Dropping “An Evening With” in front of a band’s name is usually a good indicator that there will be no opening acts. There’s a slight air of pretension in that prefix as well — this is going to be a more sophisticated sit-down, less fist-raising kind of a rock show. The fact that A Perfect Circle led off their six-week U.S. tour at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a venue known for hosting symphonies and jazz ensembles, only added to the mystery of what Wednesday night’s performance might look and sound like.
As it turned out, the audience members did get out of their (not-so-cheap) seats; fists found their way toward the sky; and there was an opening act in the form of Red Bacteria Vacuum, a female trio from Japan that was too cute for words and extremely high on rock’n’roll energy. These grrrls’ poppy punk recalled Japanese legends Shonen Knife and ’80s OG metalheads Loudness set to a techno backdrop. It was a fun and loose 30-minute set that contrasted the moody tone of A Perfect Circle.
And it was a night of contrasts. APC fans swarmed “the Schnitz” — as it’s referred to among Portlanders — forming long beer lines in the lobby before finally filing into the theater (picture the inhabitants of Heavy Metal Parking Lot getting dropped off at the Apollo in New York City).
The giddiness in the air could be attributed to the alcohol, or the fact that it was just last November that A Perfect Circle reformed after a six-year hiatus. And while the musical climate has changed significantly since then, there’s likely still a spot for the five-piece among the other b(l)ands stacked on the Modern Rock charts. Although A Perfect Circle always felt like Tool-lite — musically not as daring or strange, at the same time a little nü-er and sexier — APC has always benefited from the astute wordplay of vocalist Maynard James Keenan.
Keenan’s presence Wednesday night was obscured by darkness as he took his place at the rear of the stage. The other members — guitarist/co-founder Billy Howerdel, guitarist James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins, and drummer Jeff Friedl — were dressed to the nines, which mirrored the crispness of the band’s music.
They pulled equally from their three records, pulling off especially flawless facsimiles of “Weak and Powerless” from 2003’s Thirteenth Step and their biggest “hit” “The Hollow,” off their 2000 debut Mer de Noms. But it was A Perfect Circle’s covers of classic songs that made audience members take notice (for better or for worse).
“In my defense, if I may, we’ve only played this four times,” Keenan warned before launching into a cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” “And rehearsals don’t count, because you don’t have hundreds of people staring at your fucking fat rolls.”
He had nothing to worry about: a) All five members are quite svelte, and b) Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Black Flag’s “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Fiddle and the Drum” (all of which appear on the band’s politically charged eMOTIVe) were virtually unrecognizable in the hands of A Perfect Circle, who turned them into dramatic and spacey voyages. The audience went along, too, pumping their fists with the heavy beats, or doing some sort of hippie sway (again with the contrast).
Actually, the entire evening could be summed up as one long, slowly revealing drama. Which song would the band play next? Do the members drink Keenan’s wine backstage? And, more important, what does this all mean? On the prospect of re-entering the studio, Keenan told SPIN that they might put out a couple of songs: “The energy is good, so there’s always the potential for a future.”
Perhaps A Perfect Circle’s next project should be called Mood Ring.