Puscifer at The Riv (2012)


When critic Martin Esslin coined the expression “Theatre of the Absurd” in 1960, he couldn’t have imagined just how far Maynard James Keenan would take it in 2012.

Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) has engineered a multimedia side project called Puscifer, which, in name alone, is enough to baffle the squares.  Throw in album titles such as “V is for Vagina” and “Conditions of My Parole,” and you have an astute example of how to garner fans and alienate people in one fell swoop.

From the moment that Vagina Airlines took off Wednesday night, the Riviera Theatre stage became an extension of Keenan’s subconscious, and his rabid admirers were along for the ride, despite scant inklings of just how far he was willing to take them.

If you bought a ticket, chances are you had a reasonable expectation of things to come, but, to the uninitiated, the direct, aggressive nature of the performance may have been shocking to say the least.

As John Cleese used to say, “And now for something completely different.”

Just how different, you ask?  Let’s just say that I could spend hours waxing poetic about how Keenan possesses a knack for crafting material that frightens one moment and awes the next, or how Carina Round matches his intoxicating darkness at every turn, but it wouldn’t matter.

Puscifer is an entity that must be seen to be believed, and nothing anyone could say or write could capture its impact in quite the same way.

The 95-minute production incorporates disturbing imagery and hauntingly exquisite compositions delivered in a fashion that only the intellect behind “Undertow” and “Aenima” could conjure up.  Songs such as “Vagina Mine,” “Potions,” and “Tiny Monsters” function as fragments of Keenan’s enigmatic psyche put to rhythm, and they deserve to be experienced with little previous exposure.

When the band kicked into “Toma” and “Man Overboard,” I could sense the audience being swept up into a visceral rush that would carry on well past the closing credits.

Carina Round opened the show with her own set of angst-ridden ditties about failed relationships and proved to be an artist with a distinct vision of what alt-rock is supposed to sound like.  She’s impossible to ignore on stage, as she throws herself into each number with the spasmodic yearning one would expect from an independent musician.

What’s almost as incredible as the show itself is the fact that North Tonawanda was able to snag one of only 15 dates on the tour, because shows of this ilk tend to bypass Western New York in favor of Toronto’s slew of musical venues.

Seeing Puscifer do its thing in front of a sold-out theatre crowd is sure to go down as one of the finest concerts of 2012, so kudos to Theatre Director Frank Cannata for bringing in an act with a reputation for challenging the musical status quo.

Somewhere, Tipper Gore is pulling her hair out.







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