“It’s a crazy time in the world,” Maynard James Keenan singer of A Perfect Circle softly speaks midway through their set at the Honda Center. “Like a combination of Idiocracy and some big Hollywood action movie.” Truly put, the world (and in a more literal sense, two sections of California) is on fire right now. Chaos, divisiveness, hatred and pure avarice are running rampant in our world right now at a rate most living the last thirty years thought we would never see again. While this quip was as a dramatic a statement as was made, much of this set underpinned a larger reaction to the world at large right now. One perhaps buried just underneath the obvious in the band’s performance. The show as a whole featured two openers: newcomers Night Club and trip-hop luminary Tricky. Large corporate venues such as the Honda Center can be unlikely homes for a well-curated lineup of wildly divergent acts (especially when you consider the fans on the floor are literally sitting on a platform covering up an ice hockey rink), but once the bands on this bill found their pocket and captured the crowd’s attention, the setting almost didn’t matter at all. It might as well have been an enormous cave where throngs of the unappreciated gathered for an ultimate sonic ritual, away from the trappings of a harsh world and inclement weather.
All photos by Marv Watson
Exciting new LA band Night Club had the unenviable task of opening for this bill as the fans rounded the concentric arena searching for their seats. Unsurprisingly, given their reputation thus far, the band did an impressive job of converting fans that likely were fully unaware of their existence before this night. The duo features Mark Brooks on a bevy of electronics and Emily Kavanaugh on vocals. The band’s sound, a modern take on what was once known as ‘90s industrial dance music, was satisfying and slightly sinister. Lead singer Kavanaugh worked hard to engage the crowd, calling out to them numerous times in an effort to get them in an excited mood. Stellar recent single “Your Addiction” was bouncy and fun, a solid addition that proved the band’s potential before the capacity crowd. “Candy Coated Suicide” played lyrically to the metaphor of saccharine addiction as an analogy for an attraction to someone who is terrible for you. The band found the audience’s attention firmly on “Dear Enemy,” a danceable kiss-off to a worthy nemesis. Set closer “Bad Girl” was an appropriate conclusion both in terms of sonic aesthetic skronk and Kavanaugh’s vaguely evil Alice in Wonderland-style look.
Original “Wild Bunch” member Tricky (who is as known for his many solo releases as his contribution to the first two Massive Attack albums) played next, ensconced almost completely in darkness. Backed by a drummer and guitarist, Tricky emoted softly from the shadows supported by a female backing vocalist. While it was hard to see what action the performers were taking, Tricky did as he always has, using his voice sparsely allowing for his supporting vocalist to have center stage on numerous cuts. Only one song from his latest album Ununiform was played, “Armor,” while the remainder were culled from a variety of albums released throughout his career. “You Don’t Wanna” from Blowback and “My Palestine Girl” from Adrian Thaws set the tone in which he has always operated successfully: patient and plaintively cool. Occasionally Tricky would direct his band on the fly, calling for heavier guitars or stronger drums through arm motions, which the band would then rush to adjust into the mix. Most surprising was his inclusion of a decently faithful cover of Sia’s career-starting megahit “Breathe Me.” He ended on early career cut “Vent,” getting more spastic in his performance the further the song progressed, ultimately leaving the stage completely prior to the song’s conclusion. It’s a testament to the quality of A Perfect Circle fans how this set was as warmly accepted and appreciated as anything APC did on the evening. It may have been common in the ‘90s, but fans of most conventional hard rock bands nowadays would be far less accepting of sounds outside their usual style.
Nearly everywhere leading into this show—both online and on signs, billboards and video walls around the arena—were constant reminders not to photograph or video record anything at all the whole night. Phones were allowed, but using them to document were discouraged with the threat that usage would likely lead to expulsion from the venue. It was not an idle threat, as a fan sitting close by attempted to take a selfie of just himself sitting in his seat. Within thirty seconds someone from venue security approached the man, inquired to see the photo and warned him from using a camera at all. A Perfect Circle is undeniably intent on bucking the trend of fans documenting everything they see in life. It’s a noble endeavor, as the norm nowadays is for fans to spend more time experiencing shows through their phone than actually watching it in person as it happens, but it does have the feeling of running against the flow of the current, as it is sadly what every member of the American public really wants to do.
Early on into the set, the impetus for this effort rang loudly clear in the words of Eat the Elephant cut “Disillusioned” as an effort to urge the audience to engage in the community aspect of the concert experience. The song opens with the refrain “Dopamine / On Dopamine,” a reference to the brain chemical released that stimulates joy, a known side effect of constant push notifications coming from web-enabled phones. It continues with the pleading refrain, “Time to put the silicon obsession down / take a look around / find a way in the silence / Lie supine away with your back to the ground / dis- and re-connect to the resonance now / You were never an island / Unique / Voice among the many / In this choir / Tuning / Into each other / Lift all higher.” Lead singer Keenan’s voice angelically tumbled the last few words out without instrumental accompaniment, allowing the crowd to soak in their request for a truly in-the-moment experience.
