Puscifer Offer A Message Of Hope In Their Magnificent Yet Mysterious Livestream
“Imagine if you were an extraterrestrial traveller and you landed in, say, the Southwest [United States] and wanted to assume an identity here and blend in. This would probably be a good spot to do that.” That was Maynard James Keenan’s rationale for hosting Puscifer’s streamed show in Arcosanti; and within seconds of the performance starting, it’s clear the singer was on the money.
Puscifer’s latest album Existential Reckoning is a curious creation, front-loaded with mystery and a conceptual bent – the disappearance of a figure named Billy D – but lyrically one of the most straight-shooting efforts Maynard has ever put his name to. Similarly, while Arcosanti has an almost ancient aesthetic, the town 70 miles north of Phoenix was in fact built in 1970, from concepts by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. It’s focused around the idea of ‘arcology’, the production of housing with a low ecological impact, which in the age of overpopulation and climate change – contributing to the very Existential Reckoning Puscifer’s latest album speaks of – is an inspiration.
So, too, is the show itself, which is preceded by the message: ‘We would like for you to be in the moment as much as possible, with distractions’ proving that while the presentation of live shows may have changed, Maynard’s attitude to their importance definitely hasn’t. What follows is a cohesive affair that marries Existential Reckoning’s relatively lo-fi electronics with Kraftwerk-esque visuals, with the band playing the album in sequence, and formal title cards introducing the 12 songs.
During opener Bread And Circus, the lights stay low and the camera angles closely cropped, but as things progress into Apocalyptical and The Underwhelming, the viewer is provided with an increasing sense of scale. The occasional overhead shots, showing the circular tiers of the amphitheater-like structure the band are performing in, give proceedings the air of a ritual. But of what? A divine intervention? An alien abduction? The sacrifice of our selfishness to enable a brighter future, perhaps? All the above?
For all the technical wizardry on display, the show’s most affecting moment comes courtesy of mother nature herself, as the sun crowns the horizon during closing track Bedlamite and dawn breaks in the Arizona desert. As metaphors go, this emergence from the darkness of our existential predicament into the light of, well, enlightenment, is about as subtle as a cactus to the tuchus. But as Maynard and co-vocalist Carina sweetly sing ‘It’s going to be alright / Everything will be alright’, you truly believe they mean it and, more importantly, you believe the sentiment itself. Viewers are able to leave the experience with more than just the commemorative t‑shirts and posters for sale on the Puscifer website, they get a generous dollop of hope, too, which is a greater gift than you’ll receive at most rock shows – virtual or otherwise.
A ‘post credits’ scene, meanwhile, features the duo drunkenly singing karaoke in front of their bewildered bandmates, reminding us that our human frailties mean we’re able to undermine our best intentions, and that Puscifer can’t (and won’t) be too serious for too long. They can’t be open for too long, either. And as Maynard and Carina are removed, near incoherent, from the bar, the camera pans down to reveal Billy D’s suitcase – an object of fascination in the buildup to the album’s release – discarded on the floor. The mystery continues…
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