Memorial Hall -- Wednesday, August 30, 2000

A Perfect Circle/Sunna 

Memorial Hall -- Wednesday, August 30, 2000

"We only have one album, and it's not very long, but here you are," said enigmatic thinking-man's metal icon Maynard James Keenan to the adoring faithful that gathered to see his new group, A Perfect Circle, perform the artsy compositions from its debut effort, Mer de Noms. With those words, the quintet launched into a cover to supplement its short set, and although its version of The Cure's "Love Song" was competent and, at times, likeably weird, the crowd was doubtlessly counting on Keenan's drawing into the catalog of his other group, Tool, for set list padding. When the group's set ended an hour after it began without one mention of the band that has spawned one the biggest cults of fandom in alternative rock, there were murmurs of discontent.

Not that this was necessarily fair. After all, A Perfect Circle is a completely different project, one for which Keenan didn't even write the music (guitarist Billy Howerdel penned these dark, swirling compositions). Nonetheless, Tool is the unofficial leader in band bumper stickers sold and the verified leader in inspiring feature-demanding letters to such magazines as Spin, and without the pull of Keenan's other band, most of the crowd would have stayed at home rather than ventured out to see an anonymous, albeit talented, group of this ilk. Because of this, some surely felt that Keenan owed them something, although it seemed as if these devoted followers had difficulty holding a grudge, considering they cheered his every spastic move.

A Perfect Circle opened its set with a bit of theater -- specifically, two women playing strip poker by candlelight before engaging in a passionate kiss while piano music played in the background. Judging by the approving hoots that greeted this skit, many would have liked to see the show come full Circle with the conclusion of their game, but these actresses were not to reappear. Instead, the band started to play, although they remained somewhat obscured by a thin screen that hung in front of the stage. This curtain came crashing down toward the end of the first set, and, in a similar fashion, Keenan's pants later dropped to the floor. "It's hot," explained the long-maned singer apologetically. Indeed, it was rather stuffy inside Memorial Hall, and staggering around like a wounded animal, as Keenan did throughout the night, will surely raise one's body temperature.

This is a group that revels in mystery, from its video for "Judith," during which David Fincher shot the band mostly from behind, to its concert, which featured a light show that mostly cast its beams into the crowd, leaving the musicians shadowy. The musicians obviously could see well enough to deliver tight renditions of their handful of tunes, with the set-ending "Judith" producing the most power. Keenan's voice was golden, and he was able to overpower the hundreds of fans who shouted his lines at top volume without sacrificing clarity or emotional nuance. Josh Freese (Vandals, Devo), one of rock's finest working drummers, provided skillful and subtly heavy percussion, while Howerdel, bassist Paz Lenchantin (who also played violin), and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen contributed occasional bursts of brilliance in addition to their constant steady support. The group's songs, save "Judith," rarely approach the hard-driving intensity of Tool, but A Perfect Circle's sparse, slower-paced material offers a fitting showcase for Keenan's stellar vocals. Yet although Keenan's gifts were well utilized, the grumbling masses moving toward the exits at 9:45 p.m. obviously would have liked to see the singer's pipes get a much longer workout.

Setting the stage for Keenan and company was Sunna, another group led by a psuedo-famous frontman (Jon Harris of Massive Attack) with only one album to its credit. This band's odd, plodding mix of psychedelic guitars, pulsing industrial beats, and slow-to-form heavy grooves made it the ideal opener for the equally obtuse A Perfect Circle, and several of its tunes displayed real promise. And by concluding its set with a flourish, tacking a convincing jam filled with drum rolls and false endings onto its last tune, Sunna left the crowd wanting more without angering fans. Sometimes, the opening slot is a blessing.

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