It’s been years since I went to a gig at the Brixton Academy. I’ve ticked some great names off my live bucket list at this venue including Hole and Marilyn Manson. Exiting the tube and trying to remember if I needed to turn left or right to get to the famous domed building, I soon saw a map wasn’t necessary. Hordes of people were heading to the same sold out show as me; all I had to do was follow what I refer to as ‘my people’. I was on my way to adding a huge tick to said bucket list.
It seemed strange that on a regular Wednesday I would be in the same room as an American I’d had a two decade long (albeit one sided) artistic love affair with, the illusive and enigmatic Maynard James Keenan. First discovering his band Tool at the end of high school, I wore out my taped copy of Aenema as I channeled my own creative voice through his words and epic prog-like 15 minute songs. I was delighted in college when a classmate decided to bring in his copy of the videos from this album’s songs to play via the projector during a break in our theatre. These dark and expertly made stop-motion animated videos were like mini films, intricate, twisted, and delicate without a single image of the band themselves. In the days before You Tube I had never seen anything like it.
His next band, A Perfect Circle, released their first album in 2000, “Mer de Noms”, which I instantly got a copy of and still listen to. They went on to release a few more albums, including live shows and haunting covers. He went on to form yet another band, Puscifer, which I also enjoy dipping into every now and then. As any auteur, with every group or release one can hear his unmistakable sound on the track, albeit with varying levels of anger or ethereal doom. The absence of Keenan’s image until recently in marketing, interviews and even in videos made him even more alluring to me and his chameleon like nature was very appealing.
Having not released new music in 14 years, A Perfect Circle offered a new album this year. Devouring the singles as they were released one by one and eventually having the full album, “Eat the Elephant”, on repeat – I was not disappointed. The familiar mature and angsty sound flowed into my ears and straight into my heart. I continued to listen to it following the mass of fellow devotees to the first A Perfect Circle gig in London in a long time, and I joined the queue as it snaked around the back of the building.
I was so glad to hear one of the security team shouting down the line as we waited that there was to be absolutely no photographs inside the venue. A blanket ban made me think that Keenan was probably going to be facing the audience; he has previously performed with his back turned or from behind a screen. I was delighted as well, since I wasn’t going to have to watch the band through someone else’s iPad screen which is generally what happens these days. The rule was so strict a group who took a selfie in the bar area before the show started were given a serious talking to by security and almost thrown out. I decided then to just turn my phone off. I could be absent from the outside world for a few hours.
I had suitably geeked out and changed into my brand new band t-shirt which was followed by two pints swallowed in very quick succession. The appropriately atmospheric support act Talos was actually very impressive. I would have enjoyed him more if I wasn’t so completely distracted by the main event and strategically planning bar and loo trips with my friends so we could get nearer the stage before A Perfect Circle began.
I started to feel nauseous when the lights failed to dim at their scheduled start time. Following the recent intense gig experiences and getting so emotional so frequently I just didn’t know how much the evening was going to affect me. There was a different vibe in this audience, there was a real excitement but there was a genuine sense of reverence, a true appreciation for a band that hadn’t been to London for years.
Darkness descended and shrieks ricocheted across the floor, but all eyes were on a platform set back in the middle of the stage. Shapes began to form in the darkness and as drums and keyboard began the title track of the new album, the guitarists took their place in turn to cheers. There was an eruption as we recognised the shape of the man we were all here to worship.
The incomparable Keenan drifted effortlessly towards his microphone and sang with such power I felt goose bumps everywhere. Continuing with the second song of the new album, “Disillusioned”, I felt so connected with the rest of the capacity crowd. I have never seen a band release brand new material and have just about the whole crowd sing every word back to them.
I wondered if they would be doing the new album in its entirety when they crashed into “Hollow” from “Mer de Noms”, the album that made me fall in love with them. I screamed so hard I felt like I broke my voice. Dipping into their whole catalogue we heard “Rose”, “Blue”, their beautifully menacing cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a personal favourite motivational tune, “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums”.
Keenan may give the reader an impression of aloofness by remaining a silhouette and away from the spotlight, literally, but he does not come across as separate at all. He was fully engaged with us and his performance, twisting and stomping on his shadowy platform with dancing footlights. I was mesmerised as spotlights beamed around the crowd and Keenan was trance like with his primal dance moves.
It came as a shock when after thanking us all for coming out, he astoundingly added a thank you for remembering the band at all as well as all the words. As if we, his congregation, could possibly forget. Finishing the show with a homage to Malcolm Young, guitarist for AC/DC who passed away in November, they belted out a great cover of “Dog Eat Dog”.
The building shook as we cheered them off the stage. Guitarists Billy Howerdel and Matt McJunkins (also of the excellent Eagles of Death Metal) embraced in the middle of the stage like they were back on dry land after a shipwreck. They returned our applause for almost as long as we stood there. At one point Howerdel even got on his knees as a thank you gesture which I still can’t believe.
They have more dates booked for December – I may have to live off rice cakes and ramen until then but I’ll probably be there. James Iha, famed guitarist for The Smashing Pumpkins, did not appear on this tour, but was expertly replaced by Greg Edwards (Autolux/Failure). Research has told me he is busy with the Pumpkins reunion tour. They are also due in London later this year; I might have to make that happen too.