Concert Review: Sessanta (A 60th Birthday Celebration for Maynard James Keenan) at Forest Hills Stadium

Concert Review: Sessanta (A 60th Birthday Celebration for Maynard James Keenan) at Forest Hills Stadium
It's Maynard's birthday party, and I'll buy if I want to (photo credit: Revolver, The Tinfoil Biter)

Usually when you buy a ticket to go see a show, you walk in the doors and are fairly certain of what you’re going to witness.  If you get there early enough, the traditional order of events is nearly universal.  You watch the opening band, the roadies set up for the second act, the next band performs, the crews break down their gear, and you wait impatiently for the headliners to come out.  It’s a tried and true operation that has worked for decades and it’s what you sign up for when you make the conscious decision to attend the concert.

Every now and then, though, you buy a ticket for a show and have no idea what to expect.  That was the case for me when I decided to attend Sessanta, a celebration of Maynard James Keenan’s 60th birthday.  Billed as a “three-headed monster” of a show, the event was to feature performances from Keenan-fronted A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, alongside Primus.  For Maynard’s 50th birthday, he performed with his aforementioned bands and Failure at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Rather than the usual opener/middle act/headliner format, the bands all performed at the same time, rotating after three or four songs and mixing members throughout the night.  Sessanta was advertised as having that same format, but instead of a one-off show, it would be a full-fledged tour with 21 dates across the United States in a little over a month.

Weirded out.

I attended the last show of the tour at Forest Hills Stadium on May 4th, and for maybe the first time in my long career of attending concerts, I had no idea what I was about to witness.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  There was one certainty for any Tool-adjacent event involving Maynard James Keenan: an extensive merchandise line.  It’s a usual occurrence for people to line up the night before or morning of Tool shows in anticipation of buying show specific posters and t-shirts.  Some do it for the hobby and some do it to flip them for profit online.  This event was no different, and it certainly had plenty of show-specific items to please every type of merch hound (like myself). I actually toyed with the idea of lining up for doors at 5:30pm, but was greeted with a crowd of people at least a city block long to enter the venue when I tried.

And it wasn’t without good reason – the Sessanta tour was a rare four concert poster event.  Each band performing had their own poster for the show and there was a larger one for the event itself – 75 of which were signed by all members of all three bands.  Before showtime, several of them were already on eBay.  There was also an exclusive Sessanta E.P.P.P. record available in a custom color specific to the Forest Hills show, featuring a new song from each of the performing bands.  As of this writing, its going for nearly four times its original $75 value.

Todd Slater's 24" x 36" masterpiece for Sessanta Forest Hills.

I decided to pass and go to the bar instead.  Almost immediately, I was met by a Primus fan offering to sell stickers he had made.  They weren’t very good, so I passed, but before he left he asked if I knew anyone who happened to have an extra ticket to the show.   I happened to be looking to unload one, so I told him I was still waiting to hear back from a friend, but if I didn’t I would find him before I left to enter the stadium.  As it turned out, my friend couldn’t make the show, so I was left to sell to the stickerman rather than take a loss.  I really would have just given it to him, but for kicks, I asked him what he was offering for the tickets.

His response: “Well, I’ve got some mushrooms…

Not exactly what I had in mind.  After very little negotiation, I walked away with $30, three homemade stickers, and a Venmo memo that said “Primus sucks!” Maybe I should have just eaten the ticket.

Michael Hacker's nod to John the Fisherman.

Upon entering the venue, my thoughts returned to the merchandise situation. There were two long, twisting lines that meandered throughout the venue away from the two stands that were set up.  Looked like another pass.

An exclusive rainbow foil variant by Anka Lavriv that I panic purchased before the show.

I settled into my seats on the floor – for the record, one of the telltale signs that you’re getting old is when the GA section for your favorite bands has been replaced by chairs.  I started to try to get a feel for what I was about to experience.  I was greeted by two-tiered stage with three drum sets on the top layer.  There were several couches, as well as an electronic chair lift you’d see in the home of an older person who needs help getting up the stairs, a humorous nod to Maynard’s age. An interesting setup, to say the least.

The stage setup (photo credit: George Distler).

After a short, weird intro – what else would you expect from Maynard? – the stadium screen flashed “A Perfect Circle” and Billy Howerdel and company took the stage, playing “The Package,” the opening track from 2003’s Thirteenth Step.  Maynard emerged shortly after at the top of the stage in a full suit, and powerfully delivered the opening lines to the song.  The show rarely slowed down from there.   The band continued with two tracks from 2018’s Eat the Elephant, “Disillusioned” and “The Contrarian,” before the screens flashed again to signal Primus was taking the stage next.

