After 14 long years, A Perfect Circle (APC) dropped their fourth studio album ‘Eat The Elephant’ using 2018 to take the album on the road. But does the album stack up when played live amongst the powerhouse albums Mer De Noms, the thirteenth step and eMOTIVe? Let’s be honest, measuring up to these epic albums is no short ask, even for the APC supergroup. The sold out, back to back London dates were the perfect opportunity to find out.
First of all, the Brixton O2 Academy, legendary in its own right, hosting huge names since 1983. Awe-inspiring interior with classic architecture, a fantastic sloping floor space giving concert-goers equal opportunity to view the show. In the lead up to the gig, the venue announced a strict ‘no photography, no filming, no phones’ policy – which seemed a little confronting at first, but in hindsight, the rule made for a fittingly ‘in the moment’ experience, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in the performance… 10/10 would not use a phone at a gig again.
I stood among the sea of black t-shirts slowly filling the auditorium, the occasional APC shirt weaving their way to the front, followed by a school of Tool t-shirts. It’s not clear what this means for the band and their fans, lead singer Maynard Keenan James, the frontman for both Tool and APC, has made a clear distinction between both projects. APC nor Tool are treated as side projects and have relatively minimal in common. Perhaps the fans were not here to see the band but to support James as an artist.
A wave of applause rumbled through the auditorium as the support act, Talos, appeared on stage visible through plumes of smoke. Their appearance accompanied by eerie ambient, slow-building riffs. Cool blues and warm orange light welcoming the lullaby-like vocals from frontman Alex Sampson. Seemingly effortlessly Sampson brought the audience on an emotional journey, his charisma both humble and intense at the same time. Talos, the alternative indie rock band from Ireland wove together their set managing to fuse 80’s synth pop with skull-rattling bass lines into a purposeful and blissful soundscape. Unfortunately, the set seemed to lack some differentiation in tempo, each song similarly steady I am left anxious for something to pump me up in preparation for APC. The final few tracks work together in building suspense by matching the lighting effects to a mysterious tribal drumming, overlaying falsetto vocals and orchestral strings – an impressive demonstration by the lead guitarist, using a violin bow to lure out the notes. A few simple ‘Thank You‘ in between songs helped to maintain an aura of mystery, I’m left wanting to know more. The final crescendo for the closing track, gives a fitting finale to the set, keeping with their theme of building upon an intense feeling, a haunting vocal track and thumping drums, the final notes played to an eruption of applause. With a short ‘Thank you very much, we’ve been Talos’ the lights drop and house music comes back on and road technicians swarm the stage.
This brings the moment the crowd has been waiting for, APC have a reputation for a great stage performance, leaving the crowd wondering about whether there would be the classic curtain in front of the band or what new ‘thing’ would be. Finally, silence. The lights go down, piano and light drums caress through to the crowd who erupt in applause while Jeff Friedl and James Iha strike the opening notes of the title track Eat The Elephant. The naturally relaxed and sparse riffs bring Maynard out on stage to sing his opening notes, the notes are pitch perfect but become momentarily inaudible from the cheers of the crowd. In true Maynard style, he appears veiled in silhouette at the back of the band on a raised pillar, he moves like a ghost you catch a glimpse of out of the corner of your eye, but as you strain to see more you feel that you see less. The song is perfectly placed at the forefront of the set, allowing each member of the band to relax onto the stage as their musical parts begin in the song. Guitarist and co-songwriter Billy Howerdel is greeted by what feels like an even larger reception from the audience, a true testament to the respect for the band. Finally, bass guitarist, Matt McJunkins, joins the group to finalise their stage lineup.
The song seamlessly transitions into Disillusioned, the second track off their latest album. The lyrics are so poignant, given the immediacy of the mobile phone ban at the venue, there is something extraordinary about the way Maynard is continually able to redesign the performance experience. I feel almost part of an anti-technology revolution, not from a place of anger but almost exhausted desperation to be free from the dependence on mobile phones we seem to have found ourselves in. I remember going to gigs before the existence of phones, but it seems like an age since you could see a band without the artificial glow of crowd goers trying to capture the moments rather than being captured by the moment.
Now fully immersed in the performance, the band transition through their back catalogue, favourites like The Hollow, Rose, Counting Bodies like sheep, The Outsider and The Noose played album-perfect. Fans are lapping up every moment, singing along, becoming engulfed in the spectacle. Surrounding the musicians is a frame of LED screens, each synchronized in colour and pattern, adapting to each new song, transporting the audience to underwater oceans, through the stars, to rusty/hardened metal fragments swathed in smoke, pierced with spotlights like ribbons across the stage. At one moment, during the rendition of TalkTalk, I was taken underneath waves, a feeling of immersion like I am slowly sinking, looking up, as if at that moment after struggling for air where you feel at peace and in accepting fate. There’s something about the thoughtfulness of the lyrics and purposefulness of the music that can let the audience be totally engulfed in the moment.
‘If I had a heart, it would be weeping‘ Maynard addressed the audience to thunderous applause ‘Thank you, we can’t tell you how moved we are‘. Maynard is uncharacteristically talkative tonight, a break in between several tracks at the tail end of the performance, to speak broadly about politics ‘People in power like to keep the power…. but don’t worry we’re going to make it’ and to take a moment to introduce the band members on stage, a fitting gesture to their amazing on stage chemistry.
Bathed in plumes of smoke and lighting Maynard announcing ‘We’re coming back in December‘ drew thunderous applause from the audience. Finishing the epic 90 minute set with a rousing rendition of Feathers, Howerdel’s strident and piercing guitar solo tore through the audience, simultaneously beautiful and haunting, perfectly signalling the closure of the performance.
Chris, a 41-year-old Londoner and self-confessed longtime fan of APC, one of the hundreds witnessing the show gave me a minute of his time. Being a long time fan, makes him potentially one of the hardest demographics to please with new music: ‘I’d seen one of their first ever shows at the Kentish Forum‘. When asked about the new material ‘I quite like it and love it in the existing catalogue‘. Chris, I couldn’t agree with you more, APC manages to stay as relevant, as fresh and as true to themselves as ever. I can’t wait for the formal announcement of their next show in December.