Conditions of Puscifer's Parole

Live review of Puscifer at the Long Center last week

Puscifer's Carina Round and Maynard James Keenan (right)
Puscifer's Carina Round and Maynard James Keenan (right)

The problem with a rock concert at the Long Center is that when you run to the stage, the venue's personnel either lead you back to your assigned chair or throw you out the side doors. Dancing in front of your seat is the only compromise because few other venues could house the multimedia prop dramedy of Puscifer's Conditions of My Parole Tour last Thursday.

The set began with a tour documentary about the fictional country punk band Burger Barn, led by Billy D, a wigged and mustached Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle and Puscifer front man. More to the pitch of Reno 911 than Spinal Tap, the film joked on typically white-trash topics like cousin-fucking, drinking, and the hardships of trailer life.

It was followed by another prerecorded skit, this time an introduction by battalion commander Major Douche, also Keenan, who laid down ground rules (no flash photography), mispronounced Keenan's other bands ("The Tools" and "Full Circle"), and led the crowd in a cheer: "VA-GIN-A."

Soon Keenan was dragging a small Airstream trailer around the stage before unpacking camping equipment and singer Carina Round from inside. While he gave a literally long-winded speech about human existence, sustainability, and the balance of utilitarianism and art, Round helped him set up a campsite that included a fake fire, folding furniture, and copious amounts of wine. Next, they rolled in a giant red wagon housing a drum set and microphones and began setting a stage for themselves. Something was still missing.

"Where are the hippies?" Keenan asked, cuing the remainder of Puscifer to the stage.

Over a solemn acoustic guitar, the circus master sang, "Hello stranger, can you tell us where you've been? More importantly, how did you ever come to be here?" on opener "Green Valley." Around the campfire, the band settled into a semicircle with Keenan in the shadowy distance. Beside him, Round sang every word, always in chorus. The duo's chemistry was mighty, teaming melodiously and becoming dancing silhouettes during musical breaks.

The band, too, was on point. Anchored by the Mensa drumming of Jeff Friedl and the highly affected guitar work of Mat Mitchell, Puscifer ripped through a lively version of "Conditions of My Parole" and slow burned on "Momma Sed" and "Oceans." With multiple video screens playing intermittent skits, atmospheric nature shots, and the campground facade, the concert, at times, seemed like a perfect synthesis of Roger Water's Radio K.A.O.S. Tour and tripping mushrooms at Sedona.

As the show drew to a close, Keenan introduced himself as a "world-class curmudgeon" and invented the "retirement home encore" by not leaving the stage. Instead, the band drank wine (no news on whether it was the singer's own vintage) in folding chairs as the members beat out an acoustic version of "Tumbleweed."

In full, the Conditions of My Parole Tour is both artistically admirable and tonally disjointed. It has the pomp and grandeur of a Las Vegas extravaganza and the intimacy of a desert campfire, which is great. The whole thing is independently produced, which is also great. It's also the most indulgent thing Keenan has ever done, a significant feat in itself.

Still, outside the venue, there were more shoulder shrugs than "Fuck yeahs." While the performances were incredible, the concert as a whole had a disconnected vibe. The humor clashed with Keenan's always-superior tone. The set list yo-yoed awkwardly between upbeat and slow songs. The mockumentary preamble was incredibly funny, but it was pointless in regard to the existential speech and spacey performance that it preceded. It all just felt unnecessary.

Mid-show, a fan screamed, "Play 'Lateralus!'" as if the band might halt everything it had choreographed and play a song by Tool because someone requested it. That man, of course, is a fool, but I commend him. He is essential.

Without him, I doubt there'd be a Puscifer, for I've always felt that Keenan's artistic output was driven by his hatred for his fans. Guys like this give him good reason. He was probably at A Perfect Circle shows and Keenan's wine bottle signings at Whole Foods requesting "Lateralus."

Keep it up, guy in the Tool shirt. Your heroes move on, but you never will.

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Puscifer, Maynard James Keenan, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Carina Round, Spinal Tap, Roger Waters

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