Completing the circle

Marquee

As I stood under the stars a day after my 32nd birthday last week in Pittsburgh, watching A Perfect Circle in the shadow of Heinz Field and the Allegheny Mountains, it was almost an out of body experience.

I found myself very in touch with the music, which has meant much to me over the years, dating back to college. But more than that, I was taken back 10 years to a day experienced by an iteration of me that seems like someone else at this point.

And to think, I heard some people complain about the set list.

*****

When I told my dad I was going to go on vacation to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Harrisburg, he said, “What, was Detroit taken?”

I got his point. It’s not quite Cozumel – though before they go burning SportsAngle jerseys in Cleveland, I should add that I very much enjoyed my time in all three cities.

Grape escapeBut honestly, I just needed to get away. I was measurably burned out from months of late hours and long nights at my job, 19-inning games and no-hitters, and I thought hitting the open road would help me purge the psychological debris I’ve accumulated over the first half of the baseball season.

The genesis of the trip came when A Perfect Circle, one of my favorite bands, announced an East Coast tour for the first time in seven years. I went to see them in New York City earlier this summer, and though the concert was solid, my seats weren’t particularly good.

The show in Pittsburgh was general admission, so I would presumably get a better view of the stage. It was also outdoors, and I thought A Perfect Circle – a powerful band with a magnificent lead singer in Maynard Keenan – would be incredible outside on a summer night.

Above my headMy fiancée and I mapped out a road trip that would traverse from Northern New Jersey to Pittsburgh for the show, then to Cleveland for an Indians game. We’d finish up by stopping at Harrisburg, Pa., on the way home to visit our friend, Senators pitcher Erik Arnesen – and, yes, Bryce Harper.

We started meandering west on I-80 on my birthday, stopping for attractive roadside options. We found two great wineries that way, though we also went to something called “Old Bedford Village.” When we got out of the car, we encountered a bunch of guys in army fatigues waving guns in the air. Re-enactment or not, we blazed a trail back to the highway lest they begin opening fire.

Likewise, when you spend a week in hotels, you’re going to get varied results. On the up side was a bed and breakfast at a Victorian mansion. It was really quite nice, though I did worry I was going to simply break everything I touched.

Chez BusOn the down side was a Bates Motel of a Days Inn somewhere between Cleveland and Harrisburg that had no working Internet, a television from the 1980’s, and what actually appeared to be footprints on the ceiling. The woman at the desk kind of reminded us of a grown-up version of that that girl from The Ring who comes through the TV, and unprompted, she handed us directions to a 9/11 memorial. Basically, you get what you pay for, and we stayed there for $55.

Moving on – quickly – to Pittsburgh, there was of course the concert, preceded by an excellent dinner across the street at Jerome Bettis’ sports bar. To my surprise, the Bus’ menu extended well past potato skin fare to dishes like a nicely done asi tuna, and the picturesque views of the riverfront hardly evoked three yards and a cloud of dust.

Best family everI’d long been intrigued with Cleveland as a city, and I liked it there. The Tribe drew about 30,000 on a beautiful night for baseball, though Justin Verlander and the Tigers sent them home unhappy. I wouldn’t quite call it a playoff atmosphere, but I loved seeing a post-LeBron fan base – who might still be a little hung up on him – sink its teeth into something. Plus, I got to see the progeny of friends of SportsAngle Rivkin and Stove With A House become a baseball fan.

More than anything in particular, though, I just loved the feelings of freedom a trip like this evokes.

I spend so much of my life just getting from one place to another, sitting in traffic on a bus or behind the wheel. There were times driving through rural Pennsylvania when I’d look out at the mountains and just have my breath taken away by the scenery, but also by the reminder that such things are out there to find during the rare times you’re not tethered to your desk.

*****

Maynard Keenan highly prefers for fans not to bring cameras into his shows, so I don’t have pictures or videos from last Tuesday, just my own recollections. And that sort of fits, since I also don’t have pictures of the first time I saw A Perfect Circle live, just vivid memories.

I’d discovered APC in 2000 during the summer before my senior year at Duke, and their music became crucial to me when dealing with some personal issues the following semester. I spent many late nights alone in my dorm room drinking Heineken and writing term papers under the glow of a black light while listening to 3 Libras on good old Napster.

I was in a much better place the next spring when A Perfect Circle came around on tour. Since I didn’t know anyone else who liked the band, I decided to make a solo pilgrimage to South Carolina for a show, with a brief stopover in Winston-Salem to watch Duke beat Wake Forest on Chris Duhon’s floater en route to a National Title five weeks later.

Heinz Field in the backgroundAPC was playing at the then-still-Charlotte Hornets practice facility – which is now a church, apparently. The one specific memory I have of the show is standing transfixed as then-bass player Paz Lenchantin stood on a pedestal bathed in purple light playing the violin during Renholder.

The trip became one of my favorite college memories in that it demonstrated to me I was strong enough to venture out on my own to pursue my individual interests and possibilities.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday, when I enjoyed, albeit impatiently, Japanese all-female punk band Red Bacteria Vacuum — sort of the music version of the movie Machine Girl — while waiting for APC. Of course, it’d been 10 years, what’s another hour?

Soon enough, Maynard set up shop in the back corner of the stage, viscerally slithering back and forth amid the shadows, eschewing the spotlight by design. His voice was as ethereal and haunting as ever, the aural embodiment of heartbreak. All too quickly, he was bowing and exiting stage left.

Though the feelings of nostalgia that washed over me were again deeply personal, there are of course quite a few differences from a decade ago – most notably that unlike the last trip, I didn’t make this one alone.

I thought back to my drive back to Durham after that show 10 years ago, listening to Mer de Noms in my tape deck – I had no CD player in my beige 1993 Taurus – and having this feeling that everything was going to end up okay.

I sort of feel the same way right about now.

Esoteric

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.