Acid Trip, Velvet Tongue: Puscifer, Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival @ Fox Theater Oakland, 11/4/09

Maynard James Keenan brought his side show to Oakland for the first of two nights of high brow/low brow entertainment. It proved to be a night unlike any other.

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Earlier this year, I had to miss the LA Puscifer shows due to a family emergency, so it was nice to be able to make up the show before the year’s end. I had considered doing the wine tasting or meet and greet that was offered for this show, but was unable to….however, I started off my year with both (sorta) at my local Whole Foods anyway.

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Umlaut, Photo Ray, and I walk up to the Fox Theater to encounter a ‘protest’ out front. Two guys holding signs that say ‘Satan is a Real Douchebag’ and ‘Jesus Thinks Your Music Sucks’ are preaching to a small crowd of people waiting to get inside. One of them looks exactly like MJK…..but I’m skeptical. These guys are going on about Jesus and the Devil, picking on people in the crowd and telling them to lay their tickets down and go home. It’s funny, but I can’t stop trying to figure out if that’s really MJK. Then two separate people walk up to me and go, ‘you know that’s Maynard, right?’. Theses are guys in Tool shorts. So I’m convinced, and stand there mouth agape at the fact that MJK is actually doing this. Especially when he picks on a girl in a NIN t-shirt- ‘what is that, some kind of satanic emblem?’, and then picks on all the band tees in the crowd, including the Tool ones. It goes on for a good 15-20 minutes, until they finally decide it’s time to start the show inside.

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The GA area of the Fox Theater had been lined with seats, which set an entirely different tone for the evening. We had great seats for press tickets, at the back of the GA pit. We were allowed to shoot pictures from the bar of the first tier….which was a little weird. But I was kinda glad, because the night before I had a nightmare that my flash accidentally went off and MJK got really angry with me.

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The debate about whether the guy out front was MJK or not was ongoing in my twitter feed, but once Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival came out, I knew the guy out front was indeed the drummer. They continued their tongue in cheek Jesus-preaching through their set decor and songs….which somewhat reminded me of Captain Clegg from last night’s show. ‘Back Door Man No More’ and ‘Gimme Back My Bible’ entertained the crowd….especially this one guy who was hootin’ and hollerin’ and flailing his arms in the air moving around the aisle near his seat. Dude was definitely in an altered state.

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As the set ended, this god-awful R&B song came on- a friend working the venue said that MJK instructed the sound guy to play this song a lot. It was something like this. (That was painful to google. And seriously- is that site some kind of weird ARG?)

The set begins with a video introduction from MJK, mainly stressing NO CAMERAS. He hates them…so much so that he is hardly on stage for the two songs we are allowed to shoot. The band starts trickling out onto the set: a living room setup in the middle, two television monitors at the rear, and a drum set on each side. Tim Alexander comes out in a ’70s suit, followed by a bassist and two guitarists. The bassist, Matt McJunkins, and the other drummer, Jeff Friedl, are from Ashes Divide. Two female singers set up behind the TV monitors- they sing behind them with their faces projected on to the monitors, making them look like real life bobbleheads. They start with ‘Sour Grapes’, and MJK eventually comes out on a Segway in a track suit with a bad combover. Let the headscratching begin.

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I was totally into it, but then again, I love Lynch films and this was like seeing a country fried version play out on stage. Plus, I’ve actually heard the music. I think a lot of people in the crowd didn’t realize they were coming to see something so different from Tool and APC.

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The musicians are constantly shifting about- when not playing, they are on the couches surfing on a Mac (actually, they were tweeting on MJK’s account), eating an apple, cheese, bread, and drinking wine. Then when it came time for their part, they would get up and return to their playing position.

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Puscifer highlights MJK’s amazing voice in a way that his other bands have not- it’s pure and stripped down. His voice….does things to me….it’s so beautiful that he could literally sing anything and I’d listen, which is basically what he does here. There will be beautiful, profound lyrics followed by vagina, kidney stones, and blow job references. It’s beautiful and it’s crass, a combination that didn’t sit well with many in the crowd.

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Songs are flanked by skits on the screen- many of gross old man creeper MJK in the track suit with a trio of strippers, with a guest star spot from a giant dildo. They add to the multimedia feel of the set- this isn’t really a concert, it’s performance art.

MJK walks around pouring wine for his band, into those stemless glasses. He drinks from the bottle. He rarely looks at the crowd, which is good, because people are conferring on what the hell is going on all throughout the set, and the back half is empty. It breaks my heart.

The songs sound amazing live. MJK’s voice takes my breath away. The setlist meanders from the psycho disco rock grooves of ‘DoZo’ to the stunning, soul wrenching ‘Momma Sed’, and continues this pattern through ‘Queen Bee’, ‘Polar Bear’, and onto ‘The Humbling River’. ‘Queen Bee’ roused some of the audience out of their seats to dance, which in turn revealed the others in an altered state. One woman started working her way up the aisle forming letters with her arms…it was weird.

The hour and a half set was an interesting trip for those open minded enough to it. Word on the street is that they’ll mix it up from night to night for those attending back to back shows.

The night grew even a little more random as I fell in love with a classic muscle car on the way back to the Prius, and Photo Ray did a little impromptu photo shoot for me. Thanks, Ray!

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