Saturday, December 10, 2011

Puscifer Show, Mesa AZ, 12/09/2011: Dionysus's Arizona Gig

Note: This isn't directly bicycle-related, but I attended a show last night that was overwhelming enough that I want to write about it to get my brain-arms and body-mind around it better. While the concert had nothing to do with the human-powered machine with two wheels that you the reader may conclude I am obsessed with, and nor did I ride one to get there, I want to untangle some connections to some of the threads in this blog: Arizona, the desert, being creative, thinking differently, encouraging the desert sun to roast your brain to clean out the cobwebs and horsecrap, allowing contending ideas to wrestle with each other in a mental cage match MMA-style until one taps out or until one chokes out the other, and productive obsessions, to name a few.

One blogger's rendition of the Puscifer show stage setup

Puscifer is a muscial exploration project of Maynard James Keenan (MJK), the lead singer of the band Tool. He lives in the Arizona, where he attempts to coax grapes to grow to supply his wine-making enterprise. Some of this enterprise is located in the Verde Valley, which is for MJK as well as for me a sort of concentrated distillate of all that is positive and negative about Arizona and the desert. For me: hiking with my woman through gulches down to the Verde River at sunrise, or riding my bicycle to and around Dead Horse State Park, on the good side, but on the other side, it will always be the place where my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly a few years back. Every time I descend that hill into the Verde Valley and see the snow-covered San Fransisco peaks in the distance, I feel both sides of this place. This is part of the explanation for my eyes filling with tears during "Green Valley" at the concert.

Concert t-shirt portrayal of Billy Dee and Hildy

"Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology...In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized." (Wikipedia, In this era of pervasive media and total online access to information and imagery, when people believe we know everything worth knowing, and considering what now passes for "civilization" (cars, malls, reality TV, online check-ins), where exactly would that be, now, this "beyond the borders of the known and civilized?"

All that remains, in tangible items, of seats in the third row

Billy Dee is a character pictured on the cover of the album Conditions of My Parole who is an execrable redneck tailer park punk rock singer drunkard, to put it generously. His boundaries are the trailer park, the whiskey bottle, the money he can't seem to keep hold of, the concert stage he mounts to try to make a few bucks, and the people in his life he abuses in his alcohol haze, chief among them Hildy his wife and singing partner. 

Billy lives in the Verde Valley, Arizona, and dresses totally uncool: nasty white wig, silver Elvis glasses, rumpled stage costumes. In contrast with MJK: black cowboy hat, boots, a minimalist Arizona anonymous rock star, almost. Billy Dee had some nice black boots, but one of his bandmates stole them for whiskey money. There's nothing likable about Billy Dee, other than his singing voice I mean, and every time MJK portrays him, Billy seems to get nastier, more tawdry, more execrable. In addition, apparently, he has recently spent some time as a guest of the Yavapai County Sheriff in their deluxe and secure facility.

Yet, there's just this one thing: Maynard's portrayal of Billy is personal, tinged with knowing, and possibly with even a little love or tenderness, as if Billy Dee is somewhere between MJK's next door neighbor, brother, and future or past self. There, but for the grace of miles and years and struggle and creative reflection, go I.

Backside of t-shirt

If I am so certain that I am nothing like Billy Dee, then why does he make me laugh uncomfortably, and why did I spend $16 for a CD and $40 for a t-shirt with Billy's face on it next to Hildy? If MJK is so far from becoming Billy Dee, where does the nearness, the inner vision of Billy's world, come from which drives him to dwell on the character and portray him so compellingly?

Anyway, musically, the show was incredible. The warm-up was Carina Round, who brought her own flavor of indie goodness to the show, with a voice and songs sung like I've never heard before, but would like to again. It's very possible she's been listening to Tool, and Maynard's voice, since she was four years old, because she sounds and looks a bit like his sexy and talented offspring. She does her own thing, but also has some Maynard moves that didn't always seem to be in harmony with her own talents and techniques. MJK and his bent-over singing/roping style fits him, in his dark cowboy get-up, but I'm not sure it always worked for Carina in her slinky black dress. 

Together, though, the range and variety they gave us in this one show was overwhelming. From quiet and contemplative songs to the combination aural and visual assault of "Undertaker," this concert fired words images and music at me so fast and loud that most of it is still whirling around in my head trying to find order and sense in long-term storage with helpful context. Seriously, "Undertaker" was close to inducing seizure or stroke, with the pounding industrial bass rhythms actually blowing my hair back. 

At the end of the concert, seeking context for the contending images and messages and music that I had just been bombarded with became my strategy. You can see Billy Dee as comedy and take him no deeper or further than that, and probably get a good understanding of him. But, it's also possible to try to understand him in context, which I have started to do with this post, and I get the uneasy feeling that further contemplation doesn't always lead to comfort or ease. 

Since I call Arizona home, and visit the Verde Valley regularly, I have context to build on. I have the dirt under my fingernails, and the scars of miles and years and reflection, to show for my time in the desert. While Billy Dee makes my skin crawl, and I laugh derisively at him, sometimes I am secretly cheering for him to pull out of it. A lot of the time he seems like he may be having fun. It's not my idea of fun, no. But I would like to see him stay together with Hildy. I can't help tapping my foot to some of his songs. 

I don't imagine the god of the grape harvest would spell everything out for me down to the smallest detail. He does require that I think for myself, that I seek to be creative and not drink from the spigot of mass-produced noise just because it seems sugary sweet and tastes good for an instant. I imagine he would be OK with me finding a quiet spot in a desert gulch somewhere to listen to the wind, breathe deep the creosote perfume, and listen to the cactus wrens buzzing in the heat, trying to build a meaningful, musical context of my own. And if I ride a bicycle to get there, under my own power, in the open air and in the bright sunshine, that would be headed in the right direction, too.


  1. Great post. I'm a HUGE Tool fan, and A Perfect Circle as well, and Maynard in general. The new Puscifer album has some great songs, but also some that fall flat, for me.

    Thanks for the show writeup, you provided some interesting background and context that I was unaware of. I'm jealous about the show!

  2. It was a great show Apertome, and since they announced a spring tour that will pass through your area, perhaps you can catch them at one of these venues. They are performing in small theaters, which gives fans a great opportunity to see and hear them up close!

    26 Memphis, TN Orpheum Theatre
    28 Nashville, TN Andrew Jackson Hall
    29 Louisville, KY Brown Theatre
    3 Cincinnati, OH Taft Theatre
    4 Indianapolis, IN Murat Theatre


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