Few rock singers these days challenge their listeners to dig beyond the surface to find meaning in the music, opting instead for the in-your-face approach. A startling exception is Maynard James Keenan, front man for the intriguing L.A.-based bands A Perfect Circle and Tool. At the sold-out Palladium in Hollywood, the ultra-ambiguous Keenan and his APC mates offered a dramatic hourlong performance of ambitious rock music that was rife with hidden meanings, double entendres and veiled imagery.
Whether or not the crowd — nearly all angry young males –got much of it was beside the point; the year-old band, which recently toured with Nine Inch Nails, has found their concert groove and become a tremendous live act.
The complex music — comprising equal parts ’80s Goth, contemporary alt metal and progressive art rock — is the creation of guitarist Billy Howerdel, a former Tool guitar tech whose proclivity for theatrical, multilayered compositions is a glovelike fit with Keenan’s powerful, fervent vocals. The band is anchored by super drummer Josh Freese, one of the most entertaining players around.
The show opened, just like most Tool shows, with someone other than the band onstage. In this case, it was two gender-benders in bikinis at a table playing strip poker, at least one of which turned out to be man. The band then played their first song, the mad, passionate “Magdalena,” behind the curtain.
APC’s set included nearly all the songs from their excellent debut album, “Mer de Noms” (Virgin), including a stunning version of brooding anthem “Rose”; modern-rock radio hit “Judith,” which closed the encore-less show; and the mind-bending industrial lust song “Thinking of You.”
Show also included a bizarre tune near the end that combined the music of the Cure’s “Love Song” with the lyrics from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman,” by which point Keenan, who opened the show dressed in flowery pajama pants that barely covered his rear and a long glow-in-the-dark blond wig, was clad only in a black Speedo.