A Perfect Circle, the prog-grunge-gone-atmospherick-rock brainchild of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan and former tool roadie Billy Howerdel, released their long-awaited (fourteen years, to be precise) fourth album Eat The Elephant this year. To promote this, the band played two sold-out London shows at the Brixton Academy, filled to the brim with old and new fans alike.
The choice of serene piano ballad ‘Eat The Elephant’ for concert opener was an early indicator that this was not to be a show that blindly follows the rock clichés. Stood on a podium at centre-back of the stage, Maynard remained a silhouette shrouded in darkness throughout the show, giving us only shadow outlines of his frantic dancing and a rare glimpse of his face when the lights fell in a particular way. This has been his approach for some time now, as he has argued in the past: “I’m not a frontman. I’m just part of the story”. Once he opened his mouth however, the angelic voice we all know and love instantly filled the Brixton Academy, forceful and gentle at the same time.
The grungy riffs of first album classic ‘The Hollow’ ramped the energy of older fans up, while new cut ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ – an atypical entry in their discography by all accounts – evoked an enthusiastic audience sing-along. With Maynard at the back, guitarist Billy Howerdel stepped up competently to fill the centre-stage gap as he patrolled every corner of the stage, headbanging and swinging to the rhythms, and even taking over on lead vocals for the hypnotic re-imagining of Depeche Mode’s ‘People Are People’.
A Perfect Circle have been adopting a controversial no camera policy at their concerts on this tour, forbidding any members of the audience from taking any pictures and videos, and threatening with eviction if caught doing so. The result was a throwback to a time long gone, when the light of smartphone screens did not compete with that from the projectors, with everyone’s attention forced towards what’s happening on stage (if they could shake off the anxiety of not sharing this on Instagram, that is). While there were a couple of cheeky daredevils who snuck in a quick shot, the vast majority of the crowd complied and made it a better experience for themselves and the band.
The Eat The Elephant album cuts hit harder in the live setting where Billy’s guitars came more to the forefront than on the piano-heavy record, and more of their shared DNA with APC’s older material became apparent. The marching verse and massive chorus of ‘The Doomed’, and the piano-doom of ‘Talk Talk’ make them a certain live staple for the future. However, the high number of songs from that album meant that the mood veered a little too much towards the mid-tempo, resulting in a slight second-half lull. Older fan favourites like ‘The Noose’ and ‘The Package’ snuck in between to jubilant reception, but the band were quick to return to showcasing their newest material – still great, but more atmospheric than a 5,000-packed concert would imply. In this configuration of song choice and stage setting, A Perfect Circle would almost make more sense as a seated gig, which would enable them to ramp up the performance art elements and highlight the fantastic musicianship.
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Despite a slightly untraditional interpretation of the big rock gig, A Perfect Circle delivered a memorable show with amazing sound and the inimitable vocals of Maynard James Keenan. If you liked Eat The Elephant, going to see them on this tour is an absolute must. Even if the album wasn’t exactlu to your taste, it is undeniable that A Perfect Circle’s performance is on a superb level, and the older favourites sound every bit as fresh and hard-hitting as they did 15 years ago.
A Perfect Circle are back in the UK this winter:
Sunday 2nd December – O2 Academy, Glasgow
Monday 3rd December – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
Wednesday 5th December – SSE Arena Wembley, London