Maynard James Keenan, the enigmatic lead singer of the heavy metal rock band Tool, brought his fascinating side project Puscifer, to perform the final live music event of the season at the beautiful Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles, California.
The concert on Sunday, October 16th, opened on a cool, clear evening with a set by the Darkwave EDM duo from Los Angeles, Night Club. Keyboardist and music composer Mark Brooks and moody singer Emily Kavanaugh have been making their dark electronic dance music for a decade, with much of their material making its way into movie soundtracks. Brooks milked a remarkable array of sounds from his synthesizers while Kavanaugh pranced about in a dance frenzy singing in an emotive wail. The duo performed in near darkness amidst an occasional explosion of backlit strobes. The lighting added to the sinister atmosphere of the trance-inducing music. Kavanaugh was in constant motion, dancing, shouting at the crowd, and writhing on the stage while Brooks stood stoically, creating a symphony of dark electronic beats. The short set was an appropriate opening for the madcap performance from Puscifer.
After a short break, the Puscifer show opened with a video presentation of Maynard appearing in the persona of agent Dick Merkin touting the virtues of Spam and forbidding the usage of cell phones during the concert. He stated that those who violated the policy would be thrown into giant meat grinders to add “extra spiciness” to the Spam. The video set the tone of the concert, which was much more akin to a Broadway performance than to a traditional concert. Next, Maynard introduced the band, featuring special agent Carina Round on vocals, general agent Mat Mitchell on guitar and keyboards, general agent Gunnar Olsen on drums, and general agent Greg Edwards on bass and keyboards, all dressed in black suits and dark sunglasses like FBI agents.
The theatrical presentation featured the dancing duo of lead singers Maynard and Round while the band alternated between heavy metal and heavy synth backing sounds. The group's storyline sought to track down space creatures, who were, in turn, in pursuit of a recurring Puscifer character, Billy D, a hard-drinking lout. Meanwhile, other agents and visiting aliens make appearances and exits throughout the show, sometimes joining in the dancing and other times performing mysterious tasks. Finally, in a classic Maynard bait and switch, the Billy D character, looking much like Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, appears at the foot of the stage taking photos with his phone. Maynard points to him and declares, “spam," prompting special agent characters to grab Billy D and carry him off, presumably to turn him into Spam.
During the intermission in the 3 part presentation, Keenan appeared on video again as Agent Dick Merkin, explaining to the audience that red-carpet celebrities are in reality, alien clones. Merkin included Maynard in the conspiracy plot, explaining that the front man for Tool is a gender-reassigned version of Plasmatics singer Wendy O. While this was going on, the Billy D character could be seen posing for photos with fans and partaking in the offerings at the wine bar. Then a presumably drunk Billy D appears at the top of the multilevel platform onstage and begins a drunken diatribe as the band returns. Then the music started, and Billy D broke into song, revealing that Maynard had dressed as the character who had been hauled out of the audience earlier. Maynard finished the set in his new persona.
Amidst all this theatrical drama, the core band shined brightly, sounding like a mashup of 80s synth music and Tool-like heavy metal riffs. The beginning of the 18-song set featured material from the band's latest album, Existential Reckoning. The second and third acts of the show mixed songs from four of the band's earlier albums with more material from Existential Reckoning, many of which became singalongs with the fiercely loyal fans in the audience.
Maynard ended the evening with another surprise during the final song. The impish maestro broke character and allowed the audience to “pull out your stupid cell phones” and photo and video the last song if they liked. The amphitheater then lit up with cell phones capturing the finale of one of the most interesting musical presentations of the 2022 concert season.