Photos and words David McEneaney
I’ve been a fan of Maynard James Keenan’s vocal style and lyrics since a classmate gave me a cassette with ‘Undertow’ and ‘AEnima‘ copied onto it in 1995. I remember being in college in Dublin in 2000 and using my bus ticket money for the week to buy the ‘Mer de Noms’ CD, then walking the hour long journey to and from college while playing it non stop.
It’s a mixture of his baritone voice and the personal yet spiritual or philosophical lyrics that always drew me in, and the more I listen to his music, the more I seem to get out of it.
I also started a job in 2006 where I met 3 other guys and we soon realised we all shared a love of Tool, and they are still 3 of my best and closest friends to this day. Every night we meet up to this day usually results in us drunkenly singing along to ‘Passive‘ or the ‘Remedy‘, or badly air drumming along to ‘Vicarious’ at 3am. We have travelled to Prague together to see Tool and London to see A Perfect Circle, so when we heard Puscifer were playing in the 3 Olympia in Dublin, we knew we had to complete the ‘MJK Trifecta’, as my friend Simon calls it (the only bigger Tool fan than me I’ve ever met).
Puscifer have always been a strange one for me, in that they weren’t really on my radar to begin with, but I still liked some of their songs. Over the years, however, that has changed and (like most of MJK’s work) the more I listen to them the more I get out of them and appreciate them for what they are.
At first I wasn’t sure about there being two vocalists, as I guess I was an idiot who no doubt uttered the words ‘He doesn’t need anyone else singing with him’ or the likes (even though ‘Passenger‘ is one of my favourite songs) and I guess just didn’t get what they were trying to do, but getting Carina Round as originally a collaborator and eventually a permanent member was genius. Her voice perfectly compliments Keenans and their vocal harmonies are phenomenal, with her being more than capable of fronting the band herself, she’s just that good. Puscifer always seemed to me that it was Keenans thoughts and subconscious brought to life, and that it was a project where he could be creatively free to do whatever he felt like doing outside of the ‘constraints’ of his other bands. This is why the music ranges from hard rock/metal to slower electronic type stuff all the way to country-esque rock, sometimes all in the same song. It has also given him an outlet for his more theatrical performances, with the likes of ‘Billy D’ and ‘Dick Merkin’ making appearances at their live shows.
Which brings me to their recent sold out gig in the 3Olympia, Dublin, on Saturday10th June.
When I arrived at the venue I quickly became aware that I was the only photographer in the pit, and along with Keenan’s strict (and very heavily enforced) no phones/photos rule, I realised that I was the only person in the country who was about to shoot the gig. As if it wasn’t mind blowing enough I was about to be right in front of one of my all time musical heroes, this was a whole new level of pressure.
The gig began with a satirical video starring Dick Merkin, who explained anyone who was caught using their phones would be abducted and turned into Spam, which completely broke the tension for me and I realised the position I was in, so suddenly became very excited.
The band emerged and, in typical MJK fashion, stood at the back of the stage and sang from the shadows. They were all dressed in black secret service style suits and sunglasses, and Keenan was in full Merkin attire, and launched straight into ‘Bread and Circus’, the opening track from their most recent studio album, ‘Existential Reckoning’. After the first song, as the band emerged and Merkin began to run all over the stage theatrically gesturing to the crowd, there was a sudden appearance from Billy D, who had made his way into the photo pit and was trying to take photos with his phone. At this point everyone on stage pointed at him in true ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ fashion and two agents emerged and picked him up and escorted him off the stage.
Throughout the gig they leaned heavily into performing songs from ‘Existential Reckoning’, with some of their more crowd pleasing classics sprinkled in for good measure. Some particular standouts were a slower, more broken down but haunting alternative version of ’The Humbling River’ (which I think was from one of their remix albums) and two of my favourites, ’The Remedy’ and ‘Conditions of my Parole’.
I’m a big fan of ‘Existential Reckoning’ anyway so I was ok with this, and Round’s harmonies and operatic style improvisations of certain songs were amazing.
I’ve always admired Keenan’s banning of phones at his gigs, because there’s nothing worse than watching a band with hundreds of tiny screens (brightness up full too) recording full songs that no-one is ever going to listen to again anyway distracting you and taking you out of the moment. It completely defeats the purpose of going to see a live band if you’re just gonna watch it through the bad digital zoom on your tiny phone screen. Just save yourself the bother and wait for the other thousand uploads of the same song to hit YouTube or Instagram. In a letter from Keenan read out by Billy D at the end of the gig, he stated that he wanted everyone to (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘forget about everything thats going on in the world, at least for a couple of hours’, and that alone is admirable. It also seemed to have worked too, as everyone in the venue was constantly engaged with the gig throughout. They did allow everyone to ’take out your stupid phones and record the last song’ so you could still get a photo or Insta story to show you were there as a reward for actually being present for something and enjoying it in real time.
Which brings me to the flip side and potential downside of this rule. That the gig was one of the most entertaining and theatrical gigs I’ve seen in a very long time, and it’s a shame (for those who couldn’t get a ticket) that it wasn’t recorded so they won’t get to experience it, even badly recorded from a phone.
There were interval videos where Dick Merkin explained celebrity cloning and how it led to a lot of celebrities looking the same, to multiple appearances from aliens, Billy D getting ‘pregnant on Irish whiskey’ and various other bits throughout. The light show was also fantastic, as was the constant repositioning of band members around the stage and platform behind the drums. It was the exact kind of madness you would only expect from a Puscifer gig, and showed a different side to Keenan that I hadn’t seen before at other gigs. He seemed to genuinely be having fun, and by extension so were the crowd.
It was almost more like going to see a theatre production based around the songs from a band than a straight up gig, and it was definitely one of the most memorable and fun gigs I’ve seen in a very long time.
It’s a pity no-one outside the venue will ever get to see it, and anyone who was there will just have to keep the memories instead of the videos, talking about it with people the way we used to before phones disconnected us…and that, I believe, is his point.
Bread and Circus
Indigo Children (Versatile Mix)
The Humbling River (Versatile Mix)
Bullet Train to Iowa
Vagina Mine (Versatile Mix)
Conditions of My Parole