BY MIKE WOLVERTON In a parallel universe, A Perfect Circle would be Rock-and-Roll Gods, appealing in equal measure to metal meatheads, pretentious art-rockers and even the ladies. But in this universe, A Perfect Circle has a problem. Their dynamic singer, Maynard James Keenan, is also the frontman for a much bigger band (Tool), which is his top priority. That means that while Tool is recording or touring, A Perfect Circle is stuck in a holding pattern, working around Keenan’s availability. The excellent debut album (2000’s Mer de Noms) was followed in 2003 by the fantastic Thirteenth Step. A year later came the much weaker eMOTIVe, an album of covers with significant arrangement overhauls. I love the idea of this album, a high-quality rock band covering tunes like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, “Imagine” from John Lennon, as well as tunes by Fear, Zeppelin, Black Flag and Joni Mitchell. But whenever I put it on my optimism quickly vanishes and I remember that the album kind of blows, and I’m not sure why. It like an experiment in how to suck all the excitement out of a song (or twelve).
Since 2004, there has been no new material from A Perfect Circle. Tool has been busy with an album and tours, and Keenan has filled his remaining “downtime” with wine-making (his Caduceus Cellars in Arizona has been in operation since 2004), a documentary (Blood Into Wine, about the vineyard), and another side project (the awesome Puscifer). One might have thought he had moved on from A Perfect Circle, and the band’s other founder, guitarist Billy Howerdel, may have thought so as well, as he recorded an album without Keenan in 2008 under the name Ashes Divide (the record, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, is pretty good).
So where does this leave A Perfect Circle? Without a new album, most importantly. And that lack was painfully evident on Saturday night at Festival Pier. I’ve seen this band before in the mid-2000’s, and they worked entirely from their two original albums. Early in this show, I wondered what we were in for, if it was just going to be a replay of that set. Those are great songs, but that’s lame to just redo the same show six years later. The band seemed to feel the same way, because this show leaned heavily on the eMOTIVEe album. Which I’ve already established as crappy. And while I didn’t necessarily mind this tack (better than a re-hash), plenty of people in the crowd objected. These eMOTIVEe songs are mostly very slow versions, and while perhaps interesting, it’s not the kind of material that goes over well with an inebriated, outdoor Saturday summer crowd. It’s been a long time since I heard so much conversation among the people all around me, ignoring the band, seeming to wait for the tunes they knew. Which was only a third of the set. Those songs rocked, but the others did not rock.
Other than “The Outsider”, which kicks ass and always will, the best song A Perfect Circle played on Saturday was their one new song, “By and Down”. It makes the whole thing so frustrating, because this band is ready to explode but lacks the material. I don’t know if Keenan is too busy, or Howerdel is caught in limbo, not knowing which band to be writing for. Perhaps there is a writer’s block problem. But I can’t escape the feeling that there is another great record out there to be made by this collective. I hope Howerdel and Keenan find the time to make it.
Outside the venue, I spotted two guys haranguing others as they walked by, saying, “That was horrible! Terrible! Show me one person that liked that show!” A few people defended the band, while some others agreed with the castigation. That’s another first for me: fans fomenting post-show discontent. Overall I’d call this show a minor disappointment, but I’m still glad I went. Finally, what the fuck is with the human crush trying to get out of Festival Pier? Spend a few bucks and make the rest of that fence into a gate(s) that can be opened after the show. Ridiculous and totally unacceptable.