With little pomp and no showboating, A Perfect Circle were all about the music in the first headlining performance in support of their upcoming album, Thirteenth Step.
That shouldn’t surprise any APC fans or those familiar with shows by singer Maynard James Keenan’s other band, Tool. Never once did he holler, “Hello, New York” – in fact, he jokingly made a reference to New Jersey – nor did he ask if fans were ready to rock. It didn’t matter. He obviously was.
And so were his bandmates, who took the stage in formation: guitarist Billy Howerdel at the front of stage right; drummer Josh Freese behind him; bassist Jeordie White flanked stage left; and latest addition, former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, on a riser behind him. Keenan appeared only in silhouette behind a sheet, atop a four-poster platform as they launched into “Pet” from the new LP, due next month.
Keenan’s curtain dropped for the second song, “The Hollow,” off A Perfect Circle’s 2000 debut, Mer de Noms, which was followed by album-mate “Magdalena.”
“New songs, new people, a new age,” Keenan said immediately afterwards, before introducing the former Marilyn Manson bassist as “Jeordie, otherwise known as Twiggy in a former life,” and Iha affectionately as “Eeyore” from Winnie the Pooh fame. “These are get-to-know you dates,” he said, referring to the string of solo shows in between gigs on the final leg of Lollapalooza. “Welcome to our very interesting soundcheck.”
Whether due to shyness issues or an ongoing desire to remain mysterious, Keenan never once showed his face. Instead, he remained shadowed on his backlit perch, alternating between his patented crouching and cringing like a long-haired Nosferatu and convulsing like a marionette in the hands of an amateur. At his most revealing, he shed his black sleeveless T-shirt towards the end of “Orestes,” while singing “Gotta cut away/ Clear away/ Snip away and sever this umbilical residue.” And during “Thinking of You,” he actually shook his groove thing in a moment of bass-led funkiness.
The band was similarly bathed in darkness, save for the few times the swirling multi-colored spotlights shone bright and focused on Howerdel during a solo.
In the dim setting, the band cemented its place as one of rock’s tightest, despite the addition of two new members. The group picked up right on cue and ceased just as abruptly, displaying a deft oneness that hammered home the full musical experience it sought.
The new songs were listened to attentively, and involuntary swaying to the ambient melodies arose. But the crowd accustomed to rhythmic rocking that yielded to an unabashed pay-off were deprived when they expected it on “The Package” and Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” Rather, the band hit them with the haymaker toward the end, more in the form of a subtly powerful epic than a pop song.
A Perfect Circle’s new single, “Weak and Powerless,” however, delivered the goods when it exploded in the chorus – one of the few songs that somewhat adhered to the conventional structure APC and Tool have always adamantly opposed.
In predictable concert form, however, A Perfect Circle offered their breakthrough hit, “Judith,” as their finale, and the crowd responded appropriately and with fist-pumping assistance on the line, “F– your god.” It also was the only song to elicit crowd surfing. The band, however, retained its unflinching composure and Keenan waved good-bye unceremoniously and left the stage as the song wound to a close.