I made the trip North on Sunday night to meet up with one of my favorite photographers. Mike Howard joined me at the BB&T Arena in Highland Heights, KY. Which is located on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. We convened there to witness a legendary band with one of the most influential voices in the rock and metal world. I’m talking of course about A Perfect Circle and Maynard James Keenan. Maynard is also the voice of Tool and Puscifer.
Maynard’s involvement in Tool is actually how A Perfect Circle became what it is today. Founder Billy Howerdel was on tour as a guitar tech where they quickly became friends. Eventually, Billy played Maynard some of his songs. Maynard offered his vocal services if Billy wanted. After some time and thoughts, Billy finally took Maynard up on his offer and A Perfect Circle was born. The rest of the band has always been comprised of seasoned musicians that have rotated over time. On this particular tour, bassist Matt McJunkins, Guitarist/Keyboardist James Iha, and drummer Josh Friedl rounded out the lineup.
Matt and Josh are also members of The Beta Machine. That band is the direct support on this current tour. Their set was definitely an interesting one. While their music is not really something that I claim to be a huge fan of, I was definitely a fan of their passion and performance. Watching co-vocalist Claire Acey get lost in the music, dancing in rhythm while delivering a hauntingly beautiful vocal was simply mesmerizing. Their sound is something of a cross between Ume and Nine Inch Nails. It’s progressive with electronic elements, but with an often softer haunting vocal delivery. Their set was definitely an unexpected pleasure.
After their set, a huge white curtain shrouded the stage in mystery. Once the changeover was finished, the lights went out and A Perfect Circle appeared as larger than life shadows on the aforementioned white curtain. Backlit by bright white lights, the band performed as silhouettes for several minutes of The Package. Once the heaviness kicked in, the curtain was dropped and a full-on audio and visual assault began.
With Josh Friedl and his drum riser on the right side of the stage, Maynard and his “perch” took center stage, flanked by James Iha and fronted by McJunkins and Howerdel who were not elevated, playing on the main stage floor.
The stage was constantly filled with fog and the netting/fabrics hanging from the ceiling were accented by uplighting. All of this gave an almost surreal environment, like the concert was taking place in a cave. That’s fitting of course for anything Maynard does. He is a bit of a recluse and on this night, not one light ever touched his face. Being the enigma that he is, being hidden in plain sight with black makeup around his eyes is certainly not a shock to any of his fans. It certainly makes it a difficult task as a photographer, but that mystery is part of what draws people to Maynard.
There were many highlights on this night, but I found that the moments that were most memorable were the moments that Maynard allowed his personality to shine through. Human moments, funny moments even a bit self-deprecating at times. For example, Maynard stated that he felt today’s rock and roll is boring and we need more songs about butt sex before the band tore into a stirring rendition of “Thinking Of You.” The set was bathed in all red lighting and Maynard took the opportunity to speak during the bridge of the song. He spoke about it being difficult to stay healthy while on tour, so he incorporated his workout into the show. He then proceeded to do several sets with a pair of “shake weights.” It was a hilarious sight and a brief moment where Maynard let us see behind his onstage persona.
While fans sang most every song at the top of their lungs, no performance was more commanding than that of “Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm Of The War Drum”. Pardon my crassness here, but holy shit! What a performance! The stage was flooded with bright white lights, while being synchronized with the thunderous rhythms. The performance was one of the most powerful that I have ever personally witnessed. It was absolutely incredible.
It was also at this point that I realized just how important the bands no camera or cellphone policy was. I wasn’t seeing this through 1,000 cell phones held in the air. I, we, were connecting with the band like a performance is intended and it was unforgettable. As much as our phones are a part of our lives, I truly wish their policy would become standard in the industry. Maybe then, rock and roll could save itself.
A few favorites on the night, from my perspective, included “The Hollow”, “Rose”, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Thomas”, “Gravity” and of course, “The Outsider”. Hearing two new songs after Maynard confirmed a new album in 2018 was a definite bonus as well. “Hourglass” and their new single, “The Doomed” were both fantastic. Those two were performed with a renewed vigor as the passions of new creations often fuel the best performances.
One omission that did surprise me, was “Judith.” That song is what propelled the band into the limelight. I’m certainly not complaining, but I was certainly surprised.
All in all, the band sounded amazing and from what we could see of the band, they’re happy, healthy and enjoying themselves. My guess is with a new album on the way, I will see them again at music festivals next summer…and if I’m honest, I simply can not wait.