I realize that I’m prone to hyperbole and am always speaking of “my favorite drink” or “the greatest song ever” or that one time that was “the best,” but believe me (if you can) when I claim that A Perfect Circle is among my absolute favorite bands of all time. Ever. And if you are looking for me to back up yet another audacious claim, take the fact that I flew to Las Vegas to see them as proof.
In 1999, Billy Howerdel, a former guitar tech for the band Tool approached friend and Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan with some music he had written. The two expanded the concept into the supergroup A Perfect Circle by bringing in drummer Josh Freese (of Devo, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, The Vandals,…) as well as Paz Lenchantin and Troy Van Leeuwen. The group is an alternative rock band that is forceful, but beautiful with intricate and moving lyrics and layered string sounds. After two albums of original music and an album of political covers released in time for the 2004 election, the group faded away with members returning to their respective bands. The APC front remained quiet until late 2010 when a few Twitter posts announced what I had though would never happen: the group was “shaking the dust off.” A short tour of the West Coast was planned and some minor work on new music was possible. I nearly wept, and in short order, with assurances from friends that I was only mildly crazy, I snagged tickets to the last two dates in Las Vegas.
If you count plane tickets, hotel and money lost at roulette, these were far-and-away the most expensive concerts I had attended, but I found many others in the crowd that had laid out the same investment to see these guys reunited again. I worried in the weeks leading up to the show that I had built the event up too much in my head and would be let down, but as the first notes were struck in The Pearl Theater at The Palms Casino, I smiled with glee and knew all was right.
On the first night, APC played their technically best album, Mer de Noms. It is a brilliant and gorgeous work that has a dynamic range, from soft cooing over lovely and delicate backdrops as in the album closer “Over”, to the searing cuts of “Fuck your God,” in “Judith,” Keenan’s outpouring of frustration over betrayal by family and friends in the wake of his mother’s illness. The album is vocally demanding and I’ve seen Keenan say in several interviews that he struggled recreating the range heard on the album. In a few places you could hear that he had dropped some parts an octave and for “3 Libras,” (what is easily in my top 10 songs ever (there’s that hyperbole again)), the band played a reworked, remix version. For “Sleeping Beauty,” Keenen revealed, “I fucking hate singing that song, but for you guys, I’ll do it.”
On the second night, we were treated to Thirteenth Step, a more aggressive work dealing with drug abuse and rehabilitation, the title itself being an allusion to those ubiquitous 12-step programs. It is a work that holds a lot of personal importance for me as it was on heavy rotation during my undergraduate time at Ohio University; hearing it instantly transports me back there, and (though this will surely make sense to no one but me,) specifically to a fallen log along the Hockhocking Adena bikeway where I used to read Dante. The highlight this night was certainly the gorgeous building beast which is “The Noose,” a song rich with symbolism and which grows in intensity, reaches an explosive climax, then backs up to almost nothing as the crowd echoes the final damning lyric, “Your halo’s slipping down to choke you now.” I’m getting chills as I write this. Just watch the clip below from an earlier show.
The newest incarnation of the group retains Howerdel, Keenan and Freese, but adds Matt McJunkins on bass and James Iha (of The Smashing Pumpkins) on second guitar. The group seemed tight even though this tour was informally billed “A Rehearsal among Friends.” Though a larger tour is possible, I’m glad that I got to see these small venue, intimate shows; I feel like I was part of something special. My fingers are crossed that we’ll hear some new tunes from the group soon, but I can live life a little more happily having now seen my idols up close.