While numerous songs were played from their groundbreaking debut Mer de Noms—including “The Hollow,” “Rose,” “3 Libras” and “Judith” to a name a few—the bulk of the night’s selections focused expectedly from their recent Eat the Elephant release. Each song played seemingly as a more-and-more dire illumination of the worldwide discord playing out in real time. “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,” itself a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, specifically the moment the dolphins abandon the Earth before it is destroyed, appears to dabble in the theory that some of our best and brightest souls are exiting our world as perhaps its end is drawing close. Nods to visionary artists and celebrities recently deceased abound throughout the song including Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher and Muhammad Ali. A short time later, a fitting response to that sentiment comes in the band’s long-done cover of the Brinsley Schwarz song “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
As this current, chaotic stretch in world history arguably started with the election of Donald Trump, we can take the small risk of inferring that the “The Contrarian” is making a subtle jab at his ascendency. The lines “Hello, he lied / Beware, belie his smile / As warm and calculated as heroin / Beware the Contrarian,” hint at the endless lies that the current USA President spews and also his endlessly combative nature while guitarist Billy Howerdel masterfully invokes a wall of sonic dissonance. “TalkTalk” takes on the country’s inability to stem the tide of senseless gun violence. A haunting piano line sets the framework (here played by Failure’s Greg Edwards who is subbing in for James Iha currently touring with the reunited Smashing Pumpkins) and Keenan’s words take dead aim on the useless missive of “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of gun violence. He states with solemnity, “While you deliberate / bodies accumulate,” punching this hard on home later by adding, “Sit and talk like Jesus / Try walkin’ like Jesus / Try braving the rain / Try lifting the stone / Try extending a hand / Try walkin’ your talk or get the fuck out of my way.”
Most impressive amidst these foreboding recent cuts are “Hourglass” and “The Doomed” which come near the set’s end. “Hourglass” goes for full-on DEVO electro politic rock, a superb vocoder effect punctuating the song’s playful yet ominous chorus of “Aristocrat breaks down to / Timocrat breaks down to / Oligarch breaks down to / Republocrat breaks down to / No hope left in the hourglass.” The lines make a fully un-subtle strike at the rich and greedy forces worldwide madly grabbing all they can for themselves while the world hurtles towards seemingly avoidable destruction, time running out for us all. Their money and power won’t save them if the worst comes to pass. The band’s rhythm section of Matt McJunkins and Jeff Friedl makes this one stomp with thick, jubilant force. “The Doomed” meanwhile is the bow that ties all this fear and avarice together. Keenan sings with delicate optimism “What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful? / What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful? / What of the righteous? What of the charitable? / What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?” before answering with a screamed snarl, “Doomed are the poor / Doomed are the peaceful / Doomed are the meek / Doomed are the merciful.” I know. It’s enough to shake a benevolent person to their foundations. Alternatively, need convincing? How about how in the wake of this year’s massive tax cuts that benefitted large corporations most, how the majority have taken the massive savings and re-invested them in stock buybacks rather than raising wages for their workers? The world A Perfect Circle sees in Eat the Elephant is one where the thieves and pimps truly run free and the malevolent are treating the decent as snacks in a bowl full of candy, unable to think for themselves and undeserving of charity, love or compassion.
On the flip side amidst the negative societal reflection, the cuts the band play from their masterpiece Thirteenth Step play particularly well with the fans on hand. “Vanishing” is gorgeous rumination. The largest reaction of the night comes midway in the performance of “The Noose” where Keenan decides to let ring longer the words, “So glad to see you well.” The penultimate song of the night, “The Package” delivers the most powerful catharsis. Its patient and mounting tension of an assailant hell-bent on fulfilling an addiction regardless of the consequences is jaw-dropping in its ultimate intensity.
There are few bands that play what we commonly regard as hard rock with such eloquence and artistry in today’s music industry. To call A Perfect Circle alternative rock would be a disservice to how seriously they take trying to make the collection of guitars, drums and vocals render something more profound than what Frank Zappa had long joked amounted to a “petulant frenzy.” But for those of you already A Perfect Circle fans, this is probably no surprise to learn. It is why they are their own beautiful island and stand vividly in stark contrast to most of what is comparable out there. It’s why acts as variant stylistically as Night Club and Tricky could nestle in here as if form and function should not matter. And in this realm, they clearly don’t. All that does is an insistence for decency and purity, a determined plea to make the music a template for personal and cultural improvement.
Night Club Setlist
Candy Coated Suicide
You Don’t Wanna
I’m Not Going
My Palestine Girl
Here My Dear
Breathe Me (Sia Cover)
A Perfect Circle Setlist
Eat the Elephant
Weak and Powerless
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums
All photos by Marv Watson