Supergroup A Perfect Circle releasing a live DVD feels atypical, and with a lead vocalist like Maynard James Keenan, who is also the frontman of Tool, of course it is going to be unconventional. Stone and Echo is the full-length concert film of A Perfect Circle’s 2011 performance at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, CO. It is a part of a box set that includes the band’s complete studio discography among other items (custom-made guitar picks, media books, etc.), and it is unlike any band video I have seen before.
There are no interviews and the name of each song played is not displayed on the bottom of the screen. It is just a straightforward performance. Keenan says good evening to the crowd and the concert proceeds. Having never witnessed an A Perfect Circle Concert before, the little-to-no crowd interaction stuck me as uncanny. I might as well just listen to the record, right? But there is, after all, a method to the band’s madness.
Maynard James Keenan is rarely seen by the crowd. While the band members stay in their general vicinity, hardly moving throughout the show, Keenan stands on a platform obscured behind the band. The camera never fully captures his face, but he can be spotted by the long-haired wig he has chosen to wear at this particular concert. Through live performance, I began to understand the mechanics behind his emotions. It seems as if, like an actor, he has to pull himself into character to truly feel the songs the band shares with the audience. The uninvolved crowd has no choice but to sit there and take it all in. And although they sound incredibly accurate to their recorded works, the viewing of their concert is almost necessary. Sometimes you need to see a piece of artwork in person to truly appreciate and understand it.
The concert begins with a Crucifix cover of the song “Annihilation.” Guitarist Billy Howerdel, of the band Ashes Divide, sits center-stage playing a tiny piano. The amphitheater is darkly lit throughout, with lots of blues and purples constructing an eerie opening mood, while the vintage video effects give the DVD a Led Zeppelin ’70s vibe, with interesting camera shots and fuzzy screen effects among other filters and breakups. And as it begins raining while the band starts off their second song of the night, a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the intensity of the setting brings power to their somber recreation of the famous peace song.
Curiously enough, out of the 20 songs performed on the DVD, eight of them are cover songs, with an incredible range of genre. They do contemporary with a Marvin Gaye cover of “What’s Going On”, which contains beautifully tight vocal harmonies and ambiance from guitar setups. They do blues with a Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie cover of “When the Levee Breaks”, which is extremely different from the Led Zeppelin version and really highlights bassist Matt McJunkins’ talents. They even incorporate punk with a Black Flag cover of “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie”. But what makes these songs so impressive is the band’s ability to reconstruct them to fit their unique alternative metal style. And amusingly enough, they played a reconstructed version of one of their own songs, “3 Libras”. The remixed version is certainly much heavier and more experimental, and while I do prefer the original, I can appreciate their love for a challenge. They just yearn to make songs as weird or as different as they possibly can.
Some of the highlights of A Perfect Circle’s own works include personal favorites “The Hollow” and “Rose”. Drummer Jeff Friedl provides a nice groove for the song “Blue” as he hits the side snare, and takes the spotlight for “Noose” as the camera captures his open drumming on the lefty kit. Howerdel takes on lead vocals for a few of the songs, including “People Are People” and “What’s So Funny”, allowing Keenan to get involved in percussion with a shaker. However the most fantastic occurrence on Stone and Echo is the encore, or should I say lack of one.
At the end of their last song, “Passive”, Keenan says his thanks to the crowd and introduces the band, for the first time of the night oddly enough. He then goes on to say, “This is the part where we walk off and come back on, pretending that we weren’t going to come back, but then we do.” Followed by, “This is not the exiting band you were looking for… and we’re back.” The quirkiness of his personality through the seriousness of his tone is comically perfect. The band plays three more songs, ending with “By and Down”, creating a built-up yet calm finish. The camera zooms out, the screen goes black, and the words “Stone and Echo” stretch across in red font. The simplicity of the DVD is surreal, but not without purpose. The textured five-piece band is all about the music, and their audio quality really is terrific. But, to understand their sound, you need to fully experience their performance.