A Perfect Circle Bring Beauty And Fury To The Giant Center
By Todd Thatcher, The Hershey Chronicle

On May 4 at Hershey's Giant Center, art-rockers A Perfect Circle delivered a fine performance that likely pleased fans of Tool's progressive-metal stylings, as well as their own more-atmospheric, experimental explorations.

With the lights dimmed and frontman Maynard James Keenan - singer for both of the aforementioned bands - gyrating behind a psychedelic screen, APC opened their show with the mood piece "Vanishing." And with that song, the supergroup project, which features former members of everyone from The Smashing Pumpkins (second guitarist James Iha) to Marilyn Manson (bassist Jeordie White), proved it was capable of accurately reproducing the eerie textures and harmony-laden vocals so ably displayed on their records.

It was a fine opener, capably played, but the crunching rock of "Pet," on which Keenan ominously roared, "Count the bodies like sheep/ to the rhythm of the war drums," was what got the crowd to its feet. On that song, APC summoned images of a marching army as the singer furiously stomped his feet, crooned and bellowed while the four musicians surrounding him locked into a crunching groove.

That loud/soft dynamic continued throughout APC's hour-and-a-half performance, as the group alternated between more subtle material like the lighter-inspiring ballad "Three Libras" and vicious rocker "Judith," both from their 2000 debut, Mer De Noms.

Those songs received the warmest receptions of the night, but fans also seemed to respond well to lesser-known cuts from the band's masterpiece (thus far), last year's Thirteenth Step. Keenan and the band delivered spot-on performances of gentler tracks like "Halo," which was supported by spare bass and drums and echoey, arpeggiated guitars, and hard rockers like "The Outsider."

Though he allows Keenan to serve as the mouthpiece, the real driving force behind APC is Billy Howerdel, the band's primary songwriter and guitarist. Though his fretwork has always been excellent, but appropriately understated on CD, in the live setting, Howerdel came alive, delivering soaring leads in crystal-clear tones and unleashing a couple of surprisingly-fiery solos.

For being the odd collective they are, it was particularly impressive to see how all of the band's members work so intuitively as a unit. Newest addition Iha effortlessly alternated between holding down the rhythm guitar spot and complementing Howerdel's solos with spacey harmonies, while White remained locked in with drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese no matter how many odd time signatures or fills he threw in.

And Keenan did what he does best, continuing to impress with his otherworldly vocals and spouting off strange diatribes on everything from the current climate of media censorship to whether he'd prefer the Terminator or Kindergarten Cop as the governor of California.

Throughout the night, though, A Perfect Circle kept the focus primarily on their music, which truly sounds unlike that of any other band past or present. They're the rare rock triple-threat who can create beautiful studio music and effortlessly pull it off in a live setting, then turn around and rock hard enough to make the biggest metal fan bang their head. At their May 4 show, it was clear that the band has truly stepped out of their side-project status to become a truly great rock band on their own.

Burning Brides, one of the buzz-bands of the moment, opened the show with a less-impressive set of garage-inflected grunge. 10 years ago, the group's noisy, punky take on the genre might have sounded pretty good, but in 2004, it seemed like nothing more than a tired Nirvana retread.

In fact, it would be tough for any rock fan who lived through the '90s to make it through an entire Brides set without thinking of the late, great Kurt Cobain. Singer/guitarist Dimitri Coats' vocals were eerily similar, and his simple guitar riffs very Nirvana-esque. Like that legendary band, Burning Brides is also a trio with a drummer who likes to furiously pound the skins, and an accomplished bassist who delivers a deep low end.

They were definitely derivative, but you couldn't knock the group's energy at least, which remained high throughout their 45-minute performance. And hints of everything from Kiss' classic rock to the down-tuned new-metal of Chevelle and the sweeping melodies of Oasis did peek through the wall of noise every now and then, proving that the Brides are capable of being more than a Nirvana cover band.

At one point, Coats bravely asked the crowd, "How many people think we suck?" He counted 12 hands, but from the stands, it looked like more than 50 just on the Giant Center floor. That might not qualify as constructive criticism, but at this point, it's input Burning Brides might be wise to take to heart.