Led by one-time Grand Rapidian Maynard James Keenan, the art rock band brought its theatrical schtick to DeVos Performance Hall on Tuesday. The Local Spins review and photos.
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“The Simpsons” fans of a certain age may recall a “Treehouse of Horror” special from the mid-1990s in which Homer is abducted by Kang and Kodos, the drooling, reptilian extraterrestrials who have appeared in several of the series’ Halloween-themed episodes, always bent on world conquest.
Homer, fearing the inevitable, drops his trousers. But his captors recoil, explaining: “We have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us.”
Some 25-odd years later, the band Puscifer has either ignored this memo or has not, itself, reached the same limit: Its “Existential Reckoning” tour, which on Tuesday night visited a nearly full DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, is subtitled, “Let the Probing Continue.”
And so the probing, existential and otherwise, resumed.
The band — singer Maynard James Keenan, core members Mat Mitchell and Carina Round and a couple of side musicians and three auxiliary performers — delivered an 18-song, nearly two-hour multimedia spectacle that was part electro-rock seance, part vaudevillian stage act, part sci-fi cosplay.
Keenan, who lived in Grand Rapids and attended Kendall College of Art and Design before fronting the mega-successful bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, spent most of the show in character as Agent Dick Merkin, who resembled Smith from the “Matrix” movies but whose personality was seemingly Venn diagrammed between the 1980s TV icon Max Headroom and Buster Bluth from “Arrested Development.”
Sharing vocal duties with the similarly attired multi-instrumentalist Round, Keenan/Merkin injected the show with a narrative throughline that apparently involved celebrity cloning, extraterrestrials and government conspiracies, all of which evoked the later seasons of “The X-Files,” insofar as it didn’t make a great deal of sense. (The trio of Blue Man Group-esque performance artists appeared variously as suit-wearing agents and gray-faced aliens.)
EMBRACING ALL THE SCHTICK AND SHOWMANSHIP POSSIBLE IN ROCK
Presented in three segments separated by video intermissions, the set primarily consisted of material from 2020’s “Existential Reckoning,” an appropriate title for an album released in the depths of the pandemic — from the ominous, simmering opener “Bread and Circus” to the industrial stomp of “Apocalyptical” to the sinewy riffs of “Bullet Train to Iowa.”
Arguable show highlight “The Remedy,” from the 2015 album “Money Shot,” found Keenan and Round trading vocal polyphony and harmony over a palette of eclectic, misanthropic art-rock that is more stylistically omnivorous, if ultimately less distinctive, than either of Keenan’s better-known bands.
To be fair, there is very little overlap between his various projects besides maybe an intense hatred of smartphones. (Similarly to when Tool played Van Andel Arena earlier this year, photos and videos were strictly verboten until the final song of the night.) Still, Puscifer exists in a context that’s unignorable.
In Tool (and to a lesser extent A Perfect Circle), Keenan obscures the typical stage hierarchy by performing behind his bandmates, shrouded in shadow. On Tool’s last album, “Fear Inoculum,” his vocals were subordinate to the rest of the band’s increasingly meandering prog-metal excursions.
Puscifer flips that script to embrace all the schtick and showmanship possible in rock that operates at this high a level of conceptual silliness.
Keenan is front and center, changing costumes and wigs, monologuing in character — he finished off the show as the aging drunk Billy D — and performing endearingly profane emcee duty. Whether Puscifer overcorrects in this regard will depend on the listener: If your favorite thing about Tool is the penis jokes, surely this hits the spot. (A merkin, incidentally, is a pubic wig.)
And for anyone who’s long since imbibed Keenan’s Kool-Aid, Puscifer is a fascinating chapter in the output of a restive performer wholly committed to exploration, experimentation and … searching.
I almost said “probing.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Puscifer, Night Club at DeVos Performance Hall
Photos by Chelsea Whitaker