By Andrew Watson,

The last time Maynard James Keenan was in his old hometown to play a rock show was with his other band, Tool, on September 11, 2001. To say that the tragic events of that particular day cast a harrowing glow over the show, appropriately rescheduled for the 13th, is a severe understatement. Maynard's savage, apocalyptic visions have always seemed a tad fantastic (the one where California finally drops into the Pacific and rids the world of its many, many evils is a favorite of mine) but in light of what we had all seen in those 48 hours, they started to sound a bit more probable, certainly more legitimate.

Thankfully, Homecoming '03 fell under no such awfulness. A Perfect Circle is a far cry from Tool for several reasons, but one in particular. With A Perfect Circle, Maynard is not the center -- that distinction belongs to former NIN guitar tech Billy Howerdel, a guitarist whose sublime, almost mystical approach to his instrument provides a much softer template for Maynard's unique lyricisms, which in turn become more introspective. Another valid difference lies in APC's supporting cast, which now claims among its ranks one James Iha (ex-Smashing Pumpkins) and one Jeordie White a.k.a. Twiggy Ramirez (ex-Marilyn Manson).

What's with the alt-90's leftover stew, you ask? Here's the thing -- these two guys, when freed from their overbearing, tyrannical bandleaders, prove themselves worthy musicians in their own right. They more than held their own alongside Maynard this night. They opened with "Vanishing" from the new record, The 13th Step -- Maynard in the back, stage center, atop a platform and obscured by a transparent screen, going absolutely tribal on a pair of stand up drums while Billy and Jeordie dramatically punctuate the song's chest-heaving starts and stops. The screen dropped during the second cut, "Pet," giving MJK's many, many adoring subjects their first real glimpse of him in several years. He acknowledged them in a clear monotone, "Grand Fucking Rapids." Predictable -- yet, to someone who knows the place, appropriate. He politely introduced his bandmates, then led them through a scorching, faithful-to-a-tee version of "Weak and Powerless", clearly enjoying himself, I gathered, what with the lurching and clutching and all the other characteristic Maynard Moves on display. By the time "Blue" had wound up, its echoes of The Cure's "Pictures Of You" still ringing about, the bruisers who had come expecting a full-on Tool style rage-a-thon were beginning to resign themselves. A few hints from the band didn't hurt either (for example, "Stop fucking moshing!"). A falsettoed James Iha brought the first half of the set to a close with a few a cappela bars of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" -- precisely the kind of thing you wouldn't hear at a Tool concert. Bics were flicked.

The second half destroyed. "The Package" got everyone all jived up -- it's not that A Perfect Circle can't or won't deliver on the heavy front, they just temper their aggression with periods of calm, well-structured songs that forego the pissed off white-boy thing entirely. Songs like "3 Libras", which they played next. It's during moments like these that you appreciate Billy Howerdel and his spine-tingling sense of space and melody. "The Nurse Who Loved Me", perhaps The 13th Step's standout track, became much, much more onstage. Live, the song grows legs, a backbone, and delivers a crunch that is mysteriously absent on the album version. It's as if the guys realized a chord progression of such perfection deserved more presence. They're right, it does. The song was a highlight, yet was overshadowed perhaps by the very next number. "The Outsider" began in a frenzy, Maynard spitting, rapping, grumbling Gollum style about what's "precious" and so on....then, finally, it happened. The Roar. Maynard possesses a voice, an instrument, so unflinchingly powerful, that he is wise to limit its capabilities somewhat, to only unleash it every so often. When he does, though, look the fuck out. This particular bellow came from his toes and as he leaned back to set it loose, slowly crawled its way out of his throat and overtook the room. There was a brief moment of gasping disbelief before the crowd could respond -- such is the power of The Roar.

"Noose" and the mighty "Judith" closed the set-- both stunningly executed, flawless -- but the lasting impression was, and always is, Maynard. Specifically, The Roar. It is what will keep him and his various endeavors relevant and interesting. It doesn't hurt that he has managed to surround himself with exemplary musicians, of course, but who would they be without him? I thank God he got the hell out of this place.