by Dave Thomas, Billboard Magazine

Once just a side project for Tool singer Maynard James Keenan and guitar tech Billy Howerdel, A Perfect Circle's all-star line-up now includes James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, Twiggy Ramirez (Marilyn Manson) on bass and Josh Freese on drums. The group blasted out new material from its upcoming Virgin album, "Thirteenth Step," Aug. 9 at a sold-out show at the Metro in Chicago.

Ever since its first tour, A Perfect Circle has played large venues. Squeezing its high-decibel sound into the 1,000-capacity Metro proved daunting, as a blown generator forced the club to delay opening the doors for over an hour.

All seemed forgiven as the well-known musicians took the stage on a number of raised tiers. Ramirez and Howerdel stood on the stage itself while Freese and Iha were elevated behind them, book-ending an even higher peak that housed Keenan in a curtained box. As the band dug into "The Hollow," the curtain covering Keenan dropped to reveal the diminutive singer.

A particularly intense "Magdalena" followed, with Iha seeming more animated than during his tenure with the Smashing Pumpkins. The heavy material seemed to sit well with him and the dressed down Ramirez, whose solid playing was always overshadowed by presentation with Marilyn Manson. But it was Freese who provided the bulk of the power. His blistering drum work throughout the show, especially on older songs like "Thinking of You," held the work of the other four together flawlessly.

Iha was more than understated in his role of rhythm guitarist. He played riff after riff without much deviation or improvisation. Somehow, he found himself playing second fiddle once again to a solo-loving bald man, as Howerdel dominated lead duties.

Keenan's vocals pierced through the heavy guitar din as he gyrated spastically on his pedestal. The singer seemed most interested in promoting the band's upcoming album, mentioning its Sept. 16 release date repeatedly between songs and asking the audience to "buy it," perhaps in reference to illegal Internet downloading. Luckily, new songs like "The Package" and "Weak and Powerless" spoke well for themselves. Although very much in the vein of past material, all the new tracks offered distinctive structures and delivery from Keenan and crew.

But the highlight of the night was former bassist Paz Lenchantin's guest appearance playing violin during APC's most well-known song, "3 Libras." While her backing vocals are sorely missed in the new incarnation, it was an apparent love fest among her and the band as she hugged Ramirez and Howerdel after the song. The audience reacted wildly and offered the loudest applause of the night.

APC finished the show rather abruptly with a cover of Failure's "The Nurse Who Loved Me" and its own single, "Judith." A seeming nod to departed guitarist and former Failure member Troy Van Leeuwen (now playing with Queens Of The Stone Age), the cover was given the APC treatment with layers of atmospheric guitar tone.

Although a bit brief at 70 minutes, the show found the band growing more cohesive with every song. For the devoted, the performance offered a glimpse of what to expect from this highly touted assembly of hard rockers.