Maynard Keenan is a recluse. He traipses off to his vineyard for years at a time, leaving fans of Tool and A Perfect Circle (pictured above) patiently waiting for him to send out the white smoke plumes and release an album or venture out on tour. Even when he does emerge, he doesn’t make things easy. As was announced multiple times with a megaphone to people in line outside the venue, inside the venue, over the PA and on signs posted throughout the venue, even snapping a blurry pic with your camera phone would get you escorted out.
A local radio station warned that there were 60 such evictions at the show three days prior. That their fans tolerate this after spending as much as a $100 a ticket (plus parking) and $40 for a t-shirt is a testament to their desperation to see the band as much as its popularity.
When your band is dormant for the better part of a decade, you get bored. When you’re in several bands that are all dormant at once, you really get bored. What better to do than start yet another band? And what better to do when that dormancy ends than to release your debut EP and join your main band on tour?
A Perfect Circle bassist Matt McJunkins and drummer Jeff Friedl formed The Beta Machine (pictured above) in 2014 with vocalist Claire Acey (of Nightmare and the Cat) and guitarists Nick Perez and Tommy Dill, who has since left the band. They only had a half hour onstage, a concession to the rhythm section pulling double duty or maybe the limited material with which they have to work. The moodiness of their better-known projects is present, but softened by Acey’s haunting vocals. Like a gothic apparition, she glided across the stage, incredibly long black hair cascading down to her waist, dancing along with the lush pop-infused death disco.
Being away for so long gives a unique perspective to A Perfect Circle’s hypnotic monotone. It almost seems dated, a formerly revolutionary sound is now a nostalgic relic for aging Gen Xers. Maynard self-effacingly called it the “reminder we’re still here tour.” It didn’t help that a new album is still months away, meaning few had much of a chance to live with the new material that was played, although most of the set was recorded nearly a decade and a half ago.
A Perfect Circle’s infamous no photo rule is borderline draconian and was strictly enforced by a beleaguered security staff. That said, it was oddly refreshing to look out at a crowd without seeing illuminated screens thrust in the air. That’s probably what it looked like the last time A Perfect Circle launched a new album. They played the entire first song, “The Package,” behind a sheet which wouldn’t make much of a photo op anyway.
The band was once guitarist Billy Howerdel’s baby, with Keenan the late-joining interloper, but now you identify the band with the singer and not just because of his success in Tool. Nonetheless, the vocalist was positioned on a riser where the drummer usually goes. He was centerstage, but part of the backline, with drums to his left and James Iha to his right. He wouldn’t stray from that spot for the duration. There was no spotlight, and the backlighting kept him a shadow the entire show. He was the center of everything, yet virtually anonymous.
Maynard introduced the band’s flat-lining, dirgy version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by alluding to the current political landscape. He likely knew that it was Election Day and that exactly one year before was the eve of Donald Trump’s winning the White House.
“In 2004, we put out an album that was a politically charged hot potato,” he said, understanding how quaint moving on from George W. Bush seems with hindsight. “If it’s one thing I leaned, it’s that people with power will do anything to keep power including turn us against each other. If we talk things out, we can get through this.”
Keenan didn’t do much more talking, content to devote the time to playing as much off the band’s two studio releases as possible as well as an otherworldly rendering of Depeche Mode’s “People Are People.” The upbeat ‘80s synth-pop classic became a funeral procession in A Perfect Circle’s hands.
Finally he thanked the audience for putting away the cameras. He spoke of how technology ruins the “oral tradition,” which prompted Beavis & Butthead–like giggling at the word “oral.” More bizarre was Iha breaking into cheesy jokes (“Where does a penguin keep its money? In a snow bank.”) and musing about the Eagles and cheesesteaks while pondering the difference between Philly and Camden. Somewhere Paul Schaefer was nodding his head in approval.
Keenan promised the new album would come out in 2018 before playing a few songs from it. The industrialized “Hourglass” was like Devo on Quaaludes, stoic and stiff. “The Doomed” was uplifting doom metal performed underwater with a lilting break that approximates the spiritual lyrics. They closed the set with “Feathers,” a ballad led by Iha’s piano and gently soaring guitar wails.
Most bands wouldn’t end with a brand new downtempo song and leave without an encore. But A Perfect Circle have taken the old axiom of “leave them wanting more” to heart with its career. May as well do it at a show as well.