Puscifer at Pabst Theater
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Anyone expecting the dark, atmospheric alt-metal stylings of Tool from Maynard James Keenan’s jokey side-project Puscifer Tuesday night at Pabst Theater must have been gobsmacked when the band’s set opened with a video where the singer, decked out as the Patton-esque “Major Douche”, led the crowd in a rousing roar of “VAGINA!” The cheeky tone of the evening was sealed when the band conga-lined out to the stage dressed in a variety of priest, nun, and pope outfits. Of course, this is a band with albums like V Is For Vagina and “C" Is For (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE), so it’s not like Keenan could be accused of false advertising.
The Puscifer live experience is part rock band, part multimedia comedy show, featuring a number of sketches introducing a cast of characters spoofing that age-old nemesis of rock and roll, organized religion. It’s a cute, timeless theme, if not one that’s been done to death over the years by Alice Cooper, Al Jourgensen, and Marilyn Manson, among others. (A note to all future musical multimedia malcontents—you can’t use a character named “Bob” in your religion-skewering rock show and have it not be a Church Of The Subgenius reference.)
Still, the band’s darkly comic not-quite-goth-rock had the Pabst faithful quickly on its feet. Drummer Tim Alexander (who normally keeps time for Primus) impressively kept the band in sync with the prerecorded video and audio clips as the rest of the band chugged along. Keenan took a spot in the back of the stage with vocalist Carina Round, who was dolled up as the Sexy Nun from any number of winning Halloween parties. Semi-hidden between a pair of magnifying screens that exaggerated their features fisheye-style, the two harmonized beautifully while the occasional band member took a break to chill on couches, take sacramental wine from a fake Pope—nice product placement there, Maynard!—or play on a laptop. It was an entertaining spectacle despite the subject matter being a bit tired. (We get it—religion is one big fart joke; we don’t need video of a statue literally talking out its ass to make that point even more clear).
When the band moved away from the religious theme later in the set and stuck to simply rocking out, the material improved drastically. Standout “The Mission” benefited from Round’s smoky, jazz-infused vocals while the boys backed her up with the looping refrain “what do you know?” The house lights then came up and Keenan took a moment to thank everyone for coming out, showing genuine appreciation for the crowd’s love. “We’re doing this with no label, no management, just us,” he said. The band then closed with the haunting “The Humbling River,” a gorgeous showcase for the vocals and lyrical prowess that put Keenan in the position to be able to do this DIY gig in the first place. “I’ve conquered country, crown and throne/Why can’t I cross this river?” Easily the best line and best song of the night.
After witnessing the headlining carnival show, the presence of opening act Neil Hamburger made a lot more sense. In larger venues opening for rock bands, “America’s Funnyman” tends to confound audiences with his Kaufman-esque brand of post-modern “so bad it’s uncomfortably hilarious” stand-up “comedy.” Any hopes for a confrontational showdown with a heated, abusive audience were dashed as soon as he walked out to cheers. This was a crowd hip to Hamburger’s shtick, and after a solid 15-minute run of Red Hot Chili Pepper jokes (“What did the Red Hot Chili Peppers do when their management didn’t like their latest tracks? They put long-sleeve shirts on”) the crowd was laughing so hard that any attempt by Hamburger to shout down a “heckler” came off as disingenuous. Still, it’s always entertaining to hear Hamburger yell “shut the fuck up, you asshole!” even if the heckler is in on the joke. After all, who doesn’t love an accomplished potty mouth?