Story and Photos by Tony BonyataWith A Perfect Circle's minimal backlighting and lead singer Maynard James Keenan parading behind a curtain during their opening number "Vanishing" last night at the newly renovated Milwaukee Theatre (formerly the Auditorium), the ominous visuals perfectly mirrored the band's own dark, foreboding brand of art metal.
This particular show marked the second headlining Milwaukee performance for this modern day supergroup, spawned as a side project by members of Tool (Keenan), Nine Inch Nails (guitarist Billy Howerdel), The Vandals (drummer Josh Freese), Marilyn Manson (guitarist-turned-bassist Jeordie White, aka Twiggy Ramirez) and The Smashing Pumpkins (guitarist James Iha).
Howerdel, with his scorching leads, and White, delivering thick slabs of granite bass, held down the front of the fort while Iha and Freese were positioned high in the back, flanking Keenan's animated shadow projecting from behind the curtain. Running through three-quarters of their second and most recent album Thirteenth Step, which included the pounding album opener "The Package," "Pet," "Weak and Powerless" and "The Nurse Who Loved Me" (a heavy ballad about the convenience of falling in love with someone with the keys to the pharmaceutical cabinet), the quintet also slipped in favorites from their extremely popular debut album Mer De Noms. Compared with their former line-up, which featured bassist Paz Lenchantin (who later joined and then left Billy Corgan's Zwan) and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, many of these older numbers, such as "Magdelena," "3 Libras" and "The Hollow," now with the aid of White and Iha, seemed much more texturally layered and locked in as if there's a quantifiable chemistry occurring between these particular five people.
While frontman Keenan, with long black hair and crack revealing hip-huggers, was ironically relegated to a shadowy riser in the back of center stage, his demeanor - as he crouched, hunched and paced around his makeshift cage like a tiger on the prowl - was no less mesmerizing than had he been stage diving into the crowd. Both Howerdel, with bald pate and lanky physique, and White, sporting a black suit and condor's nest hairdo, made for cutting figures up front. Although newcomer Iha's visual presence standing stoically in the shadows was barely existent, his broad rhythms and wickedly piercing leads (most notably on "Thinking Of You") spoke as loud as when he used to play next to another bald Billy.
What their audience probably hadn't bargained for, however, was that for all the ominous music performed, the band's between song banter was not only light-hearted and fun, but downright lewd and sophomorically hysterical. Between Keenan and White, the two had a field day with jokes that jabbed at Michael Jackson's recent arrest for allegedly having sex with an underage boy. "How do you know when it's "that" time at Never Never Land? When the big hand touches the little hand," went one of Maynard's many Jackson jokes to a roaring audience. (Not so surprisingly, Iha seemed slightly embarrassed by the lasciviousness of these jokes and decided to add his own sunny [not funny] anecdotes. "What can you wear that makes everyone happy?," the guitarist questioned, before answering with "A Smile." (It's nice to know that James is still just as earnest and, well, corny as when he first started with The Pumpkins.)
Jocularity and gothic, art house metal aside, though, the true magic and mystique that was the glue to this show was the stocky little shirtless man with the dark flowing locks doing his evil little tribal dances. With his hair and, quite often, arms completely concealing his face, this could've just as easily been Carmine Ragusa in a fright wig after a long shift at the local Shotz Brewery. But when he slowly swayed his hips from side to side and delivered his rich, sensual and, at times, creepy vocal stylings, Maynard proved to be the true star of this Perfect Circle.
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