LIVE REVIEW: Puscifer, Night Club, O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, 14/06/2023
On Wednesday 14th June 2023, Puscifer descended from the heavens to play their first London show in over eight years with the ‘Last Minute Hail Mary Not So Super Top Secret London Underplay‘ show at O2 Forum Kentish Town; what followed was a bizarre, bewildering and truly brilliant experience, and one you’d have to be there to understand.
Having only ever played London once, on 2016’s ‘Existential Reckoning Tour’, the announcement that the existentially absurd Puscifer, fronted by their charismatic cult leader Maynard James Keenan and the equally as entrancing Carina Round, would play a host of intimate shows around the UK as a by-product of their UK festival debut at Download the week before was met with excitement, anticipation and just a teeny bit of trepidation. With how abstract Puscifer’s albums can be and how rarely they play over in this neck of the woods, it had the same feel of meeting your idols — will it live up to the hype or is it a mistake? Bear in mind that little footage exists online to watch and know what to expect, with Keenan known throughout his projects for enforcing a no-photography-or-videography rule, Wednesday included; the only photographers present were the O2 house photographer and our own Kevin O’Sullivan. Yet the two-hour set that graced the esteemed venue was nothing short of mesmerising.
But first, the support. With Puscifer having opened with full-on Mexican Wrestlers Luchador at their Camden show back in 2015, no-one knew what to expect — but, despite how daunting a task opening for Puscifer must be, Night Club handled it with an eccentric ethereality befitting the sweltering London crowd. An electro-goth duo based out of LA, Night Club looked like an inverted CHVRCHES, with Emily Kavanaugh a revived ‘90s revenant, all pale skin and black clothes, and Mark Brooks a leather jacket and black sunglasses-clad day walker on the synths behind her. The theme of the night seemed to be disorientation: it was hard to know what to think, as their dark, ‘90s-esque brand of music washed over the crowd; bone-quivering bass lines and strobing bars of light arrayed around only added to the chaos.
Having played a sold-out show at Camden’s The Black Heart on the 8th, O2 Forum Kentish Town now offered a hell of a venue to let loose, and the band made the most of it, Kavanaugh racing and strutting across the stage, posing on amps and bowing sardonically as the oppressive songs allowed. Although at times the crowd was a little subdued, likely due to the heat, the duo managed to not let the frustration get to them as they tore through a selection of songs torn primarily from 2018’s Scary World and 2020’s Die Die Lullaby, with the sinister Your Addiction, the acerbic Dead To Me and the crazed Scary World particular highlights. A fantastic warm-up set for the enigmatic, Avant Garde rockers of Puscifer.
A cheesy, upbeat video of Keenan promoting cannibalism — sorry, ‘mystery meat’ — slowly got more and more haunting, before a blood-streaked screen faded to black and the band of the hour took to the stage. Flying straight into the sinister Bread and Circus, the five band members, immobile bar a slight synchronised sway, seemed both otherworldly and… not entirely human, with the movements closer to mimicry than their own decision. ‘Hello Lun-Dun’, we’re greeted; ‘it’s okay to be here!’ Postulous is next, voiceless spectres in typical ‘80s Agent-wear on overwatch behind the group as Keenan and Round mechanically danced around the stage, before expelling a patsy from the camera pit to be added to their spam, while the chillingly vitriolic Fake Affront saw them storming across the stage, as if outraged and… well, affronted by the crowd. Elsewhere, eerie and sickly green light gave way to synchronised dancing akin to Pulp Fiction’s Uma Thurman in the entrancing UPGrade; Keenan’s ‘60s-esque Agent Dick Merkin’s conspiratorial, cloning rundown gave way to Apocalyptical, the posse on stage marching mannequin-like to the beat; and acerbically anthemic The Remedy — sounding like it should be the theme tune to the totality of the internet — saw the band being drowned out by the zealous disciples arrayed opposite.
There’s something absurdly comic about Puscifer, or at least there would be if they weren’t so damn mesmerisingly menacing. The vaudevillian theatrics — secret agents, aliens, and creatures flitting, dancing and generally toying with the stage — were played entirely straight faced, while a slew of fan-dressed greys and suits in the audience almost gave the impression of immersive theatre. Even the pantomimic appearance of lightsabre wielding aliens in Man Overboard or the Wrong Turn, Deliverance-esque masked dancer in Conditions of My Parole felt strangely at home, as the crowd was greeted with their unique mixture of sneered contempt, polished slapstick and genuine delight.
Sure, there were moments in the set that at times felt slightly too self-indulgent. The videos strewn throughout at times became a little repetitive — entertaining, sure, but with the show having a late finish and four albums to play with, it felt like some songs could have been prioritised over them — while the seven-minute break between closer The Humbling River and the encore felt like a misread of the grumbling and sweating UK crowd, though the re-emergence of Billy D was a fun surprise — but who can blame them? With such sparse live dates on the horizon, Puscifer can be forgiven a little revelling and relishing in their only London show in over eight years — as long as they promise to come back again soon. For the moment, as per Bullet Train to Iowa — just enjoy the ride. 10/10
Written By: James O’Sullivan
Photos By: Kevin O’Sullivan