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REVIEW: A Perfect Circle Illuminates The Valley After Dark With Articulately Barbed Musical Oration 4-10-17

PHOENIX — It’s around 7:30 PM on a Tuesday night and the streets are busy on 4th Ave and Washington. The throngs of people milling around are desperately searching for the end of the impossibly long line that will eventually lead them to the entrance they are only feet away from at the moment. The lights from the large electronic marquee reads “A Perfect Circle TONIGHT!” and casts a glow on the faces passing below. For many standing there on that night, this was a long anticipated show.

Oh my god, she just left her fuckin boyfriend back there!”, I heard a woman blurt out as I sat on a bench next to the box office at Comerica Theater. With lines stretching around the corner for several blocks, people of all different backgrounds are shuffling slowly past me toward the entrance gates. There are goth teens, soccer moms, bikers and hipsters all standing together in line. They’re chatting excitedly, talking about the last time they had seen the band perform and even dancing to Sublime’s “Wrong Way” as the sky gets darker.

I prepared myself for what would be the second time I would see A Perfect Circle since Lollapalooza 2003–the year they released their second album Thirteenth Step. In the nearly 14 years since that show, they’ve come a long way. Although the lineup has changed slightly, lead vocalist Maynard James Keenan of Tool-fame and lead guitarist Billy Howerdel have remained the central force of the band since its inception. Current bassist Matt McJunkins, who joined in 2010, has played with the likes of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Maynard James Keenan side band Puscifer and The Beta Machine, a band he formed with current APC drummer Jeff Friedl. McJunkins was also the touring bassist for Eagles of Death Metal during the Le Bataclan attack in Paris, France on November 13th, 2015. The audience was attacked by terrorists wielding automatic rifles, grenades and suicide vests, killing 89 fans including the band’s merchandise vendor. Rounding out the group is former Smashing Pumpkins alumnus and founding member James Iha on rhythm guitar, a superstar in his own right.

As the line seemed to shorten to a visible end, I took my place to be screened by security. It was a relatively short process. I got through the entrance within maybe 5 minutes of entering the line and spotted another long line snaking up the stairs to the second floor balcony. A friend remarked, “That’s the line for merchandise.” After purchasing my respective Cola and water bottles, I finally found my assigned seat just moments before the house lights come down and the uprising of applause and whistles begin. Smoke begins to seep from across the foot of the stage and everyone in attendance knows that this rocket is about to blast off.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Billy Howerdel (Guitarist), A Perfect Circle
Photography: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The first notes of “The Package” begin to trickle melodically from the speakers behind a hazy white cloth that encompasses the entirety of the stage. Hidden beyond the opaque white veil, the band members’ silhouettes can be seen in various distorted sizes dancing as the lights produce their shadows. With little silence to buffer, each of the beginning three pieces all vaguely kind of bleed into the other. This first medley, The Package, The Hollow, and The Noose perfectly set the tone for the remainder of the show.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
A Perfect Circle
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

It was then that Keenan finally addressed the crowd, explaining that this was their first show since their three show Vegas tour kickoff at the Palms Resort and Casino Pearl Concert Theater. “Normally we try to do this first so we don’t make a bunch of fuckin’ mistakes and then you guys judge us…”

“And now a song about anal sex!”

Keenan playfully muses into the mic as the band launches into “Weak and Powerless”, another track from Thirteenth Step, their 2003 sophomore masterpiece, followed by “Rose” from their debut album Mer De Noms. As the show goes on I feel as though I’m transported to a time when I first started listening to a group whose lead singer sounded like that guy from Tool. It would be months after first being introduced to this new band until I would find out who it was behind those vocals, and would ultimately turn me on to Tool after hearing A Perfect Circle, and not the other way around.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), A Perfect Circle
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Deslgn. All Rights Reserved

Keenan has been an eccentric figure in both his professional and personal life. Army veteran, musician, winemaker and entrepreneur; he is one of the most eclectic artists ever grace a stage. With a residence in Jerome, Arizona near his Merkin vineyard in Cornville, where he produces his Caduceus Cellars blends of wine; Keenan has single-handedly raised the profile of Arizona wine nationally and internationally to break it out of mediocrity and make it a truly respectable region in the wine world… But that’s another story. We’re here to talk about the music.

(But seriously, watch the documentary Blood Into Wine)

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Billy Howerdel (Guitarist), A Perfect Circle
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Deslgn. All Rights Reserved

The fourth movement and majority of the body of the show begins with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” from 2004’s eMOTIVe album, in a style that one could only expect from A Perfect Circle. It’s brooding and not without the quintessential melancholy that only APC can produce. Truly a beautiful cover. As I ruminated on that thought, I scanned the crowd behind me. Not a single sarcastic smirk. The audience seemed to think it was as beautiful as I did. The show continues with several more amazing tracks from previous albums and including their incredible cover of Depeche Mode’s “People are People”. Keenan prefaces this performance with a few words to the audience regarding forgiveness.

“It’s those moments that forgiveness is the only thing that’s gonna get you through it, so, forgive each other, forgive yourself. Move to the light.”

For some people it was an emotional experience. I saw a woman across the aisle from my section wiping tears from her eyes during that particular track. It was evident that it meant something to her that only she understood. This band holds a special power that allows them to tap into the listener’s psyche. The feeling and raw emotion they emote entrances these fans with melodious distortion and precision combined with Keenan’s articulately barbed lyrical style. A Perfect Circle masterfully ends the main body of the show with “Blue” and Keenan once again addresses the masses before introducing all the players to their venerate fans.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Billy Howerdel (Guitarist) & Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), A Perfect Circle
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The final medley of the concert is comprised of two tracks from Thirteenth Step, and a new song they debuted in Las Vegas during the first dates of the tour. Keenan describes the first song, “The Outsider,” as song “sung from the perspective of an asshole who has no compassion, so think of the whole album as being parts in a play and this is the Rodney Dangerfield… Being a dick.”

“So anyway, look out for each other. Don’t be a dick”

At this point, James Iha is introduced and expresses his distaste with the desert.

“The sand, it permeates my clothes. I don’t like it.”

A Perfect Circle setlist
Comerica Theatre 4-10-17
(Click to Enlarge)

The monologue goes on a little longer and almost seems necessary to lift the crowd back up from getting too cathartic and deep. It’s certainly a fun interlude as the final trio of pieces signals the beginning of the end of the show. By the close of “Feathers”, the final song and A Perfect Circle’s newest unreleased track, everyone is on their feet and cheering as Keenan speaks one last “Thank you”, and the band gives their final humble bows amid the silken forest of pillars amongst them and walks off stage.

Iha throws several handfuls of guitar picks into the front rows and the band disappears, never to be seen again by those hoping for an encore. Those dreams were dashed when the house lights immediately hit like a blast of reality and signaled that it was indeed time to go. I sauntered out into the streets and walked down Jefferson toward Squid Ink to wait for my Uber, and savored the sights and sounds I had just beheld.

Photo Album

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

A Perfect Circle – Comerica Theatre 4-10-17

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.