A Perfect Circle: The Quintessential Rock Concert
By Viet Doan, The Houston Chronicle

The ominous black curtain was cast aside, and the perfect ensemble began to take shape.

As the apparitions of A Perfect Circle formed under crimson swaths of glowing neon, the Saturday-night crowd at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion exploded. The silhouette of frontman Maynard James Keenan appeared in an elevated cage enveloped by translucent sheets, and his ghostly shadows unleashed the show with the opening lyrics to Vanishing off APC's latest release, Thirteenth Step. He was accompanied by the guitar of composer Billy Howerdel and the trouncing pulses from drummer Josh Freese.

With the group's second album approaching platinum status, all those wearing Tool T-shirts on Saturday knew that the group was no longer a mere side project.

APC, a more accessible version of cult prog-metal band Tool, for which Keenan also provides vocals, brokered some all-star trades for its new album and the subsequent tour. APC's previous bassist, Paz Lenchantin, was swapped for Jeordie Osborne White from Marilyn Manson, and ex-rhythm guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen was traded for former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha.

By the third song, The Hollow, off APC's debut, Mer de Noms, the air was thick with humidity, fog and contraband. But it was not enough to stop the already sweat-drenched Freese from recklessly disregarding the welfare of his drum kit. His fanciful ornamentation of torrential, thunderous fills and the chops to his array of cymbals showered the spectators.

White's brooding bass entranced the audience into a hypnotic sway during Magdalena. His sports coat, unlike his Marilyn Manson garb, gave fans the impression he was there to rock. He did.

Keenan, also concerned with taking care of business, cut short the banter between bandmates and belted out the rock radio smash Weak and Powerless. The song showcased the band's cerebral approach to songwriting, with multilayered, atmospheric sounds intertwined with shrill power-guitar fuzz.

After former Tool guitar tech Howerdel made his instrument howl for Orestes, Keenan revealed why the group had performed so flawlessly: The show was being recorded and filmed.

During Blue, Iha broadcast a brilliant solo filled to the brim with pinging plucks and eloquent strokes of his pick. He demonstrated his musical abilities by manning a keyboard for Gravity and dueling on guitar with Howerdel during A Stranger and other songs.

The Houston heat proved too much for Keenan as, writhing in his cage, he took off his shirt before starting 3 Libras. His signature voice, less occupied with the mathematical precision of Tool, was dynamic and beautifully dark, full of melodic power and vision. It was worthy of leading the dominion of followers.