Report: Puscifer, Brisbane 2012

The Tivoli, Brisbane
Friday 22 February 2013


Metal-detecting wands are a rare sight at a rock show, especially outside of an entertainment centre. Everyone’s given a once-over by the wand before they walk through the theatre’s doors. It's because the man behind this band isn’t fond of cameras. Of any description.

A FasterLouder photographer arrives at the head of the long queue and is turned away, despite his protestations that he’d been accredited to shoot the show. A woman at the door bellows the same statement every 30 seconds: no photos or recording, or you’ll be kicked out. Strange behaviour for a rock show, yet strangely admirable in its totality. This is an extreme way to stamp out YouTube bootleggers, and it appears to work: I don’t see a single smartphone held aloft all night.

This show is sold out because it’s the first time that Maynard James Keenan, singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle, has toured his ‘multimedia project’ Puscifer outside of America. Spirits are high. The merch desk is doing swift business. Signs blue-tacked to nearly every wall in the venue instruct patrons that all drinks must be poured into plastic cups. (“Please be patient!”) Another sign lists ‘restricted items & actions’: cameras, audio/video recorders, laser lights, flash lights, knives, tasers, mace etc. No moshing or crowd surfing. Audio/video materials confiscated will not be returned. So many rules and regulations. Serious (protecting of) business.

The queue is still hundreds-strong when the show begins at 8.30pm sharp; we’re subject to a half-hour video with a loose plot – featuring Keenan playing a range of characters, each with Texan accents – and some short musical interludes filmed at another venue, all displayed on two large projector screens at the back of stage. It effectively works as a highlight reel for a past Puscifer tour, which evidently relied heavily on hillbilly sketches. It’s more tedious than funny. The crowd cheers when any of Keenan’s characters drink heavily. Which is often.

The reel ends, then another clip draws into focus: Keenan dressed as an Army officer, complete with uniform, aviators and moustache, stood before an American flag and reminding the crowd: no fucking cameras or recording devices. No fucking flash cameras! It’s rude! It works because he’s long been annoyed by this type of behaviour when performing with his other bands—it’s part of the reason why he sings from behind the drum kit with Tool, for example—yet he’s never quite had the power (or the balls, perhaps) to stamp it out. He’s finally got his way, and I bet he’s happy about it. Good for him. That sense of humour is a trait all too rare at Tool shows.

With two albums to their name, plus a handful of EPs—including the eloquently named Donkey Punch The Night, released a few days before this show—there’s plenty of material to draw upon. The four-piece  through the songs in a competent, if workmanlike fashion. The rhythmic beds are elementary when compared to the singer’s heavy metal history, but this music is more about simplicity, atmosphere and feeling than showy musicianship. Keenan and so-singer Carina Round stand at the back, before large screens that amplify their faces on-the-fly while they perform, and it's amusing to watch the pair regularly dance in-sync, Round imitating Keenan’s trademark squat gyrations.

The band are on stage for 90 minutes, including a couple of intermissions wherein Keenan lives out his character-acting fantasies on the screens. Four lounge chairs are positioned at front of stage, and the singer regularly tops up his bandmates’ glasses with wine. (His own creation, no doubt, since Keenan owns vineyards in Arizona.) In the middle of the set, James Iha and Billy Howerdel—the two guitarists from A Perfect Circle, with whom Keenan is performing as part of Soundwave Festival tomorrow—stride across the stage and lounge around for a few songs, sipping wine and taking it all in. “Fuckin’ party crashers,” says Keenan, after the pair are welcomed by the band and comfortably seated. It’s a nice touch for a room full of hardcore fans, yet their arrival coincides with the dullest bracket of songs aired tonight: the live premiere of ‘Dear Brother’, ‘Breathe’, and their cover of Accept’s ‘Balls To The Wall’, all from Donkey Punch The Night. (They don’t attempt their cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ from the same release, which is odd, because it would have brought the house down.)

Round is a class act: fantastic voice and sporting a great nun’s habit costume, cut to knee-length. She performs ‘Rev 22:20’ solo, while Keenan raises his glass from the lounge. There’s real chemistry between these two, and their vocal interactions are the highlight of the show. The closing bracket of four songs are performed with such verve that they make up for the so-so midsection: ‘Conditions Of My Parole’, ‘Man Overboard’, ‘Telling Ghosts’ and ‘The Undertaker’ are some of the heaviest tracks in the band’s catalogue, and end the show strongly.

There’s no encore.

Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok)

(Photo of Puscifer performing at the Soundwave Festival in Brisbane on the weekend: Clare Hawley)

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