This past Sunday night, alternative-progressive supergroup A Perfect Circle took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl to play a number of songs from their three studio albums, satisfying music-thirsty fans who have been voicing demands for new material (their last album release was thirteen years ago!). However, as showcased by their amazing set, quality is far more important than quantity, and I’m grateful for the incredible catalogue of music that they have graced us with over the years.
Formed in 1999 under the direction of lead guitarist Billy Howerdel (a former technician for Nine Inch Nails, Tool) and lead singer Maynard James Keenan (Tool, Puscifer), the band has gone through many variations in its lineup, having at one time or another included bassist Paz Lenchantin (The Entrance Band, The Pixies), guitarist Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), bassist Jeordie White (Marilyn Manson), drummer Josh Freese, drummer Tim Alexander, and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen.
Thankfully, due to the permanent fixtures of Howerdel and Keenan, the sound has remained consistent throughout the band’s eighteen-year long career and multiple lineup variations, and when the duo took the stage with guitarist James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins, and drummer Jeff Friedl on Sunday night, the genuine A Perfect Circle feel was still there. Together, the artists performed a handful of songs from their raw and emotional debut album, Mer de Noms (2000), the more contemplative and reflective Thirteenth Step (2003), and the politically-charged covers album, Emotive (2004).
The set kicked off with a dimly lit stage and the beautifully tragic, lullaby-esque “The Package,” with blaring stage lights coming on midway through the song. Howerdel’s riffs on the song are hauntingly beautiful, and sound even better live than on the album — especially in a setting like the Bowl on a dark and cold night surrounded by mountains and greenery. Next followed one of their hits from Mer de Noms, the energetic “The Hollow,” and afterwards, the vibe mellowed down with “The Noose.”
The band continued with yet another hit from Thirteenth Step, “Weak and Powerless,” which then led into “Rose,” featuring more amazing guitar riffs courtesy of Howerdel and Iha. Next, they performed their first Emotive cover of the night, a much darker, keyboard-heavy rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Then followed “By and Down,” a single they had released in 2013, which adds a psychedelic touch to the group’s signature sound.
Keenan dedicated the next track, “Thomas,” to his “Tool brothers,” a song that presumably takes on the metaphor of Biblical character doubting Thomas. Electrifying heavy guitar riffs were once again showcased after the break in the middle of the song, harmoniously up to par with Keenan’s smooth voice. Depeche Mode cover “People Are People,” also from Emotive, followed “Thomas,” and afterwards came the seductively sinister “Magdalena,” featuring yet another stellar Howerdel solo.
After playing a long, dragged out version of Thirteenth Step’s “Vanishing,” Keenan engaged the audience with some political talk before leading into a screechy, raw version of “Thinking of You.” To remind everyone in the audience that this was, indeed, an A Perfect Circle show, Keenan continued his dialogue with the crowd with some dirty humor, complete with Shake Weight jokes and all the likes. The group then performed one of their new songs, the industrial-sounding, dystopian “Hourglass.”
Continuing with the mechanical, dystopian vibe, they launched into the political “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums,” which was released at the height of sociopolitical discontent with the Bush administration and the Iraq War in 2004. Although the music video, which features a cartoon version of the President at the time, is a clear indication of the time period, the song itself unfortunately remains extremely relevant today (yours truly even wrote a paper on the song and video for a class a few years ago). The energy of the show was then placated with “A Stranger” and “Orestes,” with Keenan pleading for “one more medicated peaceful moment” in the latter song and perhaps suggesting to sonically sedated fans that the concert was soon coming to an end.
The night closed out with two more tracks from Thirteenth Step: the pointed and intense “The Outsider,” which featured one of Keenan’s famous long screams (which are far more common in his Tool catalogue), and the calmer “Gravity.” The last song of the night was “Feathers,” another new track that will be released whenever the group releases their fourth studio album.
Overall, any serious fan of A Perfect Circle must see them live at least on one occasion, as they sound phenomenal and provide an unparalleled musical experience. Although this was not my first time seeing them play together, having seen a few of their songs performed at Keenan’s fiftieth birthday bash, Cinquanta (which also featured Puscifer and Failure), it was an unforgettable event, and was definitely worth freezing my butt off in the fatally cold spring nights of Los Angeles. At one point in the show, Keenan remarked that as artists, “we are emotional merchants.” To me, that is exactly what A Perfect Circle is, if not much, much more.
By Pauline Pechakjian