When A Perfect Circle released their last batch of communications in November 2004, it arrived just in time for the American presidential election. Titled eMOTIVe, it was a critically polarizing release that paired a couple of originals with a collection of covers that dynamically rearranged anti-war songs by the varied likes of Black Flag, Devo, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell. While the band never explicitly discouraged fans from voting George W. Bush into a second term on the record or in press surrounding the release, frontman Maynard James Keenan did make a point of telling Blabbermouth it was yet another attempt to "encourage people to think for themselves."
Fulfilling their contractual obligations with Virgin, the band didn't tour behind the release and slipped into a hiatus shortly afterward. They've made sporadic return appearances between members' duties in various projects since, but with the rest of Tool busy re-recording old songs instead of making new ones, Keenan's found time to reconvene with Billy Howerdel and the rest of his APC bandmates for an arena tour. When they came through Toronto last night (November 15) they picked up right where they left off.
"Without going too far down the rabbit hole, I'd like to say, 'I'm sorry' for our country," Keenan told the audience a few songs into the set. "I don't have any answers — I'm not gonna spout about like I know anything — but I will suggest that maybe, you encourage us to talk to each other, listen to each other. Don't even have to like each other, just fuckin' talk to each other."
From there, the band dug into their bleak eMOTIVe take on John Lennon's "Imagine," the crowd all lighters (and not a single phone light, thanks to a strict policy threatening ejection for photography or recording of any kind) in the air, like torches under an apocalypse sky.
He never mentioned America's current president by name, but he didn't really have to. Fluent in bullshit, there's a layered undercurrent of moralism in the characters Keenan embodies and addresses in his lyrics, so when he was yodeling on about opportunism in "The Package" or demanding accountability from the self-righteous throughout "The Noose," you got a pretty good idea who this set had in its crosshairs, and before leaning into a poignant "Weak and Powerless," he did make a point of dedicating the night's set to "shit hawks."
"And if ya don't know, ya can fuckin' go."
Keenan's still just as comfortable playing the fool as he is slinging censure in florid poetry, cartoonishly lifting a pair of dumbbells after serving some sardonic testimony about slipping his workout routine into his performance over the bridge of "Thinking of You" ("As you can probably imagine, it's kind of hard to jam everything you want to do into one day in a touring cycle…"). He does it all from his usual post in the darkness at the back of the stage, at once a caricature and antithesis to Trumpian narcissism.
In fact, the whole band spent the bulk of the night in the shadows.
A giant curtain obscuring the stage, they greeted the audience as hulking giants for set opener "The Package," the music bigger still. When they reached the track's climactic breakdown, the drapery dropped, but the big reveal felt like more of a "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" moment.
While bassist/keyboardist James Iha and drummer Jeff Friedl remained stationed on risers at the back, Howerdel and bassist Matt McJunkins prowled the front of the stage all night, often obscured by darkness, only illuminated when they approached the LED towers on either side of the stage.
There were no giant screens projecting larger-than-life versions of the players; just the band, the music and some modest lighting design to leaven the atmosphere.
These were humbling premises to present a stadium gig under, but the lack of ceremony, compounded with a half-empty ACC (the upper ring was closed, and entire sections of the lower bowl were abandoned) called into question the necessity of the venue and the inflated costs associated with it.
Spectacle and venue peeves aside, the band were as tight as ever as they burned through an hour and 40 minutes of material that leaned heavily on Thirteenth Step while offering versions of every unreleased song that's been floating around since the band's return to active duty ("Feathers," "Hourglass," "The Doomed"). While those set pieces felt compulsory, the most thrilling moments came from the band's reinterpretations of other materials. "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drum" felt huge stripped down to its production basics (Howerdel now free to thread some virtuosic fretwork into the unmuddied gaps), and they even laid themselves open to external reinterpretations of their work, performing a live version of Massive Attack's "All Main Courses Mix" of "3 Libras."
Indeed, A Perfect Circle are back. And before the night was over, Keenan set the record straight: "Lots of rumours floating around. This one is not: 2018, a new A Perfect Circle album."