Live review

A Perfect Circle
Apollo, Manchester : 7.2.2004

On a thoroughly miserable sleeting February night, Auf der Maur took to the stage to warm up the receptive sell-out audience with a 35 minute set that did just that. Initially using three guitars (which did look a little excessive), the presence that former Smashing Pumpkins and Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur brought to her vocal and bass duties clearly marked her out as the leader of this gang. Backing vocals were covered by her redheaded rhythm guitarist, a female 'Keef in the making' with prop ciggy in the corner of her mouth at all times, and the backing vocalist was reminiscent of a Supertramp reject, doubling (trebling?) on keyboards and occasional guitar.
    Together they produced a bagful of solid chugalong songs, pleasantly bass-driven, each of which had a certain predictability about it - not a bad thing when the audience can't be expected to know the material.

It took them until the fourth song of their too-short set to get properly warmed up, with technical difficulties not exactly helping, and their performance had markedly improved by the last few songs, with a plug for the self-titled, soon-to-be-released new album thrown in for good measure. Overall though, there is still room for improvement in the precision of their live delivery.
    There was a definite sense of 'leave 'em wanting more' after the last two numbers, which were by far the best of the set and were introduced by Melissa as being about horses and dancing respectively. Expect more from Auf der Maur, especially once their timing has been tightened up a little and we have learned the words to their songs.

A Perfect Circle were a different beast altogether. As they took to the stage, a podium surrounded with black drapes awaited vocalist Maynard James Keenan centre stage, with a riser for drummer Josh Freese (natch) and one for James Iha (another former Smashing Pumpkin). The sound level and its precision were taken up a few rungs from the off - A Perfect Circle needed no time at all to get warmed-up and their delivery, though understated, was much tighter that Auf der Maur. This was a good thing, since the combination of the silhouette projections of Maynard in his cloth bowler looked somewhat like a throwback to the prog rock-of-ages. Thank goodness there was no dry ice!
    I do like to be able to see the people I've paid good money to see, but the lighting did not allow much of this since everything was backlit all evening, rendering the band as semi-silhouettes. This was, however, my only niggle, and had seemingly been engineered to allow Maynard - who treated us to a view of his tattooed back after stripping off for the last third of the set - to play anti-hero and cut quite a shadowy figure despite his elevated position, with almost no direct illumination placed on him. Elevated to demigod, James Iha was his usual shoe-gazing self in a live setting, and the tension was relaxed by his solo rendition of After Hours - a Velvet Underground song originally sung by Mo Tucker and delivered here quite faithfully by Iha's reedy voice. This was rapidly followed up by joke time ("Where does a penguin keep his money? In a snow bank!"). Oh how we laughed . . .

Their set was a fifty-fifty mix of the last album, Mer de Noms, and their latest, Thirteenth Step, and they dovetailed together with as much impact and grunt as a Tool gig (there, I knew I couldn't avoid it) but with a more lush production, especially when giving us The Package (new) and 3 Libras (old). Other stand-out tracks were Pet, Weak And Powerless, Orestes, The Noose and Thinking Of You (this last being introduced as being a song about anal sex). I would have been happy enough with them leaving it there - then they played Judith. A flawless and sublime live favourite.

With a wave to the audience, they were gone; an hour and forty minutes suddenly over. The roar of the crowd sounded more like Wembley than the Apollo, and when the house lights came up there was not one murmur of dissent, a sign that we had all been satiated by this remarkable band . . .

:: Marcus Osborne

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