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Sessanta: A 60th Birthday Celebration for Maynard James Keenan - Boch Wang Theatre (Boston) - April 2, 2024

3 April 2024

Maynard James Keenan is a busy guy. Tool just wrapped up over fifty dates on their North American tour and you figured that maybe he would be taking well-deserved downtime at his vineyard in Arizona, soaking up the sun and catching up on some reading. Nope. He likes staying busy and he’s constantly thinking of new ideas when creating and presenting his music.

Taking inspiration from the Cinquanta, a celebration of his 50th birthday with some of his friends and his two side-Tool projects A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, he put a twist on this by asking Primus to join the festivities this time but also devised a freewheeling set where band members would come and go, sometimes just the core band doing their songs but other times having others take leave of the upper level couches on the wings and join in.

Ever the prankster, the PA played The Smiths’ “Unhappy Birthday” before two video screens relayed the familiar message to keep your phones in your pants and enjoy the show without a small screen running interference. The warning was underscored by stating violators would be removed from the venue and ground up to make Spam. Yummy!

Between his two non-Tool band, A Perfect Circle sounds the most like Tool; clunky, arrhythmic tempos with Keenan’s surprisingly emotive voice carrying the songs. Known for its famous past alums Troy Van Leeuwen, Paz Lenchantin and James Iha (I think he’s still in the band, just not on this tour for whatever reason), the core has been pretty stable with Billy Howerdel and Greg Edwards on guitars and keyboards (Edwards), Matt McJunkins on bass and wunderkind drummer Josh Freese back in the drum seat.

Primus was the next band to amble down and play. Les Claypool is perennially on the ‘best of’ lists for bass players and he’s certainly carved out a unique sound. Dressed in a bowler hat with small circular glasses, Claypool looked like a Victorian-era scientist who was testing low sound waves. Guitarist Larry Lalonde first cut his teeth with Possessed one of the earliest US death metal bands, and Tim Alexander was behind the mammoth drum kit; he is also a past member of A Perfect Circle. I think you needed to know Maynard’s secret handshake to be part of Sessanta. With a limited slot for songs, it wasn’t surprising they played most of their well-known hits; “My Name Is Mud” featured a bassline that rumbled like a brontosaurus with severe gastric distress, and Keenan took over vocal duties from up on the top level for “Tommy The Cat,” that ended with Claypool playing a bass solo while taking an escalator chair up the ramp to join his friend.

Puscifer is the band that sounds the least like Keenan’s main meal ticket, probably because of the presence of Carina Round. With almost twice as many live records as compared to studio ones, and a handful of reworked versions, Puscifer clearly enjoys toying with people’s expectations. “The Underwhelming” had a strong 80s new wave feel to it, a marked contrast to A Perfect Circle’s “The Outsider” which was a gripping tale of suicide and could easily nestle onto a Tool record. Less successful albeit with a knowing nod to Douglas Adams, “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish” could have been a Killers song.

The final Primus song sounded like the heavy psych workouts of early Flaming Lips, culminating with all three drummers playing alongside each other. As it ended, Keenan asked “I can’t play drums, was that good?” After a ten minute intermission that had Keenan playing an elderly convalescent telling bad (but still pretty funny) dad jokes, the bands rotated and took turns playing new songs from the just-released EP (or rather, E.P.P.P.) and the evening closed out with all the bands taking the stage for “Grand Canyon” and Keenan telling the social media addicts that yes at last, phones can be used.

When’s the last time you saw a show that featured Claypool playing standup bass in a pig’s head mask, an impromptu Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot match, and a celebratory cupcake? Let’s see what Keenan brews up for Settanta.