Celebrate This Chance to be Alive and Breathing (3/3)

Much like Tool, my site likes to go great lengths between postings, even when a given themed “week” is occurring. Anyone who expected otherwise has likely never read my website. That’s why Tool Week, which started in the lead up to Fear Inoculum’s release back in mid-August, is finally drawing to a close in mid-November. Why? Because instead of using the third article in the Tool Week trilogy to review the album, I instead elected to use it to review the Tool concert in Cleveland I attended on November 6, 2019. If there’s anything I hate writing more than an album review these days, it’s a concert review, I feel like those with the disposable income should go and enjoy the show themselves instead of taking my word for it. You’re going to want a lot of disposable income if you go see Tool, since my ticket was $118, Tool tickets don’t come cheap. That didn’t stop this show from being a sellout, with over 15,000 in attendance. Merch was also pricey as expected, my shirt was $45, and I abstained from shelling out for beer with $11/pint prices. That’s what you get with corporate American stadium venues. This was my first time seeing Tool after several failed attempts in years past due to monetary reasons and traveling distances, so this was a long time coming personally. This was actually the first time since the Metallica concert in 2004 that I went to Gund Arena/The Q/Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse/whatever the fuck this place will be called in 5 years. Anyway, enough bloviating, time to get to the music.

Opening the show was Killing Joke, a legendary English rock group who have existed since 1978 and have been releasing albums since 1980. Killing Joke are legends in their own right, being one of the most influential rock groups of all time by having pioneered alternative rock and industrial rock, and have released consistently good albums to this decade (seriously, listen to Absolute Dissent, most bands can only dream of releasing a record that good 30 years after their debut album). However, Killing Joke are decidedly not a stadium-level band and their opening slot was definitely awkward. Killing Joke is comprised of their original lineup, and these men are in their 60’s now. They basically stood still in one place while frontman Jaz Coleman attempted to bring some theatricality to his delivery, but when left with a seated and half-full floor of Tool fans most likely under the influence of drugs, he wasn’t really inspiring any attendees. Their sound was also extremely bass heavy, to the point of the bass drowning out nearly all the other instruments and rendering Jaz’s vocals nearly indistinguishable. Now while I’m sounding like I’m throwing a massive wad of shit at Killing Joke, I really do respect this band, I think they have made some great albums (Pandemonium and Absolute Dissent are my favorites), and I think they have come away from this tour with an unfair reputation due to being out of their element. It’s not the first time, many Tool fans have unfairly considered opening bands of theirs such as Tomahawk, Melvins and Meshuggah to have been supposedly bad. Those bands would be just as out of their element performing to seated audiences in a stadium (and I would know, I saw Meshuggah open for Megadeth 2 years ago at a riverside amphitheater while sitting on bleachers and despite killing it live, it was awkward and not how I imagined ever seeing Meshuggah).

Between the sets, I took part in the time honored traditions of waiting 20 minutes in a beer line in solidarity with my friends who came with me and vaping hash oil in a bathroom. I’ve actually been on a sober streak with the greenery, but there was no way I was turning that down before a Tool concert. By the time we made it back to our section, Tool was just kicking things off and everyone finally made it to pack the house and rise up out of their seats. Going into this concert, I was aware of what songs to most likely expect in the set and the whole Maynard in the back deal, but I wasn’t truly expecting the scope of this band’s visual element in concert, this one would truly be next-level shit in that regard.

Tool lead things off with the first song on Fear Inoculum, the title track. Tool’s stage setup was Justin to the right on the side of the stadium where our section was, Adam to the left, Danny in the center holding down the insanely huge drum kit, easily the biggest setup I’ve ever seen, and Maynard having some perches flanking Danny and his army of drums. They also had a massive mesh curtain that surrounded the entire front of the stage which allowed their visuals to take on a 3-D element while not obstructing the view of the band’s performance. This song actually sounds a lot more organic and heavy live, the song definitely works best as an introduction when compared to hearing it as a stand-alone piece. The visual theme for this song was some very vivid and colorful planetary imagery, which especially looked cool with that curtain giving it a multidimensional effect. Maybe it was just because I was the most stoned for this part of the concert, but I basically paid more attention to that than the band’s actual performance for this song, at least until the heavier sections in the middle and end when Adam brings back the Aenima style buzzy guitars and Danny starts beating the shit out of the drums. These songs are so long that I’m just going to sound like I’m rambling by describing parts of them in detail, but let’s just say the end definitely brought life to the crowd and everyone was standing in awe and excited.

