Letting the music do the talking is a common conceit in rock music, but when the chips are down, most performers are willing to take part in some form of dog-and-pony show to get their intended point across.

Letting the music do the talking is a common conceit in rock music, but when the chips are down, most performers are willing to take part in some form of dog-and-pony show to get their intended point across.

A Perfect Circle architect Maynard James Keenan — who also holds down center stage in Tool — is something of an exception to that rule. Yes, he’s careful — to the point of neurosis — about performance presentation. But rather than play lapdog for his audience, he insists those on the other side of the stagelights meet him more than halfway on the road to his final destination.

At Tuesday night’s show, one of a handful of club tune-ups the band is playing before its proper tour, that meant sacrificing conventional interaction in order to present a set of tunes — drawn evenly from the band’s 3-year-old debut, “Mer de Noms” and the upcoming Virgin release “The Thirteenth Step” — shrouded in experimental theater darkness.

Keenan went so far as to perform the set-opening “Pet” from behind a curtain — which dropped in time for a flurry of more familiar songs highlighted by “Magdalena.” The singer remained isolated at the rear of the stage, not once stepping into any of the low-wattage spotlights reserved for his bandmates.

The band has undergone significant personnel changes in recent times, but its brooding, deliberately paced material hasn’t changed all that much. That’s due in part to the continued participation of guitarist Billy Howerdel, whose lavalike riffs ooze through whatever cracks are left in songs like “3 Libras” and “Weak and Powerless.”

On the downside, band offered little in the way of dynamics: Even songs that ebb and flow on disc — “The Package,” for instance — melted into an indistinct morass of sound. Guitarist James Iha, late of the Smashing Pumpkins, cut through now and again with elegant leads, but for the most part, he was kept on a short leash.

Passion made a belated appearance during an encore version of “Judith” — ostensibly about Keenan’s late mother — that bared frayed nerves and rough edges aplenty. Even when aurally raging, however, the band remained stoic in stance, radiating all their energies inward, rather than out at the assembled throng.

A Perfect Circle plays Los Angeles Aug. 16 as part of the Lollapalooza fest.

A Perfect Circle

Irving Plaza; 900 capacity; $20

Production

Presented by Clear Channel Entertainment. Reviewed Aug. 5, 2003.

Cast

Musicians: Maynard James Keenan, James Iha, Jeordie Smith, Billy Howerdel, Josh Freese.
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