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Puscifer makes a spectacle of itself

From left: Josh Eustis, Jeff Friedl, Mat Mitchell, Carina Round, Matt McJunkins, and Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer.
From left: Josh Eustis, Jeff Friedl, Mat Mitchell, Carina Round, Matt McJunkins, and Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer.TIM CADIENTE/Tim Cadiente

Just like the wines he produces, the music that Maynard James Keenan makes with Puscifer has limited availability.

Rather than taking Puscifer into the arenas he frequents with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, Keenan is purposely shaping the band to be best experienced in theaters and music halls.

“Places with wide wings and deep stages’’ is how the singer described the perfect venues for Puscifer, which is evolving into something more than a band and less than outright musical theater.

“We won’t get all thespian on you,’’ Keenan assures.

But when Puscifer pulls into the Orpheum on Tuesday, you can expect costumes, props, videos, and other visual enhancements that go beyond the typical rock-concert delivery.


Since settling into the small Arizona town of Jerome, Keenan has burrowed into both winemaking and Puscifer. In both cases, Keenan defies the odds; Arizona is not highly regarded as wine country, and Puscifer is musically chameleon-like, with songs running from country honk to industrial wheeze. Yet in each case, he is delivering goods to receptive niche audiences (to get a handle on the struggles and successes of Keenan’s Caduceus wine cellars, check out the documentary “Blood Into Wine’’).

Puscifer got off to a tentative start with the 2007 release “ ‘V’ Is for Vagina,’’ which Keenan developed over a few years and recorded with a revolving cast during asides for his endeavors with Tool and A Perfect Circle. A Puscifer tour two years ago featured three different stage shows, and the songs become fodder for numerous remix projects.

This year, Puscifer is more focused. The new album “Conditions of My Parole,’’ released last month, was mainly written and recorded after the last tour, and the new road show features a single production.

“The other record was a lot of fun, just because we were recording wherever we could, hotel rooms and places like that,’’ Keenan says. “This time we weeded out stuff and really looked to find the strengths of the band. In some cases we tried and tried to do things but had to admit there were cases of beating a dead horse.’’


That’s not to suggest that Puscifer became scripted.

Many songs were just working titles and band members would contribute their parts over time.

“We’d let ideas marinate then return to them. We might meet hours later or days later,’’ Keenan says, with the recordings happening in the studio built at his winery.

While more than two dozen musicians have at some point been part of the Puscifer experience, “Conditions of My Parole’’ and the current live show have a shared, stable core of drummer Jeff Friedl, bassist Matt McJunkins, multi-instrumentalists and programmers Mat Mitchell and Josh Eustis, and singer Carina Round. Keenan’s son Devo played cello on the album (“He’s a spot-on cellist,’’ dad beams), but won’t be part of the live shows. Yet.

In Puscifer, Keenan crafts some interesting vocal blends not found in his work with other bands. He first collaborated with actress Milla Jovovich and more recently with British singer-songwriter Round.

“She brings great harmonies to the table,’’ Keenan says of Round. “If I get stuck, Carina helps me.’’

Keenan has already resurrected his redneck-skewering Billy Dee character from previous Puscifer outings for the album art accompanying “Conditions of My Parole’’ and video made for the title track. The singer says some of the other esoteric figures wandering on stage may seem familiar from earlier Puscifer escapades.


Yet, Round says the familiar threads coming together as Puscifer are still dynamic.

“Everyone on the tour knows and likes each other,’’ Round says from a backstage interview before a performance in Denver, where the laughter and chatter in the background confirmed the camaraderie. “It is a defined show, but it’s also spontaneous because people know how to react off of one another.’’

Keenan says his goal is to develop a show that can move into a city for multiple nights, provide a bit of spectacle, but leave room for variations that occur performance to performance.

“This is coming together more cohesively. Before ideas were just bouncing around,’’ Keenan says. “Now there is some more context.’’

But Puscifer’s context is hardly confining, as songs pull on biblical metaphor, take place in shipwrecks, shiver before zombies, and go hazy in the desert heat. And somehow it all works as provocative rock ’n’ roll impressionism, a pleasing discovery along the lines of a good cabernet from Arizona.

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com.