“I went to the wrestling match, and a concert broke out!” As strange as it may seem, this is an accurate summary of a big part of Puscifer’s concert at Devos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids last Saturday night. This multidimensional side project of vocalist/winemaker Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle brings a unique concert experience that changes drastically with each new album. The Grand Rapids audience was a blend of hard-core followers and the curious but uninitiated that lends itself well to the band’s intended experience and presentation. While the few heavier numbers, such as “Toma” and “Telling Ghosts,” seemed to generate the most response, the engaging tones of Puscifer’s quieter material, including songs like “Horizons,” “The Remedy,” and “The Humbling River,” helped those songs stand out in a different light compared to their studio versions.
The evening began with a performance from “Luchafer,” which was actually a 30-minute wrestling match and stunt show that featured five professionals bounding and body slamming around an actual wrestling ring that had been set up at the center of the stage. VIP ticket-buyers were seated on small sets of bleachers on each side of the stage for the duration of the opening act performance. Each of Puscifer’s albums is connected to some sort of theme that usually involves costumes and props, and this show, to accompany their latest LP, 2015’s Money $hot, is based on the theme of lucha libre wrestling, the popular, traditional Mexican style that features colorful masks, capes, and costumes. The album artwork, music videos, and merchandise all feature lucha libre elements, and the concert was full of related references. The opening performance was cheered by some but obviously confused (yet amused) others.
Attention turned to an introductory video while the crew ushered the VIP audience off the stage and did a quick set change, moving around a few props. The band members took the stage within moments of the wrestlers exiting, making the entire night feel like a connected, thematic performance. The opening notes of “Simultaneous” were accompanied by an alternate spoken introduction by Keenan in character and on video as Billy D., from the band’s previous album, before the band broke into the main, lyrical portion of the song. Moving into other tracks from the newest record, things changed again quickly as the wrestlers returned to the ring and went another round while the band watched from the bleachers. As the wrestlers tagged out and traded places with the musicians again, the screen announced “Act 2,” and the concert continued.
As the show went on, the song selection began to vary, but the band eventually played 9 of the 10 tracks from Money $hot, half of Conditions of My Parole, and a handful of songs from other releases. Keenan and the band performed on a dimly lit stage, often in the shadows or in silhouette, in front of colorful projections. Supporting players included long-time Keenan collaborators such as Mat Mitchell, Carina Round, Mahsa Zargaran, and Jeff Friedl, and they were joined on bass by Ministry’s Paul Barker. The pattern of the band playing a few songs and then taking a break for a bit more wrestling continued throughout the show, with a total of four such breaks, the third featuring a cock fight (with robot chickens), with the band and wrestlers taking sides and placing bets, and the final one including an introduction of the band and wrestlers.
The visual element of the show increased as it went as well. The first few songs featured minimal lighting, projections, or other effects, but by the concert’s second half, these elements became the primary, visual focus of the performance. Keenan, who legendarily stays away from spotlights and performs in costume, in the dark corners of stages, or both, continued this tradition throughout most of the concert on Saturday. Performing in his own customized, black, wrestling mask, Keenan’s face was obscured through the entirety of the concert, though he did share a few seemingly-heart-felt words after introducing the cast and said hello to two personal friends or former-supporters, possibly from Keenan’s brief time as a Grand Rapids resident and student at Kendall College of Art and Design.
Upon the conclusion of the show, it was safe to say no one in the audience had ever seen a concert quite like that one. It is doubtful any other act would ever feature live wrestling before and throughout a performance, and the experience provided by Puscifer’s continuing, creative blend of varying style and genre make their concerts stand out among their contemporaries and arguably some of their biggest influences.
“Luchafer” (30 minute wrestling/stunt show) (f/”Queen B-Narcovice Mix” on tape)
–set change/intro film–
“Life of Brian” (apparently you haven’t seen)
“The Rapture” (fear is a mind killa mix)
“Conditions of My Parole”
-(band intros/encore break)-
“The Humbling River”