“Aenema” was next, Maynard switched sides of the stage for this one and while he’s definitely still camping behind Adam and Justin, he is also not purposely drowning himself in shadows to the point of being a silhouette for this tour. You can actually see him now, dressed up like some weird mohawked goth vampire who just rolled out of bed. Tool usually plays “Aenema” in the encore, so having it come this early is a new change for this band’s set. For this (and all their other songs with actual music videos), we were treated to a fractal of the music video projected against the backdrop that mirrored. This song definitely kills live, I’ve heard it probably over a thousand times in my life already but this was the best time listening to “Aenema” I’ve had since I probably first heard “Aenema”. We all chanted the “learn to swim” part and sang along to the rant section which was oddly switched up, Maynard sang the “fuck retro anything, fuck your tattoos” first and “fuck L. Ron Hubbard and fuck all his clones” second for some reason. Adam really shreds on this song, which I already knew, but seeing in person really made me appreciate that squealing, chaotic guitar solo a lot more.

“The Pot” was, well, kind of disappointing if only because I knew hearing this song meant I was not going to hear the excellent new song “Descending” later in the set. I read up on the setlists for this tour before going and knew to expect “Tool’s Greatest Hits” and new material, and this was the song swapped out for “Descending”. “The Pot” has never really been one of my favorite Tool songs, but I know it’s one of their biggest hits (their only #1 rock chart song in fact) and is played frequently at their shows. Maynard’s vocal performance on this one was sort of rough, but he’s 55 years old so I can cut him some slack for not hitting those weirdly high notes in the studio version. On the other hand though, Justin’s bass work in this song is a thing of beauty to witness live, he bobs and gyrates around while playing this extremely busy bassline for 6 minutes straight while Adam’s riffage crushes with the simple yet effective scale. Danny killed it here too. For this song, they brought out some lasers while projecting some of that signature Alex Grey eye artwork for the visual element. It was alright but I still don’t like “The Pot” much.

“Parabol” and “Parabola” was probably the highlight of the concert for me, since this is my favorite Tool song that they played that night. This one was just fucking awesome and sounded spot on. For this song, they lowered a big heptagram from the ceiling which lit up right as the transition between “Parabol” and “Parabola” happened. We all know how Tool love their sacred geometry and symbolism, almost as much as their Alex Grey eyeballs, so that thing lighting up at the song transition got maybe the biggest crowd response of the night too. The fractaled version of that “Parabola” music video playing on the backdrop the entire time was really trippy as well, and by the end of this song I felt like the anthropomorphic humanoid nightmare being from the “Galaxy Brain” meme that appears at the end of this video. Then they finally dropped that curtain that was giving us the 3-D effect as the song ended.

“Pneuma” was the second new song to be performed, and for this one, the lasers were back and the visual backdrop was kept minimal. This song is extremely long, the longest so far at over 12 minutes, so I’d rather not describe much of this one. It’s one of my favorites from the new album and they nailed it live. I don’t understand how this band can remember all the parts to a song like this and consistently nail it live. That just speaks to the skill set of Tool I suppose. Also for this one, Maynard grabbed one of Adam’s amplifiers, dragged it all the way to the opposite side of the stage behind Justin, and did some sort of silent auction motions to the crowd during the very long instrumental section in the middle. I thought that was kind of funny.

Following up “Pneuma” was Tool’s classic “Schism”, another song I’ve heard approximately 4,567 times. There was no way Tool wasn’t going to play “Schism”, though I question playing it right after “Pneuma” since the bassline in that one is very similar sounding to “Schism”‘s. “Schism” may be one of the biggest of Tool’s hits, but it’s definitely not any less complicated, featuring it’s own Wikipedia article about the time signatures in this song. Tool make that look like a fucking cake walk, though I’m sure playing this at every single concert since the day it was released can be part of why they make it look so easy. Unfortunately for me, this was the only other song besides the “Parabol”/”Parabola” cycle to be played this tour from Lateralus, which is probably always going to be my favorite Tool album. In order to keep things fresh, Tool drew out a jam in the middle of the song where Danny played a wild drum solo, that was a welcome deviation.

Up next were two from the 10,000 Days album, first was “Jambi” which featured another extended jam in the middle with Killing Joke’s keyboardist joining in for a particularly chaotic synthesizer solo added before the talkbox guitar solo. “Vicarious” found Maynard wandering around the middle of the stage while singing through a walkie-talkie which quit out on him at one point, and a roadie had to rush in with a replacement. This one also had several extended jam sections, one which lead into the intro and another during the bridge. I do appreciate Tool’s effort to do something different with these songs, because these are not my favorite Tool songs and I’ve heard them hundreds of times as well, but they were still no slouches live nor boring in any sort of regard. The visuals were heavy on the Alex Grey eyeballs and faces for “Jambi” and “Vicarious”‘s already strange music video was only made all the more stranger with the mirror effect added in. Maynard didn’t do the yell, Maynard never does the yell anymore.

