BY ELLEN ELDRIDGE/AJC News Reporter
When A Perfect Circle last played Atlanta – in 2011 – the setlist wasn’t substantially different from its Tuesday return to the area. But this time, the band tested out its two new tracks, which are expected to be on a forthcoming album.
“Hourglass” has a heavy synthesizer sound and makes clear what founding member Billy Howerdel said during a recent interview about being influenced by ‘80s music such as Depeche Mode. The song’s staccato, countdown refrain, “ten, niner, eight … ” ends abruptly on the number two. It’s tough to make out all the lyrics, especially with the vocal effect that makes Maynard James Keenan sound like he’s singing through a megaphone, but the mood of the song is defiant.
Keenan is best known for his work with Tool, which drew many fans to A Perfect Circle at the end of the 1990s, and “Hourglass” recreates an atmosphere similar to Tool’s “Aenima” lyrics about fretting for cars, contracts and Prozac. The songs don’t sound alike by any stretch, but the listing is reminiscent.
This time, however, the series are things that break down, playing with the phrasing to imply something is breaking down into something, as well as breaking down, too.
In “Feathers,” which closed the set at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, a softer piano melody emerges and Keenan laments about eyes of stone asking, “May they all be feathers.”
I’m like you; just like you,” Keenan sings before comparing sadness to a pendulum’s swing.
The vibe in “Feathers” most closely recalls the band’s common song themes about loneliness, loss and addiction, such as “Gravity,” “Weak and Powerless” and “Vanishing,” all of which were played Tuesday.
A Perfect Circle hasn’t released a new album since 2004’s “Emotive” — a collection of anti-war covers with two original tunes. From the stage on Tuesday, Keenan referred to the last release as a “political statement album” that didn’t go over as well as the guys had hoped.
Later in the set, Keenan said modern music needs less politics and more songs about anal sex. He quipped caustically, “Just because you feel like a fire hydrant doesn’t make you one” and the band launched into “Thinking of You” off the 2000 debut “Mer de Noms.”
Between choruses the 53-year-old frontman who insists on standing backlit in the background pulled out “the shake weights I got for my birthday.”
Keenan jested that he decided to work out during the set because he’s “efficient.”
While chanting “thinking of you” over and over, Keenan shook the weights in front of his face in a phallic manner. The crowd laughed.
No fewer than three times did the singer joke about sperm, starting with his recollection that the first time he played Atlanta (likely with Tool) was 25 years ago. “Many of you weren’t even sperm,” Keenan joked.
Guitarist James Iha, formerly of Smashing Pumpkins, stuck to safer material, asking “Where does a penguin keep its money?” and answering with the punch line, “a snow bank.”
Stretching through a 19-song setlist complete with singles “The Hollow,” and “Blue,” A Perfect Circle left out one of its most popular and explicit songs, “Judith.” The band also skipped playing “3 Libras,” but riled the generally low-energy crowd with “Magdalena,” a song about falling in love with a stripper.
And “The Outsider,” a song that challenges suicidal ideation and castigates “reckless dark desires,” went over well. A few guys who appeared to still be in their 20s moshed in the rows of seats behind the general admission area up front.
Fans who missed out on the previous Atlanta dates have a renewed sense of excitement with more new material on the horizon.