There are few modern artists as enigmatic as Maynard James Keenan. Between his vineyard work and sporadic live performances, it’s tough to get a read on the inner workings of one of the most beloved frontmen in the past 25 years. And be it with Tool, A Perfect Circle, or, in this case, Puscifer, Keenan always takes a backseat to the rest of his band.
At the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside, the stage was perfectly arranged for such a preference, with drummer Jeff Friedl staged front and center. The rest of the band started behind a see-through curtain, just long enough for the photographers to get in their agreed-upon two songs without flash. After the opening numbers (“Simultaneous” and ”Galileo”), the curtain rose and Keenan’s tuxedoed visage became slightly more clear, but not too much. His luchador mask and green top hat (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all) tied in with the opening act, a Mexican wrestling-inspired performance troupe known as Luchafer. The cheeky portmanteau sat on the side of the stage during the set, sometimes coming out to taunt the crowd or faux fight with one another between songs, giving the band a break.
Just like Keenan’s other ventures, if you only focus on his performance, you would be missing the amazing musicians with which he often surrounds himself. His career has been paired with Danny Carey’s drum supremacy , Billy Howerdel’s evolution as a masterful guitarist, and Matt McJunkins’ dominant bass work. Puscifer’s sound is somewhat indescribable, as both subject and tones shift wildly from song to song, album to album, but McJunkins’ low-end backbone remains the glue that holds it all together. Sadly, he did not perform at the show and was replaced by Paul Barker (Ministry), who did a more than admirable job living up to the established essence. Carina Round continually continues to be a vocal juggernaut and the moments when Keenan steps away only prove it further, like when she sang “Rev 22:00” and commanded the band as if it was all her own. The label “side project” gets tossed around when describing Puscifer, but the sheer amount of recording and touring they have done in the past decade far outweighs the individual efforts from each band member.
A forum like the Fox is perfect for necessitating another one of Keenan’s quirks: his disgust for the digital future. Having photographers at all is a step up from most MJK shows, regardless of project, but the ban extended to the patrons, as all tickets had the phrase “No Cameras/Recording Devices” printed on them. This isn’t too uncommon, but having the security team walk up and down the aisles actually enforcing this policy and extending it to cell phones is a bit much, as was the opening audio monologue that pumped through the speakers, shaming all that would dare use a phone during their set by calling them a “dummy.” The vigilance was actually admirable, as most bands stand on a soapbox mid-set and call out those not “living in the moment,” but rarely does a band go out of their way to force an audience into paying attention. Luckily, Puscifer’s live show is stellar enough to command one’s attention either way, but the lack of LEDs glowing in your periphery certainly helped the band’s cause.
Puscifer is a band in their collective prime, with a matured and sharpened Keenan steering the ship in some trippy directions. Few bands find a way to mix humor, rock, sex appeal, and energy into a 90 minute set as tightly as they do. This set was a reminder that a cult of personality isn’t always a bad thing, as the artists on stage help magnify the most powerful aspects of Keenan’s imagination into something his other outlets are just not built for. Puscifer continues to stand out as one of the best collaborative efforts in recent years and put on a show that should not be missed.