So for the next bit, we actually got some crowd interaction from Maynard, which is progress considering he’s spent the last 19 years rarely giving any sort of banter regardless of which band he was performing with. Unless it was Puscifer, and who actually goes to see Puscifer. He asked the crowd to put their hands up, then asked everyone over 30 to put their hands down, joked about how he felt a breeze and then said the next song was written when we weren’t even sperm yet. Enter “Intolerance”, the only song from Undertow to make an appearance. I was glad to see this one get some love this tour because it’s one of my favorites on the album and they rarely play Undertow material anymore. They’ve been rotating this and Opiate’s “Part Of Me” in and out of the set whenever “Descending” doesn’t get played. For this one, the crowd really got into it with the headbanging and it was probably the only time this show resembled any sort of metal concert. They flashed a bunch of images of smokestacks, industrial wastelands and urban decay on the backdrop during this one, which definitely fits the grungy metallic sound of their early work. Maynard actually did do the yell for this one too, so that was cool. They went straight into “Forty Six & 2” when the song ended and that one was definitely another crowd pleaser. I don’t really think I need to describe this song or state its importance in the Tool chronology, it’s one of their most well known songs that still gets rotation to this day on any self respecting rock radio station. Justin grooved that fucking bassline, it had a bit more pop than it does on the album version, and Danny fucking Carey absolutely rocked that drum solo to the T, hearing the song’s drum solo live was definitely a highlight of this concert. What wasn’t so great was Maynard during this song though, instead of the powerful belt in the chorus I’ve grown to expect, he sang it especially nasally. The first verse and bridge were fine though in that regard. I’m not saying it was a bad performance, but vocally it didn’t keep up to par with the extremely fine tuned performance of Adam, Justin and especially Danny. At the end of the song, giant curtains dropped that displayed a countdown for 12 minutes.

When the intermission broke, we were treated to the drum masterwork of Danny Carey. Things started off with a fucking gong solo. What is this, the Ming Dynasty? Despite the disbelief, Danny absolutely rocked what is the first and almost certainly last gong solo I will probably ever see or hear in my life. His drum solo was even more impressive, it was a bit based off the “Chocolate Chip Trip” on the new album that he’s been doing live for several years at this point, but it also leaned heavily on the improvisation. I know a lot of people might find a drum solo to be overindulgent wanking, but Danny Carey is someone whose drum solo demands to be heard and is a sight to behold in itself. This dude is nearly 60 years old and he makes it look effortless. The only person I have ever seen live who could compare with his drumming skill in a solo is Mario Duplantier of Gojira. Danny is one of the greatest drummers in rock music history, period.

The last new number Tool performed was “Invincible”, a fourteen minute long song. Again, hearing a song like this performed live just makes me wonder how the hell they can even remember all the parts to a song like this, but I’ve also seen bands like Swans and Gorguts play songs more than twice as long as this. That sort of endurance is just immense, commendable stuff. This one sounded spot on compared to the album version, I know I was rough on “Forty Six & 2” but this one sounded fucking perfect. It still blows my mind that a 15,000 + sold out stadium would be there to hear a song that sounds like this in 2019, but that’s the lasting power of Tool and the anticipation they built up by not releasing a new album for 13 and a half years. I was definitely glad to hear this one since it’s probably my second favorite new Tool song after “7empest” which has yet to be performed live.

Tool are still “performing” the Aenima interlude “(-) Ions” at every concert in 2019, just thought people might have wanted this update. That 4 minutes of arcing electricity sure had lasting power in their set, the lightning projected on the mesh at the front of the stage was pretty cool though, I’ll give them that.

Things closed out with the classic “Stinkfist”, everybody knows this song and it was another to feature a jammed out midsection to bring some freshness to a mainstay in the Tool setlist, and this is the song Maynard decided to give the crowd to film. I didn’t bother at this point, somebody else had better footage anyway, I actually enjoyed not having lots of phones obstructing the view around me for this show. At the end of the night, my girlfriend and I reunited with my really drunk friend who had a seat in a different section and we stumbled off to a Taco Bell that serves alcohol to start the recovery. Tool is great live, and go see them while you still have the chance because these guys aren’t getting any younger and I can’t see a bunch of men in their mid 60’s pulling off something like “Invincible” or “Parabol/Parabola” in 10 years. So now I think I’ve finally reached the logical conclusion of the Tool fandom, I’ve spiraled out, I’ve listened to my muscle memory, I’ve kept digging until I’ve felt something, and I paid almost $120 that was well worth it to see these guys in concert finally.

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