Fabric stalactites hung from the ceiling of the stage giving the perception that the audience was peering into a dark cave. And dark it was. Dark and foggy. Three raised, circular platforms which doubled in height moving left to right with the far-right circle being roughly 5 feet off the ground and housing the drum set of Jeff Friedl. On the far-left, lowest circle was James Iha, renowned for his days with Smashing Pumpkins, playing guitar and keyboards. And in the center, mid-height circle dressed in all black and barely visible was lead singer Maynard James Keenan known most famously as the front man and creator of the group Tool. His pure, four-octave vocals clearly emanated from the “cave” in an almost omnipotent way while guitarist Billy Howerdel and bassist Matt McJunkins moved freely in the front of the stage.
Throughout the A Perfect Circle show on Sunday night at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, we never really saw Keenan. Instead, we were left to decipher hazy details as light was never shone directly on him. What was apparent were his bleached-blonde pigtails, a double-breasted, shoulder-padded black military coat with some sort of tassels tied around his waist, and black pants. Other than that, we never got a clear picture of him. I have no doubt that this was done on purpose as something symbolic, just as the three platforms undoubtedly mocked the holy trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with Keenan occupying the Christ role. “Behold a new Christ, behold the same old horde. Gather at the altar(ing). New beginning, new word. And the word was death. And the word was without light. The new beatitude: good luck, you’re on your own.
Those lyrics are from APC’s newest song “The Doomed,” which was the next-to-last song of the night, and is off an upcoming 2018 album that Keenan announced wasn’t a rumor, but was “from the horse’s mouth.” Keenan did not give specifics of the new album, but whatever it will be called and whenever it will be released will be a mere 14 years after their last studio album Emotive from 2004. Sometimes genius takes time and the new album will undoubtedly be steeped with Keenan’s signature genius.
APC opened with “The Package” off of their second album Thirteenth Step and included a good mix of tunes from all three of their albums. In between, we were entertained by Keenan’s whit, quips, and pieces of wisdom. During his opening remarks, he claimed to be glad to be in Kentucky because Kentucky is where they make bourbon. Cheers to that. Prior to covering John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Keenan lamented the current political environment of our country and had a simple solution: we need to learn to talk to each other. He also stopped mid-song during “Thinking of You” to discuss the difficulty of staying in shape while on the road to which he promptly broke out a shake weight in each hand and moved suggestively around his circular platform before clarifying that it was his attempt at humor. He later claimed that today’s rock-n-roll is boring and needs more butt sex, a topic that Keenan has always been known to obsess about. Finally, prior to “The Outsider,” the last song of the night, Keenan told the audience to look out for each other on the way home.
The one thing about APC that makes them stand out from most of their contemporaries is their thoughtfully deep, symbolic lyrics mixed with the varied slow and hard rock music. Everything means something. And every song has a message to share and to be pondered. Experiencing APC in concert is no different. Every detail is most likely painstakingly obsessed over and meant to further the theme or message of the show. If I were to guess, I’d say that Keenan’s biggest goal is to get his fans to think and not just listen. I have no doubt that APC’s fourth studio album will be no different. Hopefully, upon its release APC will go back on tour and revisit us. If so, this is a show you definitely want to experience.
Set list: The Package, The Hollow, The Noose, Weak and Powerless, Rose, Imagine, By and Down, Thomas, People are People, Blue, Vanishing, Thinking of You, Gravity, 3 Libras, Hourglass, Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums, The Doomed, The Outsider.