A Perfect Circle's Revolving Door
By John Lamb

Defining A Perfect Circle’s sound is as difficult as naming all the members of the band at any given moment.

The revolving door of the hard rock super group has changed dramatically since its 2000 recorded debut, “Mer de Noms.” With the lineup adjustments, the musical tone has downshifted to a slower, mellower, yet still harrowing sound on the new disc, “Thirteenth Step.”

The group, or at least the current incarnation, plays the Fargo Civic Center tonight.

“It’s definitely rock music that deals with more emotional issues,” bassist Jeordie White says. “I guess it depends on the listener and what they get from it.”

It’s not only what the listener gets out of it, but what the members bring to it. The brainchild of Billy Howerdel, a former guitar tech for Tool, Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, the project gained a voice when Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan lent his vocals to the project.

White says Howerdel played most of the instruments on “Mer de Noms.” The group also featured former Guns ’N Roses session drummer Josh Freese, bassist Paz Lenchantin and at different times guitarists Danny Lohner from Nine Inch Nails and Troy Van Leeuwan from Queens of the Stone Age.

And that’s where things get confusing.

Lenchantin left the group to join former Smashing Pumpkins head Billy Corgan in Zwan, leaving the door open for White, who had previously played under the name Twiggy Ramirez with shock rocker Marilyn Manson.

Lohner and Van Leeuwan parted after recording “Thirteenth Step,” and Howerdel offered the guitar parts to James Iha, who had been Corgan’s foil in Smashing Pumpkins.

Although the faces have changed, the music rises above the sum of its parts. Keenan’s vocal stalking and howling never match the violent dynamics of his work in Tool, instead playing off Howerdel’s guitar-driven soundscape and White’s lulling bass lines.

The songs focus on melody as much as emotion and earned the group a reputation as the thinking fan’s metal band.

In a review of “Thirteenth Step,” Rolling Stone referred to the disc’s only cover, “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” as “a baroque pop number that would make a great comeback single for someone like Nancy Sinatra -- if she were huffing ether.”

Critics have tried to decipher Keenan’s typically dark and cryptic lyrics, but the singer always sidesteps discussions. In interview on, he referred to the lyrics as being about the 13 years he’s lived in Los Angeles.

“It’s about recovering from something, whether it be losing something or being addicted to something,” White says. “That’s what I get from it. It’s obvious from the 13th step, it’s a dead giveaway.”

Still, he says the title has little to do with the songs.

He says the 13th step is when someone who has completed the 12-step program takes advantage, often sexually, of someone vulnerable entering the program.

Although he wrote little on the album, White looks forward to the next recording session.

“It’s different from my past experiences because it doesn’t feel like it’s such a committed marriage,” White says from a tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa. “Everyone’s first band is probably like that. In this situation I could probably be in A Perfect Circle and be in any other band at the same time.”

White has already recorded with Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme on his upcoming “Desert Sessions.” Still, he feels like a full-time member of A Perfect Circule after leaving Manson.

“I didn’t think we were creating music that made a difference anymore,” White says of his decision to leave Manson after eight years. “Every band has a certain amount of time and at least my time with that band was up.”

The busy bassist uses movie metaphors to describe differences between the two projects.

“The live show and the music, I’d compare more to a horror movie or a porno or something like that. It’s very in your face,” he says describing the Manson attitude. “A Perfect Circle live show is more like a horror movie where you can’t see the monster.”

His allusion also describes the stage show. Reviews have said the band stands in shadows, backlit or, in Keenan’s case, behind a curtain for the performance.

“He likes to keep things in the dark,” White says of Keenan’s staging decisions. “I don’t think we’ve capitalized on the fact that we’re this big super group. This band could be a lot bigger than it is if we sold ourselves individually.”