28th October 2022
Vis for Versatile / Parole Violator (Via Online Stream)
Review by Bridget Herlihy.
With a duo of films that feature aliens, cloning, backwards and forwards wormholes, zombie chickens, a gun-toting redneck, questionable fashion and manscaping choices, the infamous Billy D and Major Douche, along with an abundance of characters and scenarios that initially may appear incongruent, Halloween seems the most apt time for Puscifer to release a new double-feature that includes the soundtracks to two distinct eras of the group.
For the initiated, this chaotic audio/visual universe is par of the course for Puscifer; others may find themselves asking ‘what is Puscifer?’. It seems the question has been asked so many times that it was used as the title for a collection of live recordings. Yet perhaps the most succinct explanation comes directly from the proverbial horse’s mouth – Puscifer creator and mastermind Maynard Keenan – who clarifies “what is Puscifer is what Puscifer is”. Make sense? No? Perhaps it isn’t supposed to.
Maybe, just maybe, as the audience we are just supposed to enjoy the ride and make of it what we will; although if you listen closely to the dialogue in the skits interspersed amongst the music, you can follow the threads and clues that are woven between the aforementioned wormholes. Either way, this double feature is a mind-bending ride featuring the most compelling of soundtracks and punctuated with a colourful cast of unadulterated, absurd but thoroughly enjoyable characters.
This double feature, streaming online globally for a limited time via puscifer.com, are the third and fourth films in a series, drawing tracks from the first two Puscifer LPs ‘V Is For Vagina’ and ‘Conditions Of My Parole’ respectively. This series of ‘live’ performance films began with ‘Existential Reckoning – Live at Arcosanti’ in 2020; a spellbinding performance that brought auditory and visual levity to a year characterised by lockdowns and a global drought of live performances. Arcosanti marked the beginning of Puscifer producing films featuring the music from each of their albums, as well as the introduction of the plotline of the infamous briefcase, namely the chase to find its whereabouts and reveal its contents. Puscifer’s second film ‘Billy D and the Hall of Feathered Serpents’, released in late 2021, featuring music from 2015’s ‘Moneyshot’, also included a plot for the search for the elusive briefcase as Billy D took a trip of sorts. Yet the purpose of said briefcase and its whereabouts remained a mystery.
If the plot of ‘Billy D and the Hall of Feathered Serpents’ seemed somewhat outlandish, ‘V is for Versatile’ turns things up a notch or two. Between performances of tracks, it is revealed by Agent Dick Merkin that through the application of a reverse click-through tracer algorithm and digital happy hour receipts, the tmz-anon division of Puscifer have identified a hidden mobile cloning facility deep within a fashion-backward click bait wormhole. This alien owned and operated laboratory appears to be run by a combination of genetic engineers, public relations biologists, booking agents and smug social media influencers – all extra terrestrial in nature. Subsequently, clones are infiltrating celebrity inner circles and mingle at drunken ego orgies such as actors’ after parties and funerals so that they can gather DNA samples unnoticed. Are you following along?
The Puscifer virtual global events really defy comparison to, well, anything. The elements of surprise and hilarity that frequently goes hand in hand with this group’s projects is what takes them to the next level. It is a fairly good indicator that a Puscifer event is going to be spectacularly entertaining when you are only the verge of falling off your chair laughing within the first two minutes. Outrageous plotlines aside, performances by Puscifer are no joke whatsoever; they are compelling and flawless. It is rare to find a band with such a diverse catalogue that consistently performs to this awe-inspiring level.
The first film of this double feature, ‘V is Versatile’ is a collection of tracks taken from the ‘V is for Vagina’ era. Performed in Studio 3 at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, the current incantation of Puscifer features Maynard Keenan (vocals), Carina Round (vocals/guitar), Mat Mitchell (guitars), Greg Edwards (bass) Gunnar Olsen (drums/percussion) and Juliet Commagere (keys). While Puscifer has always been a musical tour-de-force, it must be said that the current iteration of Puscifer is exceptional; this is a group that is indeed a sum of all of its parts. Round’s vocals are nothing short of divine – juxtaposing her delicate yet powerful harmonies with Keenan’s incredibly versatile voice. Commagere’s playing and backing vocals both add an ethereal quality to the mix, while Mitchell’s guitar sounds are exceptional, and Edwards and Olsen make an incredibly tight and powerful rhythm section.
Unlike the first two of the Puscifer films, ‘V for Versatile’ is not ‘V for Vagina’ played in its entirety, but is rather a beautifully curated collection of tracks from the group’s first chapter that includes some unexpected, and very welcome, surprises. First, the tracks had a slightly different arrangement from the initial recordings, which gave them an additional dimension and hearing them in a different context is a treat for the ears and the acoustic imagination. The addition of ‘Potions’ elicited squeals of delight, as did a mesmerising rendition of The ‘Mission’.
‘Parole Violator’ focuses on the music of ‘Conditions of My Parole’, filmed onstage sans audience at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Between each track is a Billy D centric skit (the details of which I won’t give away), all written and produced by Keenan and Mitchell. Although often grotesque, Billy D (played by Keenan) somehow maintains some endearing qualities (watch and they shall be revealed).
The stage is lit in a simple yet striking manner, with screens at the back of the stage projecting a series of images. The performance itself is spellbinding, and the camerawork gives the viewer the closest possible experience of watching Puscifer onstage that is possible through a screen. The chemistry between the individual band members is evident, and the magic that they conjure together is palpable. Towards the end of the film, and in keeping with the Billy D narrative, the band relocates to play around a campfire, suitable surrounded by airstreams. The largely acoustic rendition carries the track to new heights, not to mention the fact that Carina Round is an exceptional banjo player, which is on full display in this magnificent and goose bump inducing segment.
While we may not have fully realised exactly what Puscifer is, what is clear is their mastery and ability to produce exceptional performances that include the most exceptional of soundscapes married with the unexpected. Whether you have had very good fortune of experiencing Puscifer live in the flesh or not, these films are a must see. The soundtracks to these films will be available soon, but in the meantime, purchase access to this special online event via puscifertv.com immediately. Neither you, nor your clones, will regret it for a nano second.
Did you watch this brilliant double feature? Or have you perhaps been lucky enough to have seen Puscifer perform live somewhere else? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Note: Ambient Light was provided a pass to review this double feature. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.
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