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A Perfect Circle at Stage AE

A Perfect Circle - Billy Howerdel Live at Stage AE in Pittsburgh Aug 9, 2011

Maynard James Keenan is somewhat of an enigma. As a rocker who is now approaching his fifties, he’s done everything from playing small clubs to gigantic festivals with his main project, Tool. He’s made wine, which inspired documentary Blood Into Wine. And instead of requests like asking for all of his brown M&M’s to be removed [I’m looking at you, Van Halen], Maynard asks that crowds refrain from moshing and ruining the entertainment for others. And these days, what Maynard wants, Maynard gets.

The funny thing is, that the band is really the brainchild of guitarist Billy Howerdel. He spent his time as a Tool guitar tech before deciding to start his own band in which Maynard gladly wanted to be a part of. A fan at the show, while waiting to get into the venue, shouted at the top of his lungs, “Tool and A Perfect Circle are like, completely different bands, man! Don’t even call them the same!” And the drunk fool is definitely on to something.

A Perfect Circle - Band Live at Stage AE in Pittsburgh Aug 9, 2011Tool has made themselves known for pushing boundaries with crazy time signatures, extremely long songs, textured/noisy pieces interspersed into their albums, and poignant lyrics. The route APC took is not some sort of “Tool-light” as some have dubbed it, but Howerdel has sought to find the most melodic elements of Tool and various other bands and bring them to the forefront. The songs still have some interesting rhythms thanks to the backdrop that drummer Josh Freese lays down, but it’s certainly far more accessible to the masses. By no means is it pop, but it’s got catchiness that’s hard to shake.

It was with some disappointment that A Perfect Circle only played two songs from what I feel is one of the best records of the 2000’s, Mer De Noms. The band busted into “The Hollow” and “Rose” early on in the set, but that’s all we’d hear from this album. Most of the material came from the latter two records, Thirteenth Step and eMOTIVe.

However, to be disappointed would be completely false. The songs from the two albums [albeit eMOTIVe being a “cover album” of sorts] absolutely slay live. The most notable performance from Thirteenth Step, would have to be “The Package.” The band took what felt like long extended pauses just before introducing the heaviest elements of the song in the final moments. The raw power and energy caused an eruption of cheers from the crowd, mixed with the fantastic light show provided in conjunction with Stage AE.

A Perfect Circle - Band Live at Stage AE in Pittsburgh Aug 9, 2011As previously stated, Maynard and Co. had a few rules they wanted the outdoor crowd to abide by. Not all of them were met, unfortunately. There was explicitly “no cameras or photography” allowed, along with “no cell phones” [perhaps to prevent amateur photos/videos to be posted online]. Of course, it was difficult to enforce amongst the approximately 4,500 people present at the near sold-out show. There was also a “no smoking” policy Maynard wanted to enforce, but it only took a few songs before smells of pot filled the air. However, it seemed like the band had little to complain about. Maynard even mentioned things such as “I think the Steelers are going to go all the way this year,” but for the most part, APC just moved on from song to song seamlessly.

Another killer jam from Thirteenth Step was “The Noose.” As Maynard sang “It’s your halo slipping down,” the light show matched the beauty and intensity of the band on stage, with the audience almost being blinded [in a good way] by the power of the lights illuminating off of the logo in the background.

As Maynard announced the various members of the lineup, Howerdel and bassist/keyboardist Matt McJunkin (Puscifer) were situated towards the front of the stage. Maynard, guitarist/keyboardist James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and drummer Jeff Friedl (Puscifer) were all in the backline, all on platforms. The crowd was informed that normal skinsman Josh Freese was on tour with Weezer, which was a slight disappointment to me, as he is one of my favorite drummers. However, Friedl clearly didn’t miss a beat, and provided nearly the same energy as his counterpart.

One interesting thing was the heavy selection from eMOTIVe. While it’s natural for most bands to want to play their most recent material, the album was mainly covers, so it was slightly disappointing that the band wouldn’t want to play more original compositions. However, their covers of “Imagine” (John Lennon), “Peace, Love, and Understanding” (Nick Lowe, but made famous by Elvis Costello), “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye), “People are People” (Depeche Mode), and “Fiddle and Drum” (Joni Mitchell) seemed to get a good response from the crowd.

A Perfect Circle - James Maynard Keenan at Stage AE in Pittsburgh Aug 9, 2011Towards the end of their first hour of performance, Maynard and Iha broke into “Fiddle and Drum,” in which Maynard preceded by saying “This is the part where we go off stage and come back on. Don’t blink, you might miss it,” making fun of the encores that most big rock bands play. Needless to say, APC played for about an 75 minutes or so, and no encore was included.

Two of the more original tracks from eMOTIVe got huge reactions from the crowd. “Passive” had our section singing along, and “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums,” caused tons of headbanging and fist pumping from the pit. The covers got a good response, but not nearly as much as the original compositions. It may be because eMOTIVe was released as an anti-war record, but more importantly, it was the last record APC fans got before the hiatus, so the crowd was looking forward to more. I believe we did get one new composition, the one they’ve been playing on recent tour dates, “By and Down,” but they didn’t announce it. They just launched into each song without preface.

Overall, this was a fantastic live show to experience. I would’ve preferred that they stayed away from the covers and played more originals, but I can hardly complain. Maynard’s freakish dancing, Howerdel’s great stage presence and harmonies, Friedl’s fantastic drumming, and Iha and and McJunkin providing a backing canvas led to an extraordinary show that should not be missed. Let’s hope the band starts pumping out some more new tracks so that we have some new favorites to latch onto after this tour.

Show Review by Adam Rauf, Senior Staff Writer


Photographs by Emily O’Donnell, Emily O’Donnell Photography

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