A Perfect Circle's new go-round
Officially ending a six-year hiatus, the platinum-selling band has launched a tour that has brought it to the Avalon Hollywood.
Maynard James Keenan is not about to explain everything for you. The brooding, melodic, hard rock he's recorded with A Perfect Circle is there for listeners to interpret, and the singer will not characterize songs in any detail.
“Having all the answers delivered to you in a short sound bite keeps you stupid,” Keenan said by phone from Tempe, Ariz., as A Perfect Circle officially ended a six-year hiatus last week by launching a five-city tour. A three-night stop at the Avalon Hollywood began on Monday.
Fans already seem to understand, and have turned what might have once looked like a side project to Keenan's work with Tool into a platinum-selling act with a distinct sound and purpose. On tour this month, A Perfect Circle is devoting each night to a single APC album, including the band's 2000 debut, “Mer de Noms.”
The debut and the two releases that followed were not concept albums by design, Keenan said, but developed a through-line during the recording process.
“Mer de Noms” began as a collection of demo recordings by guitarist Billy Howerdel. “I could just hear potential in it,” remembered Keenan, who was Howerdel's roommate at the time. “When I hear somebody has some music, I immediately hear what it needs. That's where my mind goes. It just so happened I had the time.”
This was during an excruciatingly long break between Tool albums, so Keenan joined Howerdel in the garage studio of their North Hollywood house to complete the songs.
The debut's title is French for “sea of names,” and many of the tracks were given the names of people, including the raging first single, “Judith,” named after Keenan's mother, who was paralyzed from an aneurysm when he was a child. The song deals with the contradictions of faith and personal tragedy, as Keenan sings: “Your lord, your Christ / He did this, took all you had / and left you this way.”
For the band's second album, 2003's “Thirteenth Step,” sessions were moved to the basement of Howerdel's new house in Hollywood. The results were increasingly melodic. Guest musician Jon Brion added what Keenan called “a circus-y, Tom Waits-y vibe” to the band's cover of “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” a song by the '90s band Failure, a favorite of the singer's.
The underlying theme for much of the record involved forms of addiction, with the album title a partial take-off on 12-step philosophy. On “The Outsider,” Keenan looked less at the addicted than at the perception of others.
“People think it's about someone screaming at somebody for being ... an addicted person — when actually the song is about the person who's talking. That song is sung from the perspective of the person who doesn't understand.”
In 2004, A Perfect Circle released “eMotive,” a collection of cover songs timed to that year's presidential election. Eccentric rearrangements turned the likes of John Lennon's “Imagine” and Nick Lowe's “Peace Love and Understanding” into dark meditations on the modern world.
Black Flag's “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” was included as “a great self-centered song of greed or insanity,” Keenan said, while the ominous blues of “When the Levee Breaks” managed to anticipate the coming disaster of New Orleans.
“Our job as artists is to just observe, interpret, report,” said Keenan. “We're a rock band, not a political group, so we have no business telling you how to think. All we can do is express to you how we feel.”
A look at A Perfect Circle's discography:
Mer de Noms
Released: May 23, 2000
Peak SoundScan chart position: No. 4
Fun fact: Coded lettering on the album cover translates as “Cascade of Names,” and indeed, many of the songs are titled after peoples' names.
Released: Sept. 16, 2003
Peak SoundScan chart position: No. 2
Fun fact: Maynard James Keenan has indicated in interviews that the album's conceptual center addresses different forms of addiction; the term “Thirteenth Step” could be seen as a reference to Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step program.
Released: Nov. 1, 2004
Peak SoundScan chart position: No. 2
Fun fact: Released on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, this album of cover songs features renditions of protest songs by, among others, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye and Depeche Mode.
-- Steve Appleford
Photo: A Perfect circle. Credit: Tim Cadiente