After a six year hiatus, Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer are in the midst of a 22-date stateside tour that brought the performance-art troupe to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York this past Saturday on a hot and steamy night. In support of their fourth full-length studio album “Existential Reckoning” which was finished during the COVID-19 lockdown and released in October 2020 by Alchemy Recordings and BMG, Tool’s front-man has been at it again with another one of his musical side projects. Keenan is also an original member of A Perfect Circle, a mid-1990s creation by former guitar tech Billy Howedel.
Alongside his alter ego Agent Dick Merkin, Keenan was joined by his core Pusciforce Agents Carina Round (vocals) and Mat Mitchell (guitar, bass, keyboards) as the electro-rockers investigated alien abductions that are all part of a Men in Black-themed, multimedia experience. There could not have been a better host for the night’s enigmatic theatrics to follow than Kings Theater. Originally designed by architectural masters Rapp & Rapp, the theater has been an ornate spectacle for the masses since its opening in 1929 as a movie palace. After closing its doors in the mid-1970s, the historic structure then sat empty for decades until a complete renovation of the nearly 3,700 seat theater had been restored to its vintage condition and reopened to the public in January 2015.
The Fans, The Venue and Everything Else
Arriving to the venue in the early evening, VIP fans were spotted lining the sidewalk along the venue’s façade behind red velvet roping, while also spilling into an adjacent courtyard. Although the event was seated, I would later learn that many arrived early hoping to purchase the coveted, limited edition show poster. Promptly at 6:30 pm, the doors beneath the grand marquee in lights opened and the eager patrons immediately filed past the security check points and into the inviting confines of the theater. While many could be seen gawking at the interior grandeur of the theater (present company included), others grabbed a drink from the plethora of bars strategically placed on all levels, joined a waiting friend or snapped a cell phone picture of the historic venue’s centerpiece, the console of a “Wonder Morton” pipe organ that was installed in the original Loew’s New York City movie theaters.
Speaking of cell phones, albeit the final song of Puscifer’s 18-song set, photo or video recording of any kind, on any device, was strictly prohibited and would result in ejection with no re-entry permitted. And if you were not sure of the protocols, one only needed to read any of the warning posters plastered throughout the venue, announced over the public address system or later cautioned by Agent Merkin himself.
MOODIE BLACK Photos
As the lights went down, opening support from the currently Minneapolis-based Moodie Black (who were hand-picked by Keenan himself), who are widely considered the pioneers of the new era noise-rap scene, was imminent. While a large video board projected eerie, glitching holograms at the center of the modest stage setup, Sean Lindahl (guitarist from the band’s original inception) and drummer Bentley Monet took their respective positions within an unrelenting shroud of red light at stage right and left. As the pair erupted into the industrial-laden “Hawk Vs. Vulture” (from 2014’s “Nausea”), a track that should make Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails proud, it would still be a few more moments until lyricist Kristen Martinez (a.k.a. Kdeath) appeared from the rear of the stage. Originally hailing from the Arizona desert and a figurehead for the genre-melting scene she has helped spearhead, Martinez immediately engaged an audience that for the most part, had no idea what to expect.
Founded in 2012 and formerly known as GAHEDiNDIE, Moodie Black’s second song presentation, “Freedom” (from 2018’s “Lucas Acid”), was just as formidable and brilliant as its predecessor. Penned by Kdeath shortly after coming out as a transgender woman two years prior, the song’s lyrics are “about the state of our country, but also human existence as a whole.”
Throughout the remainder of their ferocious 8-song set, Martinez’s authenticity continued to shine as she turned turmoil into art with dark poetry that explored themes of isolation, distrust and social media misgendering, to name only a few. Although Moodie Black are known to approach their sound and live performance in an unorthodox manner, the innovative nature of their evolving music continues to emphasize mood and melody that is filled with heavy guitar distortion, synths, pulsating drum beats and vocal hooks reminiscent of The Cure.
For more than a decade, Moodie Black have earned themselves an underground cult following in the annals of alt-rap lore due to their fearless charge into uncharged territory, continually reinventing their sonic alchemy with each critically-acclaimed release. I, for one, am looking forward to witnessing their ability to showcase their kinship with a brooding mood and atmosphere for the next decade and beyond.
At 9:00 pm sharp, a video screen encompassing the stage expanse suddenly came to life. It was Agent Merkin and his warning to all in attendance that anyone who violated the aforementioned cell phone policy would be “ground up in two oversized meat processers to a fine paste” by Puscifer’s Master Chef as the secret ingredient to the mystery meat known as SPAM. Presuming that there would be violators of the policy (and he was correct in at least one instance when a fan, despite raising his voice in protest, was escorted from his seat, up the aisle and out to the lobby), Agent Merkin thanked us for our “dimwitted culinary contribution.”
