Puscifer performs at the Warner Theatre in DC on Nov. 4, 2022. (All photos by Katherine Gaines)
So what did you do Friday night? Really? That sounds nice.
What did I do? I went to the theater; the Warner Theater, to be precise. What show did I see? Probably the strangest thing I have ever watched on a stage (in this country). I went to see Puscifer on their Existential Reckoning: Let The Probing Continue Tour. It’s really hard for me to think of a concert I’ve seen that has been as appropriately titled as this.
If you’re reading this, chances are high that you’re already familiar with Puscifer (I just love typing that: Puscifer, Puscifer, Puscifer). But humor me for a minute for those who are here because they love my writing (insert crying laughing emoji).
Puscifer is an art project for the professor of art projects, Maynard James Keenan. His main gig, Tool, and any other project he’s been involved in, would never qualify as straight-up rock. Well, maybe some A Perfect Circle stuff fits in there, but you get my point. The guy is not a typical rock and roll “frontman.” He’s the polar opposite, spending a lot of time in the shadows when he’s playing with any band other than Puscifer. And even with Puscifer, it’s not actually Maynard up there. It’s some character he’s created in a weird, Primus-meets-Peter-Gabriel-Era-Genesis mash-up.
The Warner Theater was an ideal setting for the show on Nov. 4, the interior being a strange mix of beautiful French Renaissance design with modern speaker arrays and lighting scaffolds serving as an exo-skeleton. It’s also a 1,947-seat venue (I know, couldn’t they squeeze three more seats in there somewhere?), so it’s more intimate than other shows featuring Maynard. But for the show I was about to experience, this was the PERFECT setting.
The opener was a synth-pop/darkwave duo called Night Club. The audience was very receptive and the pair did an excellent job building up to the feature. Singer Emily Kavanaugh was really energetic and the sound was excellent. I found myself taking notes to check out some of their work by writing down the lyrics I liked! As Night Club exited the stage, crew began assembling a U-shaped scaffold on the stage.
Then came the main act. Puscifer’s core is the aforementioned Maynard James Keenan, Carina Round (vocals, synths, guitars), and Mat Mitchell (guitars, bass, keyboards). The band is filled out with various musicians to tour, and this go ‘round they have decided on Gunnar Olsen on drums and Greg Edwards on bass. Gunnar has probably played on a song you love, as the studio drummer. Greg is usually found mesmerizing audiences in the bands Failure and Autolux. The entire group exuded a Men In Black vibe, dressed in dark suits with sunglasses.
The show ACTUALLY began with a video from Keenan’s character Agent Dick Merkin (yeah, I know) providing an endorsement of SPAM and a warning to the audience, describing their demise as an ingredient in the tasty meat treat if they took any photos or videos of the show. Agent Merkin came on stage, confused about what town he was in. After Carina informed him they were in DC, Merkin confessed to having super mixed feelings about being here. With that out of the way, the band blasted into…no wait, they kind of slid into the first song, the subdued “Bread And Circus,” complete with synchronized hip swaying and three additional “Men In Black” who wandered about the stage, checking their hand held devices and staring at the crowd. At the conclusion of the first song, Agent Merkin introduced the band to the audience before moving forward with the show.
Watch a visualizer for “Bread And Circus” by Puscifer on YouTube:
The second track, Postulous, concluded with the Men In Black locating a member of the audience taking video, pulling them on stage, and then back to their eventual demise into a can of SPAM. If you hadn’t gotten the vibe of the night before, you certainly couldn’t miss it after that! The initial set was comprised of:
- Bread And Circus
- Fake Affront
- The Underwhelming
- Grey Area
After seven songs, there was a short intermission with a video, hosted by Agent Merkin, about aliens and cloning red carpet celebrities — for what purpose is still a mystery. After the video break, Agent Merkin reappears in the flesh and the show begins again, with the song “Apocalyptical.” The music got heavier and Greg Edwards’ amazing bass tones were on display, particularly on “The Remedy.” The Men In Black were ever present, sometimes dancing, sometimes scanning the audience, and other times chasing Merkin and Round. One aspect of the show that was apparent by this point was the sound quality. The music enveloped you without overwhelming you. The second segment of the show lasted five songs, wrapping up with a personal favorite, “The Humbling River,” before another break.
Watch the official music video for “The Humbling River” by Puscifer on YouTube:
The second part of the show was made up of:
- The Remedy
- Personal Prometheus
- A Singularity
- Indigo Children
- The Humbling River
There was a six-minute intermission with a minute-by-minute countdown after the second section. The end of the countdown signaled the beginning of another video featuring Agent Dick Merkin. This video continued the cloning theme. This time it focused on rogue clones, mingling with hosts and fighting their degeneration (using Madonna as an example). It also showed a bit of self deprecation when Agent Merkin used Maynard James Keenan being a rogue clone of Wendy O. Williams.
However, when the third set began, it wasn’t Agent Dick Merkin who emerged from backstage, but another Keenan/Puscifer character, Billy D. Billy looks like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Joe Dirt. While Agent Merkin was weasel-y and creepy, Billy D. is full of bluster and braggadocio.
He’s also fixated on aliens and probes, which becomes apparent during this final set, which started with “Bullet Train To Iowa.” The Men In Black reappeared but shed their disguises and showed themselves to be aliens. During the second song, “Vagina Mine,” Billy D. must fend off anal probes from all three aliens while singing the song.
By the final song of the evening, “Bedlamite,” Billy makes the announcement that he wants everyone to take out their phones and take as much video and photos as we like, perhaps in an effort to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.
The final set is as follows:
- Bullet Train To Iowa
- Vagina Mine
- Conditions Of My Parole
I spent much of the evening simultaneously laughing, bobbing my head to the music, and wondering “what the f**k am I watching?” That, to me, made it one of the most entertaining evenings of live music/theater I’ve been to in quite a long time.
Here are some more photos of Puscifer performing at the Warner Theatre on Nov. 4, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Katherine Gaines / AmbientEye.com.