NEW YORK, NY—Given the late ‘90s videos of Puscifer circulating online of Maynard James Keenan and his cast performing a full-on parody of trailer park America, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that to be the theme of the band’s Apollo Theatre performance, occurring in the middle of a mild East Coast hurricane.
I still was, a little.
The appeal of multiple themes was that the audience wouldn’t know what to expect each night, and it was illuminating to see what Keenan insisted was “not a concert.” He’s right, to an extent, because it played out as a hick interpretation of the Partridge Family.
For the first half, anyway.
The members for this incarnation of Puscifer included Keenan as the Conway Twitty with a dash of Tony Clifton-esque master of ceremonies named Billy Dee, Laura Milligan as his long suffering wife named Hildy, Carina Round sitting in the back playing violin as needed, Johnny Polanski on stage right with guitar, drums stage left manned by Jeff Friedl and closely accompanied by bassist Mat Mitchell, and Tim Alexander sitting near Keenan, mostly for comedy, and two shadowy gentlemen (one of them most likely Matt McJunkins) playing cards or having a picnic, at different times.
This was all in front of a large front porch and inn façade, with a large video monitor above it. Around and behind it, photographers moved about dressed in all black—maybe ninjas, maybe cat burglars—and suggested a menacing underbelly. Between songs and skits, videos of the Burgers (as I believe Billy Dee and his family were named) shot in a Ronnie Dobbs-meets-reality show style played, as well as some of the CGI Puscifer videos. It was also a practical reality, as the videos allowed for some smooth set maneuvering that was quite important later on.
To complete the theme, all the songs were countrified. “Cuntry Boner” had already existed in that form, but “Queen Bee” was reworked with a twang. And so the somewhat predictable but enjoyable tale of the Burgers played along, with sex offender jokes, cheating, boozing, etc. True American values.
About 40 minutes in—I believe it was during the long “What Is A Puscifer?” video—the mood on set changed dramatically. Everyone now boasted dark suits, McJunkins replaced Mitchell (who took up a small keyboard) on bass, Tim Alexander took to the drums (though he switched off and also doubled percussion on a second kit), and Round stepped into the space Milligan had occupied near Keenan. The two singers were now singing into fisheye cameras attached to monitors obscuring their faces, and everyone had some of Keenan’s wine.
A bit pretentious, but what followed was the Puscifer many had come to see, the slithering, sensual, groovy renditions of material from V Is For Vagina and the assorted EPs delivered reverently.
It’s a tough sell on paper but it was truly effective in moving the mood away from the goofiness that it appeared many members of the crowd were turned off by. But the night was a clever take on the typically over-serious concert experience. The change in tone made the second half all the more memorable, with a particularly haunting “The Humbling River” closing out the evening’s entertainment before the credits rolled on the event.