“Clever got me this far. … Smile and drop the cliché,” sang Maynard James Keenan during “The Package,” the song that opened A Perfect Circle’s show at Starlight Theatre on Wednesday.
It was a fitting beginning. A Perfect Circle is but one of Keenan’s musical pursuits, which also include Tool and Puscifer, and like every endeavor he undertakes, he infuses its music with an artful cleverness and panache that assiduously avoid cliché.
Before a near sold-out crowd of almost 8,000, he and his band delivered about 100 minutes of hard-core rock, a dynamic mix of heavy metal, prog-rock and grunge.
A Perfect Circle is a supergroup of sorts. In addition to Keenan, the band comprises co-founder Billy Howerdel, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Matt McJunkins (Eagles of Death Metal) and Jeff Friedl.
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They took the stage in darkness, behind a mesh scrim backlit by low, bright, white lights that cast them in long silhouettes. As “The Package” hit its crescendo, the scrim had been removed and Howerdel and McJunkins thrashed and bounced around the stage, as they would for much of the show. Keenan, Iha and Friedl each remained perched on lighted risers, with Keenan holding court midstage. All five spent much of the show cast in shadows and obscured now and then by gusts of smoke and fog.
The lighting fit the music’s mood, which shifted from dark and eerie midtempo rhythms to chaotic outbursts of guitars and percussion. A Perfect Circle hasn’t released an album since 2004’s “Emotive,” its third full-length. The set list drew from all three albums. After “The Package,” from “Thirteenth Step,” they played “The Hollow,” a track from their debut album, “Mer De Noms,” then two more “Thirteenth” songs: “The Noose” and “Weak and Powerless,” then “Rose,” another “Mer De Noms” track.
And so it went all night. Keenan was in a bit of a chatty mood, unlike his reclusive disposition when he performs with Tool. He gave a warm hello to “KC,” cracked a Viagra joke and, during “Thinking of You,” employed a shaker weight he said he’d received as a recent birthday gift. The crowd was attentive and enthusiastic for much of the show, no surprise considering it was the band’s first Kansas City show since April 2004.
The set list included two covers from the “Emotive” album, a collection of songs with sociopolitical themes: their funhouse mirror rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a dark, contorted version of Depeche Mode’s “People Are People.”
Other highlights: “Magdelena,” which was lathered in a psychedelic-rock vibe; and the rousing, crowd-stirring version of “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums,” a scathing industrial rocker from “Emotive” written by Keenan and Howerdel.
The show also included a couple of new songs: the trippy “Hourglass,” which featured some vocal effects; and “Feathers,” the dreamy keyboard ballad that closed the show. Word is a new album is due sometime this year, but no definite date has been set. Thirteen years between albums is more than a lifetime for some bands, but fans of Keenan and his other bands know too well that he can be as deliberate and meticulous as he is clever.
The Package; The Hollow; The Noose; Weak and Powerless; Rose; Imagine; Thinking of You; By and Down; Thomas; People Are People; Magdalena; Vanishing; Hourglass; Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums; Stranger; Blue; The Outsider; Gravity; Feathers.