Perfect Circle's Spiritual Yearning Adds Depth to Hard-Rock Sound

A Perfect Circle developed an intensely devoted following almost immediately upon the release in May of its now-platinum debut album, "Mer de Noms."

It's easy to see why. The L.A.-based quintet, founded by former roadie Billy Howerdel and fronted by Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan, has crafted a powerful industrial-pop-metal hybrid for its fragmentary sketches about the struggle to find love and faith in an often loveless and faithless world.

The group's one-hour set Tuesday at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center at times built to cataclysmic climaxes as Howerdel and fellow guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen whipped up sheets of muted distortion over a surging rhythmic foundation pummeled out by bassist Paz Lenchantin and drummer Josh Freese.

Keenan topped the voluminous sound not with his trademark vocal rage, but with soaring notes that made for an intriguingly calming counterbalance.

Howerdel's lyrics suggest rather than explain, often with an undercurrent of spiritual yearning that gives APC's hard-rock punch deeper resonance than that of garden-variety noise merchants.

Second-billed Snake River Conspiracy has the anti-Gwen in lead singer Tobey Torres, who bellows a four-letter profanity repeatedly in the Bay Area group's underground hit "Vulcan." Her antagonistic persona has limited cathartic appeal, but it's mostly superficial anger rather than existential frustration.

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