"N" Is For Nashville, A Puscifer Experience In the South
Puscifer is one of the most difficult bands to describe, given the disconnect between their outward appearance and the substance of their songs. Yet, to anyone familiar with the work of A Perfect Circle and Tool, just the buzz-phrase of "It's a Maynard James Keenan band" does the trick. The band's approach is almost exclusionary in that their promo photos and stage presentation are mostly unrelated, which deters casual listeners but intrigues those who demand that music be a full-on experience. Finding out what that Puscifer experience was all about was my goal when they stopped in Nashville, TN on the night of February 28th.
The Nashville show was held at the upscale Tennessee Performing Arts Center, which was quite a step up from a normal heavy rock or metal show. When the Nashvillians (and Nashvillains) walked in, they were greeted by a PA announcement that tonight's show was going to be like a major stage production and that "interruptions by the audience will hinder the performance." The Perfoming Arts Center has been known to host major Broadway productions, and apparently this show was going to be treated like one.
The venue's ridiculous photography ban and strict press rules (and my crazy-ass confrontation with security about my photo pass) aside, nobody was going to have any trouble remembering this production. There was a bar inside the auditorium, which was curiously not stocked with Maynard's own home-grown Caduceus wine. Upon entering, everyone found out that this was a seated show. This really WAS going to be a production.
The first act, UK-based sultry rock devil Carina Round, made waves with the Nashville crowd, winning audible support after just a couple of songs. Her style carries a heavy Jeff Buckley influence and was a near-perfect pairing with Puscifer in that her songs still contained a dark element. Her single-coil pickups jangled through her guitar amps as she strummed out cynical odes to various wrongdoers over the course of seven or eight songs. In any given Nashville crowd, more than half of the people are musicians, and way more than half of the early crowd was feeling her music.
During the set change, a screen was dropped down over the stage and a projector came on and started rolling video. The intrigue of a Puscifer show is that attendees don't give away details about it, and the ones that do only end up sounding confusing. How are you supposed to reconcile a bizarrely hilarious mockumentary-style video about a punk country band (played by Maynard James Keenan and friends) with what you saw Puscifer play and be able to explain it? I'm not even going to try, because it's a show that's best experienced with your own eyes and ears rather than my mouth. This video was to go on for fifteen or twenty minutes and reappear between songs.
After Maynard's formal introduction and setting up of the stage, the band came out and casually rolled right into "Green Valley," followed by "Tiny Monsters" and "Vagina Mine." Carina in her dress and Maynard in his black leather trench with jeans, boots, and a Stetson on made for an unusual and impressive aesthetic. The band was set up in a semi-circle with the two vocalists being the furthest back from the crowd, although still in the middle. Guitarist Mat Mitchell and bassist Matt McJunkins took the left side of the stage, while keyboardist/guitarist Josh Eustis and drummer Jeff Friedl took the right, making up the "hippie drum circle," as Maynard jokingly referred to them.
"Man Overboard," "Telling Ghosts," "Momma Sed," "Oceans," "Monsoons," and "Conditions of My Parole," were some major highlights of the show. During some of the songs, various bandmates would sit down on prop-chairs onstage and drink wine while the rest of the band played certain songs throughout the show. This made for an odd communion of sorts between audience and band, with the band becoming an audience at times. During the songs, visuals by Meats Meier were displayed on a massive auditorium screen behind the band, accenting the performance.
Towards the end of the show, Maynard humbly thanked everyone and noted that Puscifer is a completely independent project. Obviously, Maynard and crew are able to be successful at it because of their histories in other famous bands, but it still felt good to see independent music in such a big venue (2,400 capacity) with such a great turnout.
Puscifer is bringing its elaborate and highly visual stage show to Cincinnati on March 3rd, moving on to Indianapolis on March 4th, and rolling through six more shows in the coming days.
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