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A Perfect Circle at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas

Thanks to the many incarnations of Maynard James Keenan, 2012 was a spectacular year in live music. It began with TOOL at Mandalay Bay, then Puscifer in Escondido, and finally A Perfect Circle at Planet Hollywood. The way Maynard keeps the many expressions of himself and his art alive is astonishing and inspiring.

Bookending 2012 in Vegas made more sense as the year progressed. There are so many diverse events happening in Vegas that, on any given day, you can observe all kinds of people. There are those who go to Vegas for the sake of consumption and excess – a place where anything is acceptable. For some, Vegas is obligatory as they attend stale business conferences and witness their colleagues drinking themselves through the pain. Others show up for special events – fights, concerts, Cirque Du Soleil. Sometimes it’s hard to discern who’s who, but when fans of TOOL or A Perfect Circle descend upon Vegas, it’s clear who they are and why they’re there.

One of my highlights this year was the unified and uproarious crowd exit that followed the TOOL show at Mandalay Bay. For those whose year began with TOOL, the bar for excellence, entertainment, and art had just been simultaneously set and exceeded. . . again. You see TOOL and think, “It can’t better than TOOL.” Then you see TOOL again and realize the experience continually improves. TOOL can outdo TOOL.

The energetic conversation between the band and the crowd could not be contained within the 12,000 seat indoor arena in Vegas. A release was needed. As the crowd exited the venue, exploding through the tunneled halls and pouring out onto the casino floor, they walked with their hands in the air, cheering victoriously. Heads turned as those gambling thought they’d missed out on the largest winning jackpot ever awarded. When they saw us emerging from the venue as a unified, loud, mass, outfitted in black attire, their faces froze, jaw open, eyes wide. Those who thought they’d seen it all in Vegas had never experienced anything like this.

The energy of that TOOL show in January extended beyond the venue, after the show, consuming the casino floor. For a few moments, even those who didn’t buy tickets, knew what it feels like to see TOOL. There was an instant infusion of life and soul on the casino floor – as the crowd exiting TOOL became a living defibrillator.

That’s how you begin 2012.

How do you end the year? With A Perfect Circle. Again, in Vegas.

Everything Maynard does artistically is with intention. Regardless of whether any deeper meaning is gleaned from attending his shows, Maynard’s intent to provide an exceptional, all-consuming, experience is achieved consistently. If he toured incessantly, we may begin to take it for granted, but he doesn’t.  We have time to experience other shows, to gain perspective and set benchmarks, solidifying our own expectations of what a show should deliver. Then, he reminds us of what a show can deliver. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit ripped off from other experiences. Just be thankful you’re getting more than your money’s worth here.

One of the things that greatly contributes to the experience of A Perfect Circle is the way the audience shows up. Cameras are left at home, cell phones are put away, drinks are raised. People traveled from all over the country to be there. We met people who flew in from Colorado, Hawaii, Chicago, New York. I inquired, “Are you staying in Vegas for New Year’s?” Negative. Like us, they’d come to Vegas specifically to see A Perfect Circle. Many of them were leaving the following day.

As usual – for anything Maynard is involved in – the sound was impeccable. The sound envelops you, every cell touched and transported. I attend hundreds of concerts every year and experiencing sound this good is exceptionally rare. “How do they do it. . . every time?” “Why don’t others implement this level of care, commitment, and quality control?” I imagined Maynard – during soundcheck – standing at every single chair in the venue, making sure the sound was heard precisely as intended in each location. That was my mind trying to rationalize how perfect it was.

Sprinkled throughout the setlist, cover songs. Seven of the eighteen songs performed by A Perfect Circle Saturday night were covers. John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Depeche Mode, Black Flag, and more, as interpreted and articulated by A Perfect Circle. Each song, a perfect complement to the setlist as a whole. A story was told, the interpretation up to each member of the audience.

The band – Billy Howerdel, James Iha, Matt McJunkins, and Jeff Friedl – musicianship at its finest. I don’t wear a watch and A Perfect Circle extracts you from space and time, so I can’t tell you how long the show was. I can tell you they never stopped. They’ll tell you it’s because they’re “lazy” that they don’t walk off stage, take advantage of the obligatory encore break. In reality, they have to be far from lazy in order to sustain that level of energy and musicianship, without a break. There was one break – a time out for jokes – called by Maynard. Humor is present throughout the show, so designating a time for jokes was in and of itself a joke.

