TOOL. A simple name for a very complex band. A band that needs no introduction to any fan of rock, metal or prog, and especially to any musicians out there. The band recently made a stop in Cincinnati and we were lucky enough to be there to review the show. So let’s get started.
In a recent interview, members of TOOL considered genre labels and how they apply to TOOL’s music. Feeling more kinship with Pink Floyd than Whitesnake, Danny Carey mentioned that he felt like TOOL wasn’t really a metal band in his mind. Discourse about genre labels will always continue, regardless of how futile, but TOOL is a group that, since its inception almost 30 years ago, has been in a league completely on their own. Blending elements of grunge, psychedelia, metal, and prog, TOOL has consistently shattered expectations, while still maintaining an easily identifiable and timeless style and sound, creating what is arguably one of the best complete discographies in modern hard rock/metal.
This tour is following one of the most anticipated album releases of the decade, one that fans were unsure would ever come to light. Following years of internet memes and commentary on TOOL’s next steps, the acclaimed ‘Fear Inoculum’ was released this year on August 7th. Thirteen years after the release of their previous offering, ‘10,000 Days’. And regardless of one’s thoughts on the album, the astronomical album sales (beating out pop music titans like Taylor Swift, to the confusion of uninitiated teenagers everywhere) have proven that Tool fans are more than satisfied.
Openers Killing Joke kicked the night off with a set that rattled the audience to the core- literally. The bass and drums were so loud and so all-consuming.
I felt like my entire body was vibrating, pulsing along with the beat. Jaz Coleman stomped angrily from stage left to stage right, like an apocalyptic street preacher, periodically stopping to let out a visceral bellow or scream. Killing Joke played songs that spanned their career, ranging from 1985’s “Eighties” to “Pandemonium” from 1994, to relatively recent offerings like “Loose Cannon” (from 2004).
Killing Joke played songs that spanned their career, ranging from 1985’s “Eighties” to “Pandemonium” from 1994, to relatively recent offerings like “Loose Cannon” (from 2004).
Following Killing Joke’s set, and after some stage preparation, a thin shroud-like sheen made up of what looked like translucent ribbons surrounded the stage. I thought it would disappear with time, but it ended up being an integral part of their performance.
After taking the stage to thunderous applause, TOOL started their set with “Fear Inoculum”, which instantly set the heavy, pensive mood that would endure for their performance. Images darted across screens behind the band, and lights and images flew around and in front of the band. It was an assault on the senses, and in the best possible way.
TOOL played 5 songs on Tuesday night from their new album. They also took care of their longtime fans by playing a variety of songs from several different eras.
You could see how the energy of the room shifted when Maynard started his rhythmic breaths in second song “Ænima”- it was as if the entire auditorium was shocked with electricity. It was clear that the enormous audience was full of fans from nearly every iteration of TOOL’s 30+ year career, and it was very special to see how different groups were activated from each era’s offerings- from new tracks like “Pneuma” and “Invincible” to show closer “Stinkfist” from 1996’s Ænima. TOOL is a band that means a lot to a lot of people, and it shows.
This was my first time seeing TOOL live, and one of the main things I noticed was how prominent drummer Danny Carey, bassist Justin Chancellor, and guitarist Adam Jones were featured on the stage and in the music. Maynard James Keenan’s incredible and unique vocal talent is often the focus in discussions regarding TOOL’s music, but this concert reminded me that the three musicians in Tool are absolutely phenomenal players, and have a musical synergy that allows them to play complex, often mind-bending rhythms with laser-like precision.
For the bulk of the show, they played somewhat stoically, never really departing from their triangle like formation, while Maynard crept from stage left to stage right, like an impish master of ceremonies. Everyone was pitch perfect, and the most thrilling moments of the show were when everyone on stage was playing in thunderous synchronization, such as the end of “Schism” from 2001’s ‘Lateralus’.
TOOL’s live show was highly augmented by evocative visuals and a terrific mix. Visuals have long been a part of Tool’s live show, and their crew deserves mention and credit for working together to create a complex and seamless technical presentation. The imagery matched the era- the older stuff was paired with the same sort of disturbing imagery that became TOOL’s early trademark, and the more recent songs were paired with psychedelic and natural imagery, with occasional references to specific videos and album art.
There is a no phone policy on this tour and many folks didn’t like that, but I must admit that it was pretty special to look out in the crowd and see a bunch of people, completely focused on the stage, enjoying the music without visible distraction.
On the final song, Maynard gave the crowd permission to take videos and photos, and I immediately had several cameras in my close line of vision, streaming or taking video of the song.
Although my opinions shift occasionally on this subject, I was able to better understand and appreciate the reasons why the band chooses to not allow cameras and videos.
If you’re on the fence about seeing TOOL this time around, I highly recommend this tour. The music was varied, ranging from meditative to earth shatteringly heavy, and the performance was deserving of every ounce of praise they have received in press from the past.
In the grand scheme of things, every generation has artists that rise to unprecedented heights. When you look back at legends like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Rush, Nirvana and so on, Tool belongs in that conversation as one of the all-time greatest bands ever to grace this earth.