And the winner of the prestigious “Most Awkward Stage Presence of the Year” award…Maynard James Keenan of A Perfect Circle!! The first time the goth/prog-metal project of Tool frontman Keenan and former Nine Inch Nails

And the winner of the prestigious “Most Awkward Stage Presence of the Year” award…Maynard James Keenan of A Perfect Circle!!

The first time the goth/prog-metal project of Tool frontman Keenan and former Nine Inch Nails guitar tech Billy Howerdel came to Philadelphia was in early May, on an opening stint with Billy’s old boss. Despite the fact that it was still several weeks before their album Mer De Noms would be available in stores, it was one of the spring’s most anticipated releases, and the crowd was wildly enthusiastic to see and hear A Perfect Circle.

Unfortunately, their performance didn’t deliver. Behind a pair of dark wraparound glasses, Keenan slowly ambled his way onto stage as the rest of the band was already playing, and proceeded to perform most of the set stoic, often with his back to the audience.

Only during the fastest numbers – which we would later learn to recognize as “Judith” and “Thinking Of You” – did he show enthusiasm, and it was in a wild, crazy, flailing manner. None of the fierce control he exhibited while performing with Tool was evident here, and it was generally unsettling to watch. On top of that, his amazing voice wound up getting buried under the mix. My general thoughts at the end of the night were “Great…we got to watch Maynard have a seizure, and we couldn’t even hear him sing.”

As a result, I was reluctant to even listen to Mer De Noms. I wound up buying it anyway, and in short, it blew me away. As the album was in the process of rocking my summer, I saw that the band was on the bill for a show at the Electric Factory in late August.

I decided to give them another chance, figuring “maybe they were bad at the Nails show because they were opening and not headlining…maybe it was because I hadn’t heard the album…maybe it was because it was the beginning of their tour and they didn’t have much practice playing together in front of large crowds…”

As it turns out, my reasoning did excuse some of the fallacies of their first visit. For one thing, playing as a headliner allowed them to make their performance more theatrical. A skit opened the show featuring two women playing strip poker by candlelight.

Seemingly, the point of the skit was to get the testosterone-ridden guys in the audience riled up and screaming “SHOW US YOUR TITS!”

Then they left the audience hanging when the women go to remove their tops after a passionate kiss and the lights are cut before any breasts are exposed.

The band themselves took a tip from Mr. Reznor & co. in emerging from behind a large black curtain as they are being lit by projections of their logo. The logo’s eye appeal differed from the drapery they played in front of previously.

They performed as a much tighter unit this time, and outside of a few minor microphone problems, the mixing and sound had improved.

However, the biggest disappointment of the first time around – namely, Keenan – was still in many ways a disappointment. To his credit, his stage presence did improve; he faced the audience for almost the entire set, he sang with much more conviction, and his vocals were more audible. Hell, he even moved around more. But he was still doing the same convulsive jig as before, only now it made its way into a greater number of the songs. It wasn’t any easier to watch either.

During the aforementioned “Thinking of You,” Keenan slipped his hand into his pants, turned around, and did a frantic job of faux-masturbating. Even looking at it from a “Gee, isn’t this amusing” perspective, his awkward behavior quickly lost its humor and detracted from the rest of the band’s performance. The numbers that found Keenan the most subdued – the brooding opener “Magdalena”, and the soaring “Brena” – made for the show’s best moments.

The band worked their way through every song on Mer De Noms, and a few others. The most memorable of the non-album numbers was a dual cover in which Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary Of A Madman” was sang to the tune of (and with the chorus of) The Cure’s “Lovesong.” Keenan introduced it by explaining that it was about “how Ozzy fans and Cure fans come together as one and take over the world.” For all its tackiness, it was a great cover – er, covers.

The thing about the show that I admire the most is the fact that the band played a single straight set…and in it, played every song they have and then some. Essentially, they did away with the pretense of a traditional rock n’ roll encore while still giving the show their all. When it comes down to it, A Perfect Circle have the potential to be a fantastic live act…Maynard just needs to get on some valium first.

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