What the Bad Aliens Watch: Puscifer’s “What Is” on DVD

After being transfigured by the experience I had at the Mesa Arts Center on Friday, December 9, 2011, when Maynard James Keenan brought Puscifer to the East Valley, I was genuinely excited upon learning that a full-length concert video was scheduled for release. Keenan, like Jack White, unleashes a thunderstorm of talent in every project he undertakes. Founder of TOOL, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer, each of Keenan’s musical ventures embody a vastly different aural presence. So, whereas TOOL expresses a morbid fascination of the impurities and decadence that inhabit modern society and its too often neurotic psyche, Puscifer is a satirical celebration of redneck Arizona culture, in which American rugged individualism is dried out and distorted in a desert landscape, simultaneously beautiful and unfit for the non-Indigenous settlers who were looking for fields of gold, only to erect subdivisions, malls, and trailer parks. The latter is eluded to in a parallel mockumentary following the trials and tribulations of Billy D and Hildy on tour. Interwoven with the concert footage are episodes from Billy D and Hildy’s stage show, in addition to a cast of characters populating a ridiculously perceptive slice of red state society. As for Puscifer’s performance, in a word it’s flawless. In an age defined by iTunes, Keenan maintains a mastery of the complete work of art, be it in the form of an album of interconnected songs or a concert performance evoking a world unto itself. Having said that, my one criticism of “What Is” is related to the direction and editing. In an obvious effort at matching the tempo and ferocity of the music, the video relies too much on fast cutting, close-ups, and other visual effects (there’s even a horizontal split screen used toward the end), which too frequently distracts from the overall performance. What I recall of the live performance is the panoramic effect of stage, musicians, and animated backdrop, which generated an impressive musical tableau. Not once, though, does the director allow the viewer to adequately take in and relish the epic scope of the performance. Fortunately, the performance is so magnificent, owning this work is still worth the price.


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