What does David Byrne of Talking Heads have to do with Maynard James Keenan? David did a Ted Talk in 2010 about music and architecture that I’ve found to be fascinating. The rooms that Mozart wrote in were small and could handle the complexity of the music he was creating. The ultimate worst thing for music in terms of architecture was Arena Rock. Yet, if done well, it can be a sweet sound. When I think of A Perfect Circle, I can only think of Arena Rock acoustics. The medium speed drumming and big guitar, along with Maynard’s voice just seems to fill an arena.
The Beta Machine was the unfortunate opener for A Perfect Circle. Why unfortunate? When a large amount of the fans turn up in Tool t-shirts, they only have one thing on their mind. It’s like having The Beatles play live and no matter how good the opening band is, it’s simply not The Beatles. Yet, The Beta Machine might have won over a few fans. They sounded great, although I could hear a little echo from the drums, the Arena Rock Architecture curse. They played with a mood that would get us warmed up for the next act. I came in one or two songs into their set and it was hard for me to see who was singing. It turns out, it was Claire Acey (Nightmare and the Cat) at the keyboards in a dark set, which would set the tone for the evening. She eventually came to the forefront, and my first impression was a female version of David Bowie. I hate to talk about looks, because we all know that isn’t important, but when I saw her sing, her long slender build with bell bottom pants, it reminded me on a young Bowie, except for the long hair. A sort of cool persona that captured our gaze. When Matt McJunkins spoke about how happy they were to open up for A Perfect Circle, some joker behind me yelled: “Get a psychiatrist” in French. What? So random. Even Maynard would get the same request by this mental health advocate, who may have had one beer too many.
A large semi-see-through curtain was covering the whole stage when A Perfect Circle took the stage. Shadows appeared on the screen, projected by lights behind them, making them larger than life. They start off with “The Package” from The Thirteenth Step. As the song progressed we eventually see the profile of Maynard, with great applause from the crowd. Unfortunately, that would probably be the clearest view of the singer we get this evening.
Guests were warned on many occasions that pictures were prohibited, with the consequence being ejection from the concert. As a concert attendee, it was refreshing to be at a show and not be distracted from myriads of fans watching the show from behind a cell phone. On occasion, I do have to take pictures, when I review and I don’t have a photographer. I feel bad if I’m distracting others, but I’m not a professional, so I have to take a lot of pictures to get a few good ones, good enough to make it into the article. I’ve become pretty adept with my iPhone, but hats off to the pros out there, there really is talent in this city when it comes to concert photography. Tonight was a photographer’s nightmare. The first song was simply a screen with shadows, the other song they were allowed to shoot from the sound console was dark and filled with smoke, as would be the rest of the concert.
The whole show, we weren’t sure if it was really Maynard, as we could only see a shadow with long hair in the shadows. Yet, without a visual cue, that voice that is so unique would confirm to us all, that Maynard was front and center, yet recessed and in the dark.
I don’t know Maynard, never met him, so I can’t talk as to why he chooses to be in the recesses of the stage. I do know that he is passionate about making wine in Arizona. It would be easy for a rock star to simply attach his name to a famous Californian winery, but no, that’s not the Maynard way. He starts Caduceus winery, including one wine called Judith, named after his mother. His movie Blood Into Wine shows Maynard with his hands in the dirt creating wine in a harsh environment. I could understand how one would want to keep that persona of a down to earth Vintner yet keep feeding that creative side. Maybe his choice to remain in the background is his compromise of sticking close to his new passion, yet feeling that need to continue creating and performing for the fans that have allowed him this lifestyle. Regardless, whether in Tool or A Perfect Circle, Maynard remains but a shadow of the rock star he is.
The next song would come from Mer de Noms with “The Hollow”. The lights, the smoke and the effects would amplify the arena with a full sound that brings back memories of this soundtrack to my life. When I lived in cottage country (Morin Heights), I would have a 1 hour commute. Many a night, I would drive in the dark to the sound of A Perfect Circle and this song would bring me back to that time, driving in the dark, shadows flying past me.
Being a DJ for 25 years, it kind of stays in your blood. I was my own DJ at my wedding, so it just made sense to be the DJ for my funeral. I created a playlist while at McSorley’s in New York City with my buddy Kevin called “Songs to Die For”. “The Noose” is on that list. I just hope that halo doesn’t slip down just yet.
“Weak and Powerless” came next. I can’t help but to sing “Desperate and Ravenous, I’m so weak and powerless over you”. I’m glad that when I think of who I’m weak and powerless over, it’s my wife of 26 years. To me, this is a positive song and I’m all but too happy to be vulnerable with the one I chose to be with.
Before the cover of “Imagine” by John Lennon, Maynard spoke about how they were slammed for being so political with eMOTIVe. How appropriate this John Lennon classic applies to what is needed in our world today. While peace is elusive, we dreamers are not the only ones.
“Magdalena” to me is the perfect Arena Rock song. Slow and heavy, it filled Place Bell with emotion and intensity that is the signature of A Perfect Circle. That huge guitar riff just filled the venue with wall to wall sound.
Three songs from a yet unreleased album that Maynard promised would come in 2018 were played tonight. “Hourglass” would be the first. “The Doomed” would be another which is the only one released on Apple Music. It’s clear that Maynard doesn’t like the current political climate in the US and feels it is the duty of artists to speak out and “share the light.” Share the light via a very dark song with a “canary in a coal mine” type of message, exposing how the meek are weak. I can’t help but think how Maynard appears meek in the shadows, proclaiming a message yet not wanting the attention to be directed to him. Yet meekness is actually a strength, having the confidence of not needing to be fed by a mass crowd of people to tell you that you are good enough.
The last song of the evening would also be new, “Feathers”. With an appetite for new material, the fans slowly exited the building after a powerful and memorable show, with the absence of an encore.
For non fans of A Perfect Circle, I could see why they would be disappointed to not see the man that supposedly fronts the band in the spotlight. For fans of A Perfect Circle, we realize that like the logo of the band, the circle isn’t perfect. There is a side that is larger than the other. Could it be that Maynard’s presence is larger than it should be? Hence, he chooses to be the smaller half circle in the band, letting the others shine, like founder Billy Howerdel and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, along with Matt McJunkins and Jeff Friedl.
In the end, I was absorbed by the music and the mystery of Maynard in the shadows. Since none apart from our brave photographers were allowed to shoot, I was fine with the veil of darkness and lights that made the band only partially visible. What we lacked in sight, we made up in sound. In my opinion, the best Arena Band that ever was.
Weak and Powerless
Imagine (John Lennon Cover)
By and Down
Peace, Love and Understanding (Brinsley Schwarz Cover)
Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drum
Photos – Steve GerrardShare this :