PHOENIX — A Perfect Circle ended “on a high note” for the last date on the third leg of their headlining North American tour, to the city that frontman Maynard James Keenan thanked for being the “marijuana-stinking cherry” on top. Dark electronic duo Night Club and trip hop artist Tricky supported the band starting from October 20th, leading up to this night at Comerica Theatre. A PerfeBetct Circle delivered a performance that repeatedly went from smoldering to bellowing, and took the transfixed audience on an escape of commiseration through hard rock.
This year, A Perfect Circle released Eat the Elephant, which is their first album release in fourteen years, and their fourth studio album. Today, A Perfect Circle released a limited-edition 7” vinyl single featuring the latest single, “So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish”. Included on the release is a B-side, a cover of AC/DC’s “Dog Eat Dog”. It is available exclusively from the Record Store Day Black Friday event at select brick-and-mortar record stores.
The tone of their performance in Phoenix was first set with a dark stage as they invisibly began the instrumentals of the title-track of their latest album, “Eat the Elephant”. Anyone who has previously experienced A Perfect Circle live may have come to expect a giant white sheet shrouding the stage front leading up to, and remaining through the entirety of, the first song, before dramatically dropping to the floor. However, the sheet was absent this time around. Each band member was gradually backlit by just a bit of light, one-by-one, until all appeared as nearly pure-black silhouettes.
Blue and white rays of light and rising smoke backed them, in front of a curtain displaying their logo, and they were surrounded by white panels that would feature visuals catered to each song throughout the night.
True to character, Keenan remained even less visible than his bandmates for the entire performance, on a platform in the back of the stage. Sometimes he blended in with the darkness and visuals so well that one might question whether he had left the platform, seeing that he remained stationed upon a second glance.
When A Perfect Circle performed at Comerica Theatre in April of 2017, Keenan offered a few encouraging words. This time around, he almost seemed to be out of supportive messages.
Perhaps referencing the “despicable false claim”, in his words, made against Keenan earlier this year, he said, “Crazy, crazy, crazy, insane times we’re living in, wouldn’t you say? Insanity… People all mad at each other over a fuckin’ internet thing. It’s stupid… I’ve heard it said love is the answer… but because of all of the marijuana, I can’t remember the question.”
However, substantial sentiments and motivational speeches may not be necessary every time, considering the volumes that the messages in their music speak, and how emotionally evoking the dynamics of the music are. As usual, A Perfect Circle performed with nearly album-quality sound. Often, elements of the songs that may go unheard when listening to recordings were clearly audible during this performance, bringing new life to the music and a deeper appreciation for the composition. Furthermore, hearing lyrics to new songs for the first time live, versus via studio recording, can cement a different impression of the song as the concert experience packs in the emotion emanating from the artist.
Eight of the songs performed this night were from Eat the Elephant. Lyrics that really strike a chord in relation to the status quo, religion, and the political climate are contained in their songs, such as the following from “The Doomed” from the new album:
What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
What of the righteous? What of the charitable?
What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?
Doomed are the poor
Doomed are the peaceful
Doomed are the meek
Doomed are the merciful
For the word is now death
And the word is now without light
The new beatitude:
“Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own”
The lighting and visuals on the screens became increasingly dramatic, matching the intensity of the music throughout the night. They designed a setlist that felt narrative, which crescendoed and climaxed. Along with that, the colors shifted from cool and neutral, to bold and loud red, white, and black. Behind the band, the all-seeing eye displayed where their logo once appeared. The audience was united in a cathartic experience, as they let go and got lost in A Perfect Circle’s trademark indignation and disdain.
One fan in the audience was overheard saying, “I forgot how hard these guys rock!” and with unrestrained, unabashed love and respect for the band, he yelled louder than all around him.
“We’re gonna end on a high note here in Arizona. Off to Europe for about 3 weeks. So thank you very much for being the cherry on top. A marijuana-stinking cherry.” — Maynard James Keenan
Before going into “Dog Eat Dog”, a tribute to the late Malcom Young of AC/DC, Keenan took a moment to introduce the band members. It was interesting to note the many other music projects all band members are a part of, emphasizing how much of a supergroup A Perfect Circle is.
“Our rhythm section: from Beta Machine, Ashes Divide, Eagles of Death Metal, and Puscifer — Mr. Matt McJunkins, Mr. Jeff Friedl.” McJunkins (Bassist) is also a former touring member of Thirty Seconds to Mars.
He continued, “Guitar & keyboards: from Autolux and Failure, Mr. Greg Edwards.” Edwards is filling in for James Iha, who is currently touring with Smashing Pumpkins. He was also a member of Lusk and Replicants in the past.
“My partner-in-crime: Mr. Billy Howerdel,” he concluded. Howerdel (Lead Guitarist, Keyboardist, and Backup Vocalist) is also frontman of Ashes Divide.
Of course Keenan is also a member of multiple bands on top of A Perfect Circle, including Tool and Puscifer.
Some find the media policies for A Perfect Circle’s shows to be pretentious or mistreating to fans. Like a performance in a symphony hall, the band sends the message that it is a faux pas to raise up a phone in the air during theirs. Others feel that it not only preserves an important atmosphere that keeps integrity to the music and sets their performances to a different level than other rock concerts, but also actually appreciates their fans because the band wants to connect with them like they did in the days before smartphones. There were some in the crowd that could be overheard during the show actually expressing appreciation for the absence of cell phones in the air throughout the concert. The impression was that most, if not all, in attendance left satisfied and delighted.
Following the climax of the performance with four ferocious songs, A Perfect Circle closed out the concert with “Delicious” from the new album. It had the fitting mood of the falling action of the storyline, lyrically segueing into a resolution of sorts:
How inconvenient and unexpected and harrowing for you,
as consequences tend to be
For the rest of us,
so delicious to witness your dread.
Poetic justice consummate.
During these times, it is interesting to see swathes of artists such as A Perfect Circle, Cake, Otep, Eminem, Taylor Swift, and many more, using their platforms to speak out against or oppose President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While some feel that entertainers should “stay in their lane” in topics such as these, it is undeniable that they historically have significant ability to influence the public, for better or for worse. With the success of their world tour, and the large attendance of a concert on a Tuesday night, it is evident that there are a significant number of people that aren’t repelled by their political leanings. In the current political climate, A Perfect Circle’s brooding music serves as an outlet, a beacon of intellect and sanity, and a unifier for like-minded fans that are equally frustrated, angry, and despairing.
While it would be unlikely that Keenan and his band would skip playing his home-state, Arizonans were undoubtedly grateful that they had the opportunity to experience A Perfect Circle live after getting some fresh music from them. Keenan stated in a June 2018 interview that “there should be” more albums in the future. Though Eat the Elephant has proven worth the wait, hopefully it will not be another fourteen years before the next release. Hopefully fans can be treated to another tour in support of the next release, or at least more Arizona shows.
Considering the solid quality and atmosphere of their live performance, the sizable setlist, the supportive experience, and love of their intense music, any fan that may hesitate to make the investment in a concert ticket can rest assured this one is worth it. A Perfect Circle’s show in Phoenix was not a buzzkill.