A Perfect Circle Is One Supergroup That's Staying True To It's Musical Mission
By John Serba, The Grand Rapids Press

The flu bug that's going around sure is nasty, isn't it?

Although A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan told a near-capacity DeltaPlex audience of 5,000 that he and his bandmates all were suffering from the illness, it really was, aside from an unusual huskiness in Keenan's speaking voice, hard for the general concertgoer to tell.

"We're playing this next song against our better judgment," Keenan said prior to performing "Gravity" for the eager crowd. "We're sick, so it's hard to do. If it's a train wreck, forgive us."

The singer (and former Grand Rapidian), however, was needlessly self-effacing: The misty, ethereal "Gravity," performed with the band members bathed in moody purple lights, was one of many high points in A Perfect Circle's exceptional 80-minute set.

The show also proved that APC -- consisting of Keenan (also of Tool), guitarists Billy Howerdel and James Iha (ex-Smashing Pumpkins), bassist Jeordie White (ex-Marilyn Manson) and drummer Josh Freese -- is much more than the sum of its supergroup parts. There was no rock-star grandstanding, just an emphasis on dark mood and melody; a band that was once written off as Keenan's side project or "Tool lite" has evolved into a unique entity that refuses to pander to modern-rock cliches.

Opening to the rhythmic thunder of "Vanishing," only Keenan's shadow was visible behind a screen as he hammered on drums to either side of him -- an effect that lent considerable, yet subtle, power to the song. The usually animated singer's face, hidden behind a long-haired wig and a multitude of shadows, wasn't visible throughout the show, in effect forcing the crowd into focusing on the foggy atmospheres provided by the light show and the music -- which sounded echo-soaked thanks to the hopeless, sardine-can acoustics of the DeltaPlex.

During propulsive, driving numbers "Pet," "Magdalena" and "Thinking of You," Keenan stomped on his platform while journeyman and coveted session drummer Freese proved why he's in such demand, with nigh-untouchable timekeeping and energetic, creative fills. And if Keenan's throat was hurting, it certainly didn't hamper the howls punctuating the passionate drama of "The Outsider."

The band balanced the set with several mellow tracks, including "3 Libras," "Orestes," "Weak and Powerless" and a cover of "The Nurse Who Loved Me" (originally done by the criminally underrated, and now defunct, post-grunge outfit Failure); APC sounded like an inspired mixture of The Cure and Tool's quieter moments, focusing on the tender, vulnerable side of Keenan's impressive vocal range.

The set's highlight came near its conclusion: "The Noose," a wonderfully depressing, exquisitely textured and poetic near-dirge that raised chills with its swelling, cleansing crescendo. It almost made the evening's final song, the radio hit "Judith," anticlimactic. Almost.

Of course, APC's emphasis on melancholy minor scales makes for many a somber mood. But a moment of levity came when Keenan, midset, handed the microphone to Iha, who sang a few verses of Journey's cheese-o-riffic hit "Don't Stop Believin' " -- much to the amusement of the lighter-flicking crowd -- and therefore deflated any pretentiousness put forth by the band.

Sure, the group's music, which thankfully sidesteps traditional stratagems regarding arrangements, rhythm and hooks, can be obscure and dense to the casual listener. But those familiar with Keenan's lyrical and vocal talents -- still the most powerful in rock -- often find the songs wriggling into their subconscious and taking root.

Even under a cloud of illness, A Perfect Circle smartly and successfully pushed the boundaries of commercial rock music into exciting new venues -- so let's toast a cup of NyQuil to the band, eh?