Show Review: Puscifer with Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival at The Fox Oakland, 11/4/2009

by Jonathan Pirro on November 5, 2009

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Forget any expectations you have for the evening at hand. Leave them at the door, which, in the case of tonight’s show, is beset with a flock of confused, wary patrons, eyeing a man in an off-tan suit and taped-together sunglasses, who is armed with a megaphone. The man is Brother Ed of Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival, and he is begging, PLEADING for the patrons to not enter the Fox Theater tonight, to not forsake their own souls as the cost of attending this show which, according to him, can only be the work of the Devil himself.

Brother Ed should be scared. His rants, while facetious at their core, are somewhat justified. He and his band will be opening, tonight, for Puscifer.

Those who were brave enough to venture inside discovered a fully-seated show, with two lines wrapping around both sides of the auditorium; those with prime seats also had the chance to purchase tickets for a Meet-And-Greet with Puscifer and/or a wine tasting from Mr. Keenan himself (with wine from his own personal vineyard). Onstage was what appeared to be a pile of junk in the shape of a drum kit; nearby were two ladders with lazily-hung canvases with more gospel-revival slogans; the icing on the cake was a crudely-built cross bedazzled with Christmas lights. This made up the stage set for Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival Band, which in pure structure and sound was the definition of “garage punk.”

Once Brother Ed had ceased his preaching outside the theater, he and his partner Brother Ant took the stage and blasted through a furious half-hour set of gospel-infused, country-soaked punk rock. With a giant cardboard tube for a kick drum and a wire bike cage for a snare, Brother Ed added two more megaphones atop his hat during the course of their set, adding to the unapologetically lo-fi feel of the band’s sound. The set ended with Brother Ant barreling over to Ed’s drum set, smashing into it and knocking it across the stage, to raucous cheers and applause from the crowd. The stagehands then cleared the debris (and preachy ornaments) from the stage, making way for a set of sleek black monitors, comfy leather couches, and two massive drum sets on either side of the stage.

The audience was definitely unsure as to what to expect next, a feeling which had been present all evening. When the lights dropped, the first sign that they were about to be treated to a show that was utterly bizarre splashed its way across the giant screen above the stage: Maynard James Keenan, in full military garb against an American flag backdrop (a la General Patton, albeit with a falling-off fake mustache and a flask in one hand), who snarled at the audience to turn off the flash on their cameras after getting them to shout out the word “VAGINA!” in an uneasily jubilant chorus. The instruments onstage were soon picked up by the musicians making up the current incarnation of Puscifer, including drummer Tim Alexander of Primus on the drums; the moment of their frontman’s arrival had not yet occurred, however, and Brother Ed and Brother Ant returned to the stage to give him a grand, heartfelt welcome.

I am 100% certain that, while they were expecting Maynard James Keenan to come onstage, the audience was NOT expecting him to ROLL onto the stage on a Segway, wearing a short-hair-and-balding-badly wig and a cranberry-colored satin pajama-track-suit, with the word JESUS spelled out in rhinestones across his behind. That caught more than a few of us off guard.

Undaunted, the band chugged right along into a long, introductory version of “Sour Grapes” as Keenan rolled around onstage, filling the empty space between his lines with improvised drivel designed to placate the (apparently) terrified Brother Ed and Brother Ant, who were still wandering about the stage in a bit of a daze. Keenan rolled away as the song continued, no doubt soon to return as the Brothers exited in the opposite direction, and the band knocked out the final notes of the song. Soon after was their second song of the night — Puscifer’s first song ever written, “Rev 22:20” — which, for the most part, involved only the backing band, until Keenan returned in a grey pinstripe suit, red tie, and flashy sunglasses, the horrid wig gone from his shiny pate as he entered with a swagger.

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Despite being the leader of the pack, Keenan stayed towards the back of the stage; there were two microphones in the rear center of the stage, each set behind a monitor that must have had a small camera behind it, because Keenan’s face was clearly visible (albeit distorted as if one were seeing him in a fish-eye lens) each time he went behind a monitor to sing. The set continued on, pausing every few songs for a video segment. These featured either Keenan in his Jesus-jamas, in some sort of strip club or brothel, drunkenly preaching about the virtues of “toeing the line of temptation”, or a documentary or news segment about “the growing cult of Bob”, which generally took its time to poke fun at religious zealous, scene kids, and all manner of annoying prudes in the world.

The set was nearly entirely comprised of songs from the band’s first full-length release, “V Is For Vagina”, with a few extra songs thrown in: “Trekka” from their online-only release Don’t Shoot The Messenger, and the four new songs from their forthcoming EP, C is for (Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE). Of these, “Polar Bear”, and the show’s closer “The Humbling River” garnered the greatest response from the crowd. Throughout the set, members of the band who were not actively playing instruments lounged on the leather couches; in between singing his lines, Keenan poured glasses of his wine to each of the musicians, while helping himself to the supply directly from the bottles themselves. The previously mentioned “The Humbling River” closed out the night, with the entire collective perched upon the couches while Keenan introduced them all to the cheering, chanting crowd.

Puscifer returns tomorrow night to the Fox Theater, as does Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival Band. My only new wish is to hear the only song in their catalog not yet played at the show: the western comedy ballad “Cuntry Boner”; even if this doesn’t happen, I was thrilled to see the performance tonight. There are two ways to experience the Puscifer live performance; one is by watching the band onstage and trying to take in their garish outfits, over-the-top comedy routines, and Keenan’s drier-than-sandpaper wit; the other is to keep one’s eyes shut tight and feel the powerful punch of the industrial music moving through your body. I was able to do both, and it made it one of the most intriguing shows of the year.

Puscifer setlist:

Puscifer's setlist

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Puscifer photos in this post from Raymond Ahner

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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