NEW YORK, NY—The changing pace of the music industry and quick-shifting nature of what is deemed “popular” has challenged countless bands to stay relevant. A select few from the ‘90s have a propensity to deliver through innovative and dynamic albums that are complemented by equally enthralling performances. Five-piece super group A Perfect Circle delivered an operatic, alt-rock experience and a trip down memory lane, with a set full of courteous covers, July 13 at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
Frontman Maynard James Keenan borrows from his Tool playbook, casting himself out onstage to mirror a mere silhouette, while the other members are displayed more prominently. APC’s current lineup also includes founding guitarist Billy Howerdel (Ashes Divide), drummer Jeff Friedl (Pucifer, Ashes Divide), bassist Matt McJunkins (Puscifer, Ashes Divide) and guitarist James Iha (The Smashing Pumpkins). This approach ups the ante on the traditional frontman/guitarist dynamic. Although the band has managed to stay out of the Hollywood limelight, they have a cult-like following that longs for the live experience that is APC.
Keenan juggles writing and singing for three different bands with a mixture of musical styling (Tool, Puscifer, APC), but he stays true to his character. He is a showman. He taps interpretive dance and braided wigs to deliver an ambiguous live performance that effortlessly conveys the APC compositions, which are concocted by Howerdel.
APC began its 18-song set with “Annihilation,” which channels an eerie toy piano sound to “welcome” the chaos. The band dove into “The Hollow” off its freshman release, Mer de Noms, and “Weak and Powerless” from Thirteenth Step. The band matches the perfection of its record sound—beautiful and soft, yet hard and disturbing.
The show setlist drew primarily on APC’s most recent album, 2004’s Election Day release eMOTIVe, which is comprised of covers of anti-war songs by artists including Black Flag, Joni Mitchell and John Lennon. At the show, the band also covered Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
APC’s take on Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” showcased Howerdel’s creepy cadence—equally as melodic as Keenan’s—though intrinsically distinctive. And the recount is nothing like the original, but rather an eccentric, “Alice In Wonderland-like” tune. Howerdel also sang the band’s adaptation of Brinsley Schwarz’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?”
White strobe lights harassed the audience along with Keenan’s howls. But this was an APC show. The concept of the show is a beautiful torture—an experience that occurs outside the body. It’s that out-of-the-box, slightly disturbing, soul-striking familiarity that makes Keenan’s vocals come to life. It’s a sweet mystery. The band infused its contribution to the 2005 Constantine movie soundtrack, “Passive,” a cold, hard-hitting song that matches the movie’s life-after-death exploration.
Notwithstanding its lineup variety since its 1999 inception, A Perfect Circle’s musical mantras have stayed true to a unique and definitive stylistic ensemble, which threads together the band’s three studio albums: Mer de Noms, Thirteenth Step and eMOTIVe. And while the APC repertoire serves up a fantastic fusion of Keenan’s lucid lullabies, each album has its individual tone and temperament.
Also peppered into the set were standards “Magdalena,” “Gravity” and the Amotive DVD remix of “3 Libras.”
As the band approached a close, during “Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drums,” a cult-like clap ensued—a true testament to the vox populi.