The Tool master of River's Edge

Maynard James Keenan is doubling up to launch St. Paul's new rock fest.

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Maynard James Keenan: “I think a show like this is a nice, exciting challenge for any band.”

Photo: Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

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If you go by precedence, Maynard James Keenan's two-band involvement at the River's Edge Music Festival next weekend bodes well for the ambitious new rock fest on St. Paul's Harriet Island.

"The last time I did this was the very first year of Coachella," he said of the California mega-fest that is now one of the nation's top music events.

Keenan's visionary prog-metal quartet Tool booked its only show of the summer (and probably the rest of the year) to headline Saturday's opening day -- a rare convergence that came about because the enigmatic frontman already planned to be at the festival with another of his bands, Puscifer, which performs Sunday before closing act the Dave Matthews Band.

Keenan, 48, is the main tool that River's Edge promoter Live Nation is using to draw out-of-towners for the event's inaugural year.

He remembers his last twofer weekend in 1999, when he debuted yet another band in the desert southeast of Los Angeles: "The very first act that ever played Coachella on the main stage on the very first day of the festival was A Perfect Circle. And then the next night Tool closed the show. I also played with Rage Against the Machine on the first night, so it was actually three shows in two days."

Reached by phone in Los Angeles last week as Puscifer prepared for its tour kickoff at the country's biggest music fest, Bonnaroo, the Detroit-bred hard-rock vet and newfound winery operator offered sage advice to organizers of River's Edge, which has a long way to go before it ranks with such destination festivals as Bonnaroo and Coachella.

However, getting Keenan to talk about the band that made him famous -- and is earning him a big paycheck Saturday -- proved difficult. Asked at the start of the interview about the quartet's otherwise dead schedule, he curtly replied, "You must be talking about Tool. I'm talking about Puscifer. We're on tour all summer, promoting our second album, 'Conditions of Our Parole.' "

Here's how the rest of the conversation went.

On how to get a successful music fest off the ground: "Take care of the people. Don't skimp on making sure they're safe. That's the most important thing. The one thing that will kill a festival in its tracks is people getting hurt. Anything stupid hurts. If it's hot out, and people are thirsty, make sure they have water -- plenty of water. Don't be a dick and try to get everyone to pay for it, because some kids come to these concerts without any money in their pockets."

Note: River's Edge will have water stations around the site. Fans can carry in empty plastic bottles, or two sealed water bottles up to 1 liter in size.

On performing outdoors with two bands known for their visual theatrics: "You'll find it's a difficult thing for a lot of bands nowadays. I don't know if Puscifer is really a festival project. We'll see. We're going to try our best and adjust accordingly. Our Bonnaroo show is actually in a tent, so that helps, but the show there will probably still be bright out. We'll have to navigate that. It's hard to nudge or instill a particular kind of mood when the sun is blaring down on you."

On what sets Puscifer apart from his other bands: "It's a multimedia project in which music is just one component. There's video, animation, a retail store with different crazy projects. It's completely joined at the hip with the winery [Arizona's Caduceus Cellars, which Keenan owns]. All of those outlets, and the multiple music genres, set it apart.

"The only reason you haven't seen this project until recently is it took a while for technology to catch up. What I had in mind back in '94 for this project is what we're doing now, but back then you couldn't do animation like we're doing now, you couldn't produce your own record like we can now, and there wasn't the social media side of it to help you establish yourself without the interference of tasteless A&R [record-company] guys."

On what's taking so long for the follow-up to Tool's last album, 2006's "10,000 Days": "We've been brothers for over 22 years, so the personalities are all in check. If you want more information than that, I'm not giving you a dime, because whatever little bit I say always gets blown up. Like, 'Hey, I hear you guys are recording on a boat.' No, I mentioned the word 'boat,' and I mentioned 'recording,' and they were like seven paragraphs apart. We're not recording on a boat. So I don't say anything. When it finally comes to it, you will absolutely know where things are with the band."

On the benefits and disadvantages of having Tool's only concert of the summer: "I can't speak for the rest of the band, but I think a show like this is a nice, exciting challenge for any band, something to keep us on our toes. If you don't challenge yourselves, it's easy to get lazy as a band. I can't actually rehearse with them this time because I'm traveling around, but the other guys will absolutely rehearse. We can't just go out there unprepared and risk looking like a bunch of clowns."

Follow Riemenschneider on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

  • RIVER'S EDGE MUSIC FESTIVAL

    Saturday 6/23: Tool, Motion City Soundtrack, Coheed & Cambria, Brand New, Sublime With Rome, Scissor Sisters, more.

    Sunday 6/24: Dave Matthews Band, Flaming Lips, Puscifer, Poliça, Mutemath, Delta Spirit, more.

    Where: Harriet Island, downtown St. Paul.

    Tickets: $65 daily, $110 two-day.

    Web: RiversEdgeMusicFestival.com.

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