Within a minute, Les Claypool and Primus emerged to a lively reaction from the Forest Hills crowd.   Opening with “Those Damned Blue Collared Tweekers” from 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese, the trio also played “Eleven” from the same album, with “Too Many Puppies” from 1990’s Frizzle Fry for their first “set” of the evening.   It became clear that the bands would continue to rotate in such a fashion for the rest of the evening, but the audience would not know which band was coming out next until the prior set had concluded.

May the Nard be with you.

Puscifer followed with three strong songs, “Galileo,” “Tiny Monsters,” and “Indigo Children.” The band features Maynard and Carina Round on vocals, and takes a more avante-garde approach to music than any of his other projects.  I had never seen Puscifer live, nor really listened to any of their records, but Maynard was in top form this evening so it all sounded great to me and seems worth a deeper dive.  I also may have snuck out to the merch stand during their first set to secure three posters with only a ten-minute wait, but that’s for me to know and you to find out.

Claypool and Primus returned for perhaps my favorite triad of songs for the evening, as they performed three classics from their back catalog – “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “My Name is Mud,” and “Tommy the Cat” featuring Maynard on lead vocals.  At this point, the man of the evening was sitting on one of the couches on stage reading the lyrics to the song from a book.  It was one of many laughable moments throughout the night where the Tool frontman’s sense of humor was front and center.  Besides, why shouldn’t it be?  It’s his birthday party after all.

Puscifer continued the rotation with four songs, three of which were from 2020’s Existential Reckoning.  A Perfect Circle followed with their second set, including fan favorites “The Noose,” “The Hollow,” and “The Outsider,” which is also in the running for the strongest three-song run of the night.   Tim Alexander of Primus played drums for “The Hollow,” the lead track to APC’s stunning 2000 debut Mer de Noms.  I also may have been warned by a security guard to stop recording at that point of the evening, as I broke Maynard’s strict no filming policy (don't tell anyone, you narc) because I was so ecstatic to hear that song live for the first time.

Following APC’s second run of songs, there was a 10-minute intermission that was accompanied by a countdown and a video of Maynard dressed as an old man essentially staring into the camera, falling asleep, waking up, and making non-sequitur comments.  Sessanta was surely an oddly wonderful experience.

Though taken at Red Rocks, this video conveys the experience of Sessanta's intermission.

Puscifer returned the show to action with “The Humbling River” and “The Remedy,” before A Perfect Circle came back with the foreboding “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums,” an alternate take of “Pet” from Thirteenth Step, and their most well-known song, “Judith,” a scorcher from Mer de Noms that Keenan wrote about his mom.   Primus rounded out the third act with “Southbound Pachyderm,” one of their usual set closers, with all three drummers present on stage.

The bands then each took turns playing the songs from the aforementioned Sessanta E.P.P.P., with Primus’ contribution also featuring Keenan on vocals.  All three songs on the E.P. feature some amalgamation of members of the different bands involved in the tour.  For a finale, all three bands got on stage to play “Grand Canyon,” a Puscifer song from 2015’s Money Shot, before which Maynard told everyone they could “take their stupid phones out” and record.   Once the song concluded, Maynard was presented with a piñata bearing the number 60, and smashed it open on stage to conclude the show.

A Sessanta piñata (photo credit: Kevin RC Wilson, Consequence of Sound).

As I said earlier, walking in to this show, I really had no idea what to expect.  Upon walking out of it, I was simply blown away.  I was interested to see how the bands would perform these set rotations, but they pulled them off flawlessly – much better than expected.   Maynard’s voice was incredible from start to finish, as it usually is, and Les Claypool’s bass skills are worth the price of admission every time.  Billy Howerdel’s guitar tones were hypnotic and haunting in person as they sound on every A Perfect Circle album.  The whole experience was strange, beautiful, crushing, and unforgettable.

There were funny and candid moments throughout the night, too, which is a departure from Keenan’s usual demeanor on stage when performing with Tool. Maynard was presented with a birthday cake and the entire venue serenaded him “Happy Birthday.”  He and the other musicians spent ample time hanging on the couch when not performing.  Claypool donned several masks throughout the evening, which is common for any of his performances with his myriad of bands.  To truly understand what a magical evening this was, you would have had to attend one of these rare, unique, and weird shows- but sadly, there are none left on this iteration of the tour.

Maynard has stated that his plans for the next year and a half are to make music with each of his three bands, so there’s hope that there will be plentiful opportunities to see him on tour again soon.  You can call him a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them.  This show, and tour in general, was a fitting tribute to a man who has created so much beautiful, thought-provoking, and truly great music that have provided a soundtrack to my and so many other people’s lives.  Here’s hoping he continues doing it for another ten years so I can start planning out my trip to Setenta in 2034.

Oh, and I did spend an exorbitant amount to buy all four of the posters – sometimes I really just can’t help myself.  Shut up and buy – send more money!

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