Live Review: A Perfect Circle at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

The emotive hard-rockers returned with high energy, high spirits, and a new song on Thursday, April 13.

Maynard James Keenan has been taking his time moving through his various musical endeavors, such as A Perfect Circle, which sold out Bill Graham Civic Auditorium months in advance.

Unaccompanied by supporting acts, A Perfect Circle painted the mood for nearly three hours on the night of Thursday, April 13. An emotionally and musically heavy act from the early 2000s, the band’s notation and execution were crisp, and they brought their brooding, lead-weight demeanor to a pair of cover songs: John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” made famous by Elvis Costello.

When the show opened, the lights went down and a giant mesh curtain appeared at the rear of the stage, projecting ceiling-high silhouettes of the band, which, in addition to Keenan, includes guitarists Billy Howerdel and James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins, and drummer Jeff Friedl.

Dark and slow-moving rhythms crept from the sound system as the band warmed up and began to play “The Package” from A Perfect Circle’s 2003 sophomore release Thirteenth Step. By the peak of the song, stagehands had tucked the curtain away, revealing a thrashing display of release as Howerdel and McJunkins ran and bounced, occupying the entirety of their space on stage.

The pair split the front half of the stage almost exclusively, occasionally sharing a space to engage the crowd or each other in vulgar displays of hard-rock virtuosity. Iha and Friedl each occupied their own raised platforms, stage right and left, respectively.

Plumes of fog and smoke surrounded the stage, and on a cylindrical platform, separate from the rest of his band, Keenan stood solo, obfuscated by the thick air for nearly the entire show.

“The Hollow,” the first of five tracks from the band’s 2000 debut album, Mer De Nams, came next. They bounced back and forth between songs, playing “Weak and Powerless” between “The Noose” and “Rose,” before delivering one of the most eerie tunes of the night.

Keenan prefaced the song by acknowledging the mixed reaction his anti-war album eMOTIVe garnered, and giving a collective middle finger to his naysayers with a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which appears on the record. He returned to the band’s debut for “Thinking of You” before treating fans to their most recent single, “By and Down.”

The early catalog favorite “Thomas” was punctuated, along with other tracks, by a subtle control on the lighting. There was a constant and unyielding fog or haze around Keenan, and a few selectively situated light cannons and LED panels along the edges of each rear platform provided mood lighting. Because of this, every song had its own unique aesthetic that pushed the concert forward.

The second unexpected transition into the early 2000’s metal scene came in the form of a cover that reimagined Brinsley Schwartz’s tune “(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”

Aside from the deep track “Magdalena,” and one of the few originals from eMOTIVe, such as“Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums,” the rest of the show was culled almost entirely from Thirteenth Step.

One thing that surprised me the most about Keenan — who is known for his notable eccentricities, which are documented back as his days at Kendall College of Arts and Design in Grand Rapids — was how personable and engaged with the audience he was between songs. Despite having a reputation as a recluse, Keenan cracked jokes about penguins, dedicated songs to chocolate cake, and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself and the audience.

Five more songs from Thirteenth Step — including “Vanishing,” “The Outsider,” and “Gravity” — all received notable fan appreciation before the end of the show. In a move that I will describe as the only flaw of the show, Keenan and Co. opted to remain on stage and power through the San Francisco debut of their brand-new tune, “Feathers,” rather than entertain the notion of a proper encore.

I will admit, the encore, for me, has lost a lot of its original impact. Now that they’re expected at every show, they’re taken for granted, and if and when a band, like A Perfect Circle, chooses not to return to the stage to do one, I view it as a snub. But let’s be real: Keenan knows how to make an audience wait, and it is expected that the new tune will be included in their upcoming album, which comes out later this year.

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