As with every A Perfect Circle, TOOL, and Puscifer show I’ve attended, what the audience takes away is up to them. Similar to a painting or a sculpture, the creation is the artist’s, the interpretation belongs to the spectator. There’s no screen telling you what to think or feel, no slogans printed on t-shirts to add context.  At minimum, when you see A Perfect Circle, you’ll walk away knowing you’ve experienced an exceptional rock show.

For me, wrapping 2012 with A Perfect Circle was apropos. As we end one year and venture into the next, the themes of community, solidarity, and ego-destruction rang loud. The show felt celebratory – we made it another year, another day, another minute, we’re still here, together; reflective – what will we bring to the table to improve the future?; and promising – we have a lot to look forward to and to continue to create.


Puscifer in Escondido: Bring Your Sense of Humor

Escondido, CA

Welcome to Escondido

Do you know what day it is? I’ve been waiting for this day all year. It’s March 18, 2012 – one quarter of the way through the year – and the night I experienced the first show I’d write about in 2o12.

It’s not that I haven’t experienced a lot of wonderful shows this year; I have. I see live music nearly every night, and I don’t go out with the intention of seeing a shitty show. So, I have experienced some truly amazing concerts in 2012.  I wish I had written about some of them.  But I haven’t.

Why Puscifer? Because there’s nothing “standard” about it.  I’ve seen this show previously, during an earlier leg of the tour.  Yet, it feels different every time. I think about that often – musicians who tour around the world on the same, 10-song, “hit” album for 2. . .  or 20 years –  wondering if they get bored; experiencing, via their shows, that many of them do. Maynard James Keenan and the brilliant musicians who make up Puscifer have no time for boredom.  They’re busy setting the stage – literally, metaphorically, physically, and intellectually – for the show to come. The show-to-come follows the hysterical, thought-provoking (sometimes thought-revoking) pre-show, which comes after Carina Round’s opening show, before she joins Puscifer.

Escondido? It makes sense.  Maynard James Keenan invites you to go places you’ve never been. Bring your sense of humor or you’ll miss some of the best parts.

It’s not about politics. Puscifer carries with it conversations about ideas. That’s where the fun and creative solutions originate: conversations about ideas, rather than arguments about politics. Puscifer is not about pushing an agenda.  It’s not the “I’m a musician and you’re going to pay me a lot of money to use this time as my platform to push something on you” approach.  Instead, Puscifer offers you the platform to create new ideas. Puscifer doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. You made it to the show – you know what’s up.  Or, you don’t know what’s up, but you’re open to exploring ideas.

Puscifer provides a premium sound experience.  I don’t know whether there’s any scientific evidence of this, but I’m of the belief that you should never have to wear earplugs at a concert. If the sound is properly mixed and amplified, it consumes you, not your eardrums. I’ve never needed earplugs during any Maynard James Keenan incarnation: TOOL, A Perfect Circle, nor Puscifer.  The sound envelops you, rather than hurt your ears.  So, as opposed to hearing muffled music through a set of silicon ear plugs or cringing with every drum beat, you feel elevated. You’re able to have a full experience of the show, as intended by its creator.  The sound is so consistently exceptional, regardless of venue, that you’re aware of, and grateful for, the intention and effort put forth to make it so.

Yeah. . . I bought a Puscifer hoodie.  I’m considering adding an English sub-title on the back of it: “Yes, I paid $65 for this hoodie and it feels like a steal.” We’ve got to support art.  We don’t have to agree on which art we appreciate, but it is our responsibility to support the art we do appreciate.

Maynard James Keenan weeds out the cattle. Tonight’s show took place in Escondido. If you’re of the belief – or holding onto hope – that aliens may some day come for you, Escondido is the type of place they may touch-down first.  Only those people with a great deal of faith in the process, the adventure, and the outcome, would actually commute to Escondido. It’s just far enough outside the comfort zone of the people who go to a Miike Snow show – not the people who actually like Miike Snow – the far larger population: people who go to a show just because it’s “the place to be” and they have to look cool on Facebook.  Puscifer is not for them.

It’s Sunday  night. A rock concert and a 2-hr drive, on a ‘school night’?! Puscifer reminds everyone: music doesn’t stop because you have somewhere to be in the future. Your presence is rewarded.

I’m not going to tell you how the show goes, what Maynard wears, nor regurgitate the set list. Puscifer is an experience one should have for themselves. I will tell you this though: he fucks you with his music. Take that any way you like. It’s Puscifer.

” Life is too short NOT to create something with every breath we draw” – Puscifer