"For the next two hours, nothing else matters," said Tool's Maynard James Keenan as his band launched into "Jambi" right after stirring the pot of the crowd with "Third Eye" from 1996's Aenima to open last night's nearly sold-out one-night stand at Toyota Center. It wasn't quite two hours, but even 30 minutes with Tool is enough to fry your brain's housing.
Now 20 years down the rabbit hole, Keenan and Tool have cultivated a shadowy presence in modern rock. They came to light at a time when bands weren't supposed to be esoteric and artful, and it's those two qualities that have inspired most everyone who embraced them to follow suit.
Tool doesn't beat you in the head with a message; they sneak in while you have checked out and rearrange your shit so when you return you get confused and have to reassess your head. The only bands that came before them that had that innate power were obviously Pink Floyd and possibly Nine Inch Nails.
Tool is a brand band in the best meaning of the word. Few bands these past 20 years have reached such an iconic level where their shows are cerebral events. Mastodon is getting there with each album, as is the Mars Volta. The soon-disappearing Isis also can claim that flag.
Tool on record is one thing, enigmatic as hell and aces headphone rock. Tool in a live setting will leave your mouth agape. Every member of the band is at the pinnacle of their craft, and the fact they all work together so symbiotically is a once in a generation miracle.
Watching them work from our vantage point in the crowd, we could ignore all the LED screens and lasers (though they were supremely bitchin') and watch Tool interact as a band and not just a group hiding behind lighting rigs and effects.
Live, Keenan feeds off drummer Danny Carey, while bassist Justin Chancellor and guitarist Adam Jones are free to stand in their own private laboratories to crank out every squawk of the band's sound. If you were even dead center first row on the floor, you couldn't have seen this. It didn't come off as workmanlike; it simply looks as if Tool is one simple organism pumping in time with its components. Keenan perched up on a small riser dressed as a sadistic mailman, set up with a bottle of his own Merkin Vineyard-derived wine (naturally), wearing his trademark talk box. Drummer Carey came out clad in a Trevor Ariza uniform. The power forward was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers up until last season; Carey and Jones are mainstays courtside at home games of the recent NBA champions.
During Aenima's "Stinkfist," Toyota Center coalesced in a way we haven't seen a Houston crowd do in quite some time. Band and audience were on beat with each othe, which was reassuring given our town's volatile attitudes when it comes to live concerts. No one had time to fight or drink for fear of missing a single second of the show.
With news of Keenan's other band, A Perfect Circle, possibly reviving touring and recording plans by the fall, and even though a new album is said to be in the works, this may be the last Tool tour for a year or so .
Overall it was a throwback show, no new music and leaning heavily on Aenima which is now nearly 16 years old, but ageless like most of the rest of Tool's catalog. Nothing sounds dated except for maybe 1992's Opiate EP, but that was merely a stepping stone.
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It's a good thing, at least to Aftermath, when bands dig into their catalogs to highlight tracks that aren't radio singles or video hits. Take the Iron Maiden show a few weeks back, where they faked out the fairweathers with almost two hours of superfan gems.
If this tour is just an excuse to leave the studio or a chance to say goodbye for a bit, it nonetheless hit all the right spots for Tool fans, including the guy dead center who look like he was about to start crying tears of blood from being so giddy.
SETLIST Third Eye Jambi Stinkfist Vicarious Eon Blue Apocalypse/ The Patient Intolerance Schism 46 & 2
ENCORE Lateralus Aenima