Within the new breed of rock bands, there's a category (more or less) that doesn't very well lend itself to traditional rock-crit ranting. Food metaphors and over-the-top hyperbole fairly demand to be jettisoned in favor of some more down-to-earth description. In the case of Los Angeles band Tool, the words "righteously pissed off" come to mind.
It's a territory Tool shares with Rage Against the Machine and especially the Rollins Band. Metal-tinged rock meets a charismatic frontman with something -- often something unpleasant -- to say about the state of the union, self or art. Henry Rollins is the present paragon, but Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan walks a similar path with a secret weapon in tow: the man can sing.
Tool's Undertow is a year old this month, but it's the kind of record that builds slow and keeps on building. A second-stage slot on last summer's Lollapalooza turned into a main-stage attraction halfway through
the tour, and a high-tech video for "Sober" and the more recent buzz over Tool's latest single, "Prison Sex," have kept the band in the spotlight.
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Tool's music is solid, inventive metal, but the real attraction is Keenan's arrowhead mohawk and neurotically cramped stage presence. There's a charisma at work comparable to that of Rollins and Brutal Juice's Craig Welsh, and if you can let Keenan draw you into the articulately twisted space inside his head, you'll leave feeling like you've been someplace new. No mean trick in modern alt-rock.
Up-and-comers Failure and the perpetually underrated Flaming Lips -- still my vote for the best rock band on the planet -- open the show, so be there early.
-- Brad Tyer
Tool, the Flaming Lips and Failure perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 20 at the International Ballroom, 14035 Main. $13.50. Call 629-3700 for more info.
* Prong and Course of Empire at Numbers, Thursday, April 14
* Cowboy Mouth at the Satellite Lounge, Saturday, April 16
* Poi Dog Pondering at Bayou City Theatre, Sunday, April 17
* Crowded House at Bayou City Theatre, Monday, April 18
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