By Jeff Spevak, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

(April 27, 2004) — Maynard James Keenan is an excellent rock singer and a certified eccentric. Monday night at the Blue Cross Arena at the Community War Memorial, he also demonstrated that he is a savvy social scientist.

Challenging the theory that exposure to Janet Jackson’s breast has sent this country into a moral morass, Keenan urged the crowd of 3,500 to shout a conglomerate obscenity in unison.After two FCC-rattling outbursts from the audience, Keenan noted that no one had sprouted horns, stolen anything or engaged in a dalliance with anyone’s sister.

Case closed. On with the show.

A Perfect Circle is generally defined as a supergroup. In true supergroup fashion, you can’t listen to it and not dwell on where all of the pieces came from.

There is Keenan, of course, whose eccentricities read like the index of a psychology textbook. But A Perfect Circle is not Tool, the howling metal band with which he made his reputation. It is different because Keenan has stepped back from caterwauling songs about California falling into the ocean.

Opening with “Vanishing,” the first glimpse of Keenan was of him backlit behind an orange screen, a psychedelic Japanese shadow play, banging on kettle drums. He was positioned on a riser to the center-rear of the stage, where most concert-goers are used to seeing the drums. There, he remained a tantalizingly shadowy figure throughout the show. You never got a good look at him in the murky lights.

This supergroup also boasts former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and one-time Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie Osbourne White; in his previous life, White answered to the name Twiggy Ramirez. Now out of the shadow of the control freaks who ran those two bands — Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson — Iha and White contribute to A Perfect Circle on a more-equitable basis.

However, the force behind A Perfect Circle is not really Keenan, but the band’s co-founder, guitarist, songwriter and former Tool guitar tech, Billy Howerdel. Who would have suspected that, all the while he was keeping Tool in tune, Howerdel was dreaming of his perfect metal band?

Moody, introspective, sorrowful.

In contrast to Tool’s manic turbine, A Perfect Circle is under control. Howerdel plays the space between the notes as much as he plays the notes. Songs like “A Stranger” were moments of awesome beauty. Tool’s fury has its fans, but A Perfect Circle is the better band.

And always, there were those odd Keenan non-sequiturs. An observation that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California trailed off without explanation. And introducing “Thinking of You,” Keenan helpfully suggested, “It feels better if you take your pants off.”

In the darkness, it was difficult to see if anyone took him up on the offer. But there’s some truth there: It does feel better to take your pants off when you’re reviewing A Perfect Circle.