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A Perfect Circle

During the winter of 99, the rumors were everywhere; Tool's elusive frontman Maynard James Keenan and songwriter/guitarist Billy Howerdel, without management

During the winter of ’99, the rumors were everywhere; Tool’s elusive frontman Maynard James Keenan and songwriter/guitarist Billy Howerdel, without management or a record deal, had just finished a quiet little club tour with their new band, A Perfect Circle. The rock press continued to buzz for months, and the following April, it all broke wide open. The long-rumored project moved, in what seemed like one swift step, from industry whisper to full-fledged hard rock machine, with the band inking a deal with Virgin Records, releasing their first single and subsequent hit “Judith,” and scoring a coveted opening slot on the first Nine Inch Nails tour in more than four years. Let’s just say that things went pretty well.

Following the three-month NIN outing, APC went back on the road last fall and again this winter, headlining a tour with a number of support acts, including Snake River Conspiracy. Based on the strength of singles like “Three Libras,” the band has had little trouble selling out theaters and concert halls across the country. Both legs of the tour also saw considerably different set lists — a notable feat for a band with only one studio album. Additions of note included an excellent cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” and a new song entitled “Vacant,” which is actually the first publicly performed song off the Tapeworm project — a long-rumored studio collaboration between Keenan, the members of NIN and a host of others.

In addition to Keenan and Howerdel, APC includes guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (formerly of Failure), bassist Paz Lenchantin and drummer Josh Freese of The Vandals. Last February, when the band pulled into the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, Calif., Mix got a chance to catch the sold-out performance.


Veteran independent engineer Gordon “Gungi” Paterson chose a Midas XL4 for FOH. “It’s, as always, a wonderful-sounding console,” he explains. “Great preamps, great EQ; it’s everything you want in a console.” For APC, Paterson normally uses 49 inputs, which include playback channels from a pair of DA-98s for some backing material. For this tour, he also preferred to keep a few channels open, because guest percussionists and string players were a common occurrence. “At these California shows, we sometimes have Paz’s brother and sisters come out and play strings. So I left some space open to accommodate that.”

Paterson’s effects rack included six Empirical Labs Distressors, dbx 902 and 120X units and Aphex noise gates for dynamic control. Reverb units included a Lexicon 480L, two PCM 81s, TC Electronic M5000 and D-2 units, a Roland SD-3000 and an Eventide H3000 D/SE.

“One of the challenges for this tour was finding the right vocal mic for Maynard,” Paterson states. “He just made the transition to in-ear monitors, so he’s obviously much more sensitive to ambient sound that’s picked up by his mic. We’ve pretty much settled on a Beta 57A. I’ve experimented with some Neumanns and Audixes. In bigger rooms, we have been going to the Beta 87 on a radio system, and that works very well, too.”

The other three vocalists in the band (Howerdel, Lenchantin and Leeuwen) use Beta 87Cs. The other stage mics include Groove Tubes MD1s on guitar, and Shure Beta 52 on bass, Beta 91 on kick, Beta 98s on toms, Beta 56A on snare top, SM94s on hat, ride and snare bottom, with KSM-32 overheads. “I’ve also got a VP 88 audience mic, and that’s going straight to tape,” Paterson continues. “We tape the show every night, and the band likes to hear a better representation of the live sound.”

The P.A. consisted of a Showco Prism® System. The setup had to accommodate both large theaters and near-arena-size concert halls. For this particular show, two columns of the arena system were flown per side with two stacks set up on either side of the stage. “There was a good spread of venues, so I was looking for something that would be flexible enough to cover it all,” Paterson explains.


Chris Gilpin mixed monitors for both legs of APC’s headlining tour. For this particular leg, he moved to an ATI Paragon. “It’s the first time I’ve used one, actually, and it’s really nice,” he explains. “My main worry was the audio quality with the desk, because with in-ears it really shows up. And I’ve been stuck with boards before that I really wasn’t happy with and it’s difficult. And I really didn’t want to burden myself with a board that I never used before on a two-month tour. But I’m actually quite glad, in the end, that I decided to go for it.”

The lead singer, Keenan, was the only member of the band using in-ear monitors. His setup comprised Shure E5 custom molds and a Shure PSM 700 beltpack. The rest of the band utilized a traditional mix of wedges and the natural sound off the backline. “It’s pretty simple onstage,” says Gilpin. “Basically, Josh [the drummer] has kick and snare, bass, Billy’s guitar and a little Maynard vocal. Everyone upfront gets their own vocal and a little of Maynard. Billy just gets kick, his own vocal with reverb and Maynard, and that’s it. Paz [the bassist] gets kick, snare, hat, her own vocal and Maynard. Troy [the second guitarist] gets kick, snare, hat, a little bit of the toms in the sidefills and his own vocal. I try to keep it as simple as possible. We’ve had to add a little bass guitar for Paz in her wedges, because, for looks, they’ve gone down to one cabinet, tilted on its side. It’s just a little light on bass, so we just put a little more in the wedges than we did on the previous leg.

“These particular wedges are the Showco 15s. They’re the same all over the stage. I don’t use anything extra for Josh, the drummer; I just use a pair of these 15-inch wedges. I prefer to have the same speakers everywhere. Then, if you dial it for one wedge and it sounds good, it’s going to sound good for the others.”

Gilpin’s effects include two Lexicon PCM 880s and Yamaha SPX 990 units for reverb and chorus on the vocal channels, an Aphex Exciter across the toms and a BSS 901 on the lead vocal. “On Maynard’s vocal, I’ve got a BSS 901 in-line with an EQ on the insert point,” he notes. “I use some frequency-conscious compression. Maynard doesn’t like compression, but there are certain times when you have to have some control over particular frequencies. So, basically, it’s an active EQ.

“I’m also using the Shure DFR 011s, which are essentially feedback eliminators. It allows you to do a preset parametric EQ on the vocal channel, which is what I’m using it for. I actually lock them off during the show so that they’re not actively chasing feedback. But it helps to get another 3 dB out of the mic onstage. They’re a pretty cool unit. That’s my new toy at the moment.”

Robert Hanson, Mix’s editorial assistant, is a musician/producer living in San Francisco.