbingly featureless bald agents appeared and pulled him onto the stage where they carried him off backstage. If it was not already apparent, the audience was in for more than a concert… This was an experience.
The show continued with the theme of the “Pusciforce” investigating alien abductions. The 18-song set included all of Existential Reckoning, as well as an assortment of songs from previous albums including, “Flippant,” “Conditions Of My Parole,” and a wildly received rendition of “Vagina Mine.” Agent Merkin (Maynard) and Carina were the focus of the proceedings. For some songs they were virtually motionless while singing, and for others they danced hypnotically. During “The Remedy,” they actually chased each other around the stage with portable swinging microphone stands strapped to their chests. There were some hilarious video briefings from Agent Merkin interspersed throughout the show, and at various points in the performance, the band were joined by the three bald agents. After a short intermission late in the show, the agents were replaced by three aliens who were trying to “probe” Maynard who had come back on stage as Billy D. The evening ended with Billy D telling the crowd they could take out their phones and film whatever they wanted now as the band brought down the house with a raucous “Bedlamite.”
Let me assure you that no amount of reading reviews, looking at photos, or finding fan videos of “Bedlamite” can do justice to the Existential Reckoning Tour. Puscifer is a band best experienced live and in person. Do not pass up a chance to catch one of the dates on this tour