A Perfect Circle Scores An Imperfect Seven at NYC's Roseland

Maynard and Co. fail to bring A Perfect Circle's passion to live show
Posted Aug 23, 2000 at 12:00am
When Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan premiered his new project, A Perfect Circle, he said that the music would be driven by passion. The band's debut album, Mer de Noms, delivered on that bold promise in spades. Guitarist and songwriter Billy Howerdel had parlayed his experience in Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins into high hopes for this new, more macabre venture, and with Keenan and his dark lyrics aboard, the songs soar.

In theory, all of that should fly even higher live. As anyone who has seen him in Tool knows, Keenan loves the energy of live performance, and Saturday night at New York City's Roseland, he was as keyed up as the mosh-ready fans. But despite his best efforts, the performance never quite matched the emotional intensity of the album.

Opening act Sunna, Astralwerks' only resident dark-rock band, didn't help matters much. Their set, though surprisingly tight, was punctuated by electronic blips and bleeps echoing out of guitarist Jon Harris' trip-hop past in Massive Attack. It ultimately proved antiseptic and passionless, a bad omen for Keenan and Co.

A Perfect Circle's opening montage -- two women behind a black screen playing strip poker by candlelight in some form of quasi-innocent lesbian foreplay -- offered a symbolic lifting of the veil between performer and audience, smashing boundaries. But it wasn't enough to fully set the mood, even as the band dove headlong into its hour-long set, raging through "Thinking of You," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Rose." But all too often, Keenan's voice was lost in the mix, pummeled beneath ex-Vandals drummer John Freese's insistent heavy-metal pounding and Paz Lenchantin's sturdy bass line.

Through it all, Keenan danced in his Ozzy Osbourne-influenced way, resplendent in long white-blond tresses, skin-tight pants and beach tongs. Lenchantin moved in time to the crowd's raised fists and strenuous moshing, whipping her head and hair in time to Freese's licks and brandishing her instrument like a weapon.

Mere head thrashing should not be confused with actual passion, however, and the latter seemed in curious short supply tonight. The closest the band came was the darkly beautiful "Orestes," and Keenan, perhaps aware that he was not showing enough of his emotive skills, showed flawless vocal grace while surfing the waves of guitar created by Troy Van Leeuwen and Howerdel. But the guitarists seemed stoically unmoved by their own music, standing virtually motionless even as their musical undulations moved the crowd.

A Perfect Circle are admired for their single-mindedness of musical purpose, and the band's monochromatic themes survived the move from disc to stage. But lost were the subtleties of feeling heard on "Sleeping Beauty" and "Judith," the band's first single and the night's closer. A waterfall of guitar replaced passion, and subtlety was disregarded altogether. As the final crash of "Judith" died down, all that was left was a curiously empty feeling and a gnawing disappointment. What should have been a perfect circle was a series of disconnected but beautifully executed arcs -- not entirely unlike like the band's logo.

Written by MARIE ELSIE ST. LÉGER for RollingStone.com News

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