Puscifer’s stage design was anchored by a steel scaffold at center stage where Keenan and company would make frequent appearances on its second level throughout the show, while two industrial-sized fans whirled beneath. Following the video introduction, Gunnar Olsen assumed position behind his drum kit, Josh Moreau took to his bass in front of the scaffolding and multi-instrumentalist Mitchell came into view at the opposite end of the stage, immediately trailed by Round, and finally Keenan. Puscifer’s opening song was the mournfully beautiful “Bread and Circus,” the first of “Existential Reckoning”’s twelve tracks that would all be performed this night.
Before any further probing continued, Keenan formally introduced his band of agents, followed by the evening’s second song “Postulous.” Hilarity ensued next when a Billy D impostor (a recurring Pusciverse character), after breaching the camera policy, was pointed out by Agent Merkin to his fellow special agents and quickly extracted from the crowd. His wife, Hildy Berger, was nowhere in sight as her husband was whisked away into the shadows.
On this night, Puscifer would thrill their diehard fans for nearly two hours with at least one offering from each of their studio releases, including “Existential Reckoning”, 2007’s “V Is for Vagina” (their debut studio album), the 2009 E.P. “C Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE)”, 2011’s “Conditions of My Parole” and 2015’s “Money $hot.”
Keeping with the “Existential Reckoning” playlist and the theme of investigating alien abductions, Puscifer knocked out six more consecutive tracks from said album, including “The Underwhelming,” “UPGrade” and “Apocalyptical,” the latter of which was preceded by a second video message from Agent Merkin that Pusciforce have “identified a hidden mobile cloning facility” that is “alien-owned and -operated” and “that appears to be run by a combination of genetic engineers, public relation biologists, booking agents and smug social media influencers, all extraterrestrial in nature. The purpose of the clones is still a mystery, but it appears that the aliens are either duplicating and/or replacing red carpet celebrities that have been [deemed]mediocre or [with]outdated fashion sensibilities.”
Highlights from the next grouping of five songs included “Personal Prometheus,” which featured melodic keyboards and Round’s mysteriously-echoing background vocals. “Momma Sed,” making its tour debut and the first time it has been performed live since 2013, was followed by the well-received “The Humbling River,” the sixth and final track from their 2009 E.P., marked by a slowly progressing, yet thunderous rhythm section and exquisite guitar picking.
Before a 6-minute intermission, complete with a minute-by-minute count down via video announcements, Agent Merkin briefed the loyal audience (who continued to stand, as they had all night) with one last cautionary tale, “it appears that when the aliens introduced some of the clones to the red carpet prematurely, bad things can happen [with]the freshman clones.” Following the break, Keenan was atop the scaffold (now as his Billy D persona) when he addressed bassist Moreau below, “Garcon, are you a bartender? What are you supposed to be? Are you one of them, uh, men in back in black guys? Let me ask you something. Is Elvis an alien and is he living in Kalamazoo, Michigan?” With a shrug of Agent Moreau’s shoulders, Billy D descended to the main stage. Upon witnessing the costumed aliens who had also joined the theatrics, he quipped, “You all have aliens in Brooklyn too? I thought that shit was just in Arizona.”
The evening’s final quintet of songs made for the perfect recipe from the Puscifer’s catalog, comprised of “Bullet Train to Iowa,” “Vagina Mine” (complete with a light saber battle between Billy D and the aliens – “You don’t fuck with Darth Vader bitch.”), “Flippant,” the title track from “Conditions of My Parole” and “Bedlamite.” However, before the show’s finale, Keenan addressed the audience one last time. “You all were great, fantastic actually. A couple of announcements. Folks, we are doing a couple of pay-per-views. Not one, but two pay-per-views, coming out around Halloween. One for “Conditions of My Parole” and one for “V Is for Vagina.” You can [now]pull out your stupid cell phone if you like.”
The “Existential Reckoning” tour rolls on for the next two weeks, until concluding in Seattle, Washington on July 10. If this immersive live show hits a city near you, you must attend to aid the Pusciforce agents in deciphering the extraterrestrial coded message that they have intercepted, emanating from the Briefcase, because “An Existential Reckoning is imminent.”
In October 2020, Puscifer held a streaming event, “Existential Reckoning: Live At Arcosanti,” which featured the band performing “Existential Reckoning” in its entirety. The event, which broke online attendance records, can now be viewed here.