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.