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Review: A Perfect Circle at Red Rocks, 8/2/11

A PERFECT CIRCLE at RED ROCKS | 8/2/11


It seems more than a bit paradoxical that A Perfect Circle's frontman prefers to perform in background. With Tool, his primary band, and with A Perfect Circle, Maynard James Keenan is an enormous presence. His voice is the driving force of both acts. And yet live, he chooses to blend unassumingly into the shadows on platform by himself off to the side, shrouded in darkness.

And while this sort of seemingly subversive tactic would clearly detract from just about any other artist's performance, with Keenan, who happens to possess one of the most captivating voices in all of rock, it actually enhances the experience of seeing him live, allowing you -- nay, forcing you -- to focus almost entirely on the imposing power of his vocals.

With A Perfect a Circle, Keenan is obviously far less dynamic than he is with Tool. Just the same, he's no less affecting. With exception of certain passages on songs like "Hollow" and "Outsider," in which he opened up and explored the higher reaches of his register, he mostly crooned in a vigorous midrange as the band made its way through a set that consisted of songs from all three releases, including a choice selection of covers from eMOTIVe.

Some takes fared far better than others. John Lennon's "Imagine," a song that's famous for being hopeful and empowering, was rendered positively dirge-like and dour, while "What's Going On" was unforgivably neutered by a droney minor key arrangement that sucked all of the soul out of the original. Despite this, Keenan somehow managed to tap into the exasperation of the tune, infusing it with an underlying tension and disquieted desparation that added an unexpected depth to the Marvin Gaye classic.

Although Keenan's vocals served as the undeniable centerpiece of the songs, the singer was accompanied by a band of notably accomplished musicians, particularly guitarist Billy Howerdel. In addition to showcasing some fine fretwork throughout the set, the guitarist - who could get work as a stunt double for Billy Corgan if ever there was a need -- tickled the ivories of a toy piano on "Annihilation," which opened the show, and later expertly added eerie, disembodied, falsetto harmonies on songs like "When the Levee Breaks" and expertly channeled Keenan as he sang lead on "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" The band's drummer (Jeff Friedl?) turned in an equally impressive standout performance.

The staging wasn't very elaborate. Rolls of chainmail-like fencing, resembling an industrial grade mosquito netting, were draped from three sides of the stage and served as the backdrop in which APC's logo was affixed to. The unrelenting rain pitched in to provide another unexpected visual element that perfectly suited the downcast nature of A Perfect Circle's music.

While standing in the rain for extended periods of time is normally wearisome and tedious on every front, on this evening, what would've otherwise been considered a dreary midsummer night, the rain felt oddly cleansing. Not only did it provide a welcome repreive from the stifiling heat we've been experiencing recently, but the solid sheets of rain added the ideal shading to songs, particularly when illuminated. Ironically, as soon as the band trotted out "When the Levee Breaks," with Keenan singing the lines "if it keeps on raining, the levee is going to break," the rain slowed to a mist.

It yet another incongruent snapshot from a night in which incongruity seemed to be the theme. Before taking the stage, after a lively and entertaining set from Red Bacteria Vacuum, a Japanese pop-punk trio, a selection of showtunes from the Sound of Music played over the speakers -- not exactly the type of music you'd expect to hear in before a band like A Perfect Circle. Turned out to be a perfectly fitting palate cleanser.


CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK


Personal Bias: Marvin Gaye is like god to me. His songs are sacred and should not be messed with. By anybody. Ever. By the Way: Typing into my phone during the set attracted the attention of security, who approached me and said, "You know about no pictures, right?" Also, there was no video elements whatsoever. The screen to the right of the stage was dark the entire set. Random Detail: Walked into the venue with Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips and some of